Council Chamber: A Woman in the Council Chamber – Mission Accomplished? not yet

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There’s so much talk about the need for women on boards, there’s so much research. Countless men and women believe in it only because intellectuals, scholars and corporate conscience keepers say so. Is it really so? Is the presence of a woman on the board of directors the solution to the panacea of ​​gender inequality?

What I understood is that having diversity is not the same as being fair in providing equal opportunities. You can’t forget that the lack of diversity exists because there is human discretion involved and human biases influence behavior. And introducing a woman into a group of seven men doesn’t change the biases – it just changes the way those biases work. How these biases can engage in the age-old game of power play and establish supremacy.

I will share three examples. A board where the chairman changed and looked at the board with 2 independent directors brought in by his predecessor. The first step is to bring in your own person as an independent director. Next step, going after the female independent director brought in earlier, trying to sabotage the reappointment. When that failed, bad words within the organization. Add to that the use of ill-founded bases to harass her in her other work commitments, along with sweet suggestions to quit that board “because it’s not worth it.”

Next example, a board of directors whose chair is an independent director. Her male counterparts include people with many years of experience and people representing very deep pockets. A meeting includes several affirmations by the experienced men about how they have dealt with questions of a much larger magnitude and how they have all the answers. The email correspondence includes a strange string of them endorsing each other’s views and ignoring the woman’s views.

The third came out of a conversation among heads of “forward-thinking” organizations about adding gender diversity to their boards. Comments include “the woman has to be extremely meritorious for us to justify adding her to the board”, “she really has to bring a specific skill set that we wouldn’t otherwise find in a male candidate” and “we will be adding one of first and then see how she does for a year before recommending this step to other councils.” A woman’s need to prove herself worthy does not require that she be good at her job. It requires that she’s better than her male counterparts. And when she’s proven herself worthy enough to sit at the table, she still has to remember her “place.”

A few months ago I read a very interesting concept that talks about the three levels of progress for women on the boards – the first is the Breaking In part where you start bringing women to the boards. Next comes the critical mass phase where you try to get more than one woman on each board. And then there is the stage of influence where women rise to leadership positions and where the real power resides. Leadership positions include not only having women as chairs and independent lead directors (where such a role exists), but also as chairs of key board committees like audit committees and Remuneration, which are considered the Power Committees. There is apparently an unwritten practice that women should chair the stakeholder relations committee or the sustainability committee or similar.

India and most of the world are still in the first phase, trying to bring women into corporate boards. Unfortunately, we’ve set the bar so low by requiring only one woman on a board – sending the signal that bringing in that woman would be enough. What started out as “let’s get started” quickly became the end goal. A similar “goal” that baffles me is how gender balance is defined as women being 30% of a group. I joke about it and say maybe it’s because women are so much better than men that it only takes 3 women to balance 7 men. But the fact is that women make up about half of the talent. It’s time to raise the bar and set some truly representative goals. True gender diversity and a state of true equity require women to go beyond the peripheries to exert real influence on culture, actions and decisions. The concept of having women in leadership positions is powerful and while it is important to celebrate the few women who make it, it is even more important to remember that this is just the beginning, not the end. end.

The author is a private equity investor, board member, and founder of WinPE.

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