The 2022-2023 Global Board Diversity Tracker highlights the progress toward diversity in boardrooms globally. India has made significant strides on gender diversity, increasing both the number of boards with at least one woman and the number of leadership positions held by female leaders. But there remains room for improvement, as representation is just one part of the equation—inclusion matters, too.
In this deep dive, we analyze 77 leading companies in India with a market cap of € 8 billion or more, focusing on:
Driven by regulation, nearly all companies we analyzed this year in India (97.4 percent, or 75 out of 77) have at least one female director on board, a trend that is being consolidated over time as we will discuss throughout this spotlight. However, as the graphic below shows, boards with at least two or three women are less common—a trend we also observe across Asia.
Looking at boardrooms with at least one female director, there has been outstanding growth over the past decade as the graphic above shows—the share jumped from 66.7 percent in 2012 to 97.4 percent in 2022.
Now, when we look at all board seats in India, 18.7 percent of them are held by women—up from 17 percent in 2020. The nation performs better than the Asian average (14.8%), but still ranks behind the global average (27%). Analyzing change over time, the share of female board seats has growth just a little over 1 percent. While it may not seem much, this growth rate positions India as the sixth fast-changing country among all 10 Asian countries in this study.
Diversity doesn’t just happen. It takes intentionality and policies that enable it, such as quotas. In India, a set of regulations have been in place for some time, mandating that boards of publicly listed companies have a minimum of one female director.
While the rules were first introduced nearly a decade ago, they sparked concerns around timing to find a qualified candidate, given that the pool of female leaders is, unfortunately, narrower if we consider the traditional parameters boards use to recruit, such as executives with CEO, CFO or COO experience. However, Chair of Mahindra Group Anand Mahindra believes that many companies should rethink what the parameters of qualification to serve on a board really mean. “If you look around, there was always somebody you could get if you broadened your horizon into not looking just for a CV, which said, you know, this was the corporate history of that woman. You have to recognize that women in other fields bring tremendous, tremendous value too. And I think that's something we still have to do,” he says.
Another measure of diversity is the share of female board hires. When compared to its Asian peers and the global average, India is ahead: 20.8 percent of new board hires are female in India, against 20.6 percent in Asia and 17.2 percent globally. However, 22.6 percent of female board leaders hold more than one seat, while only 12.8 percent of male board leaders do. This means that more women are serving on multiple boards compared to men, and companies should broaden their lens to hire new female talent as well.
Beyond the share of board seats, it’s important to also look at who sits in leadership positions. India has an outstanding share of 11.1 percent of female board chairs when compared to Asia, where the average share is 3.9 percent; and globally, with only 3.7 percent.
|Executive board chairs
|Non-executive board chairs
Looking at women in leadership positions more broadly, particularly at the executive level, we found that the proportion of female CEOs has gone up dramatically in India. The share of female CEOs in India is now 7.7 percent, up from 2.1 percent in 2020. Asia has an average share of 5.1 percent, and the global average is 6.3 percent. This portends well for creating a pipeline of talent for board members of the future. On the other hand, women are rising to the CFO role at a much slower pace—with a 0.6 percent change in two years in the country.
Placing diverse leaders can cascade positively on the entire business. Anand Mahindra recalls when a newly hired female CEO of a business was an action of change by finding and hiring other highly qualified women under her:
For Vikram Singh Mehta, lead independent director of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, tackling the challenges of today require a diversity of views. “This is a truly new world. A world where the unexpected is the expected. You really do need the board as sort of the body that oversees strategy, that oversees management, and in some sense, not management or the management structure and the executive decision making, the quality of executive decision making,” he says. And this is where diversity comes in as a major asset, he adds. “You really do need a board that compels the management to ask to look at issues from every perspective. And that is only possible if the board asks challenging questions, and that is only possible if the chairman allows for that culture to develop, to evolve.”
Anish Shah, CEO of Mahindra Group, shares this sentiment. “There are certain glass ceilings or certain constraints and first, from an organization standpoint, diversity is very important because it's about bringing in diverse ideas. It's about bringing in diverse mindsets,” he says.
When we expand our findings to look at international diversity in Indian boards, we find that companies tend to prefer national leaders. Boards with international board members are very low compared to global numbers standing at 44 percent while the global average is 73 percent. This isn’t necessarily negative as companies that predominantly do business in India may not necessarily benefit from an international director.
Ultimately, diversity is also about empowerment. “You can have diversity. You can tick the box with that. You can get people to dance at the party. That's about inclusion, equity. You can again say it on a paper, but the fact is you have to empower people. If you don't have a culture of empowerment, you won't get any of this to be a success,” says Mahindra.
Anand Mahindra, chair of Mahindra Group and Mikram Mehta, lead independent director of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd talk about how the organization intentionally embedded diversity as a core value. Watch now
No matter how good the board is, biases exist. Recognizing that and empowering people is the first step for change. Anand Mahindra, chair of Mahindra Group and Mikram Mehta, lead independent director of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., discuss. Watch now
Large and complex organizations that are also diverse can only thrive when inclusion is present. Mahindra Group CEO Dr. Anish Shah explains how leaders can create a more inclusive culture. Watch now
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