The Prospects of Women CSR Heads By Riddhi Ghosh

By Riddhi Ghosh

Riddhi GhoshTwo issues play in mind as we pen the article. Firstly the CSR seed just planted in Indian corporate soil, getting watered and nourished to bear fruits with time (Section 135 of Indian Companies Act 2013). As a must have for certain sized companies, mandated by Companies Act 2013, formation of a CSR committee is a new entrant.

The second one is a new mandate in the domain of corporate governance; for appointment of women director in boards of listed companies to create a balanced gender diversified board (Section 149(1)).

It only signifies the emphasis that the state is trying to impose on board level responsibility and senior management involvement in internalizing CSR in business operations. Against this backdrop of a fresh evolution in Indian corporate world, Indian businesses are stressing on CSR being an essential ingredient to robust corporate governance model. Can this be a point to explore if the mantle of CSR be entrusted to a woman director or viewed in a different perspective can a women director in India successfully collaborate to execute CSR in true spirit?

In their book, The Female Vision, Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson discuss a survey finding that women are more inclined to value work for the daily experience it provides than for how it impacts their career progression.

For many (generally for men), that level of uncertainty isn’t desirable in a job description, with eyes fixed to personal career advancement. Thus the involvement factor in daily work befitting a woman, give them an extra edge in CSR roles.

With varying details in job description of CSR professionals in Indian companies, a quick list of most sought after traits in a candidate maybe as follows:

Team work (calling it ‘giving credit’ to fellow members)
Intent to a positive social impact
Sense of empowerment

In a complex country like India, plagued with a plethora of social ills and infrastructural deficiencies, it will require qualities beyond normally enlisted in a job listing. It’s not about the degrees earned in technical schools and management theories that can suffice this directorial position.

Added to academic qualifications, it requires understanding of the fine threads connecting socio-political deficiencies to attitudinal stubbornness and religious dogma being ingredients in functioning of the society to function. In a world fiercely torn by competition, businesses cannot afford to stay ignorant to impending social, environmental and economic perils that can devour business at the bat of an eyelid.

A quality that must be possessed to any CSR professional in India is being empathetic to the country’s problems. In the words of Kathrine Winkler, CSO at EMC, ‘credit is a strong currency’ and forms the very basis of a successful CSR drive.

So an empathetic person with capability to connect and collaborate as a team, giving due appreciation and inspiring fellow members, is essential to success. There are quite a few reasons why we chose to explore women director in a key CSR role maybe as:

•The available pool of qualified, ‘sensitive’ women to be referred to for directorial assignments is apparently limited. Women with certain level of work experience and business acumen need to be trained for career advancement. Professional CSR being quite a niche segment till date may offer promising career advancements.

•The fine balance of leading and empathy can perhaps act well to craft innovative socially responsible projects.

•Women in general and more so for Indian women, tend to be shying away from asking for personal benefits and rights in social life. But they are portrayed as sacrificing and fighting for others rights. This is a character trait that can be an advantage towards successful execution of impact generating social projects.

While trend indicate growing number of women directors in global as well as Indian corporate (See Fig 1), a lot of brows have been raised off late on the background and capabilities of women directors chosen on board by companies seeking to comply with regulation

Country and Percentage of Women Directors

Norway 36.7
France 29.9
Sweden 24.4
Italy 22.3
Finland 22.1
Germany 18.3
USA 12.2
China 8.5
India 7.7
Russia 5.7
Indonesia 3.7
Indonesia 3.7
Japan 2.4
Republic of Korea 1.7

(This List indicates percentage of women directors globally)

A quick run through the list of notable CSR women heads globally establishes that it’s all established renowned names in business that have chosen a lady to head CSR operations (Karen Hamilton, Vice President, Sustainability, Unilever, Pamela Alabaster, SVP Corporate Communications, Sustainable Development & Public Affairs, L’Oreal USA., Andrea Thomas, SVP, Sustainability, Walmart etc) Beyond professional qualifications, each is charismatic personality and has been trained through years in different responsible roles in the organization.

Understanding the organization and aligning CSR ‘interests’ are critical foundation steps to drafting a CSR project which promises to deliver. Further CSR in India is getting launched in a brand new avatar and will require commendable doses on part of the executive to choose a path and stay focused on it awaiting desired impact – a trait again associated with women. It’s a bet worth taking, by focusing to create CSR women directors that maximize the chances of success in combating business uncertainties, a step towards creating a discipline of sustainable future.

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