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Will Tata Group promote women at the top?

The very name of salt to steel Tata Group evokes respect among Indians. It is among the few business conglomerates of the country that thinks beyond profit.

Will Tata Group promote women at the top?

The very name of salt to steel Tata Group evokes respect among Indians. It is among the few business conglomerates of the country that thinks beyond profit. Tata Group, privately owned nearly 100 companies encompassing several primary business sectors: chemicals, consumer products, energy, engineering, information systems, materials, and services. As it is not enough, it has always encouraged the best talent to join and excel in various companies of the group that was founded by Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata and later nurtured by the likes of Sir Dorab Tata, JRD Tata, Ratan Tata and now N Chandrasekaran. But, one misses women at the top in Tata group. We have seen great CEOs like FC Sehgal (TCS) Russi Modi (Tata Steel), Darbari Seth (Tata Chemicals ), Nani Palkhivala (ACC), Ajit Kerkar (Taj Hotels) and others in Tata Group from time to time. Alas, we do not see any woman becoming CEO there. That's something Tata Group cannot be proud of. Even Tata group chairman N Chandrasekaran admits in an interview to Economic Times on May 13, 2022, "We have to work on it. That is another top priority." He was asked, 'Why does the Tata Group not have more women in leadership roles?'

And while Tata Group is still not in a position to promote any women executive at the top, another very prestigious business group- Godrej has announced that Nyrika Holkar is to become the CMD of Godrej and Boyce Manufactureing Company. Remember like Tata Group, the promoters of Godrej Group are also Mumbai based Parsis.

Nyrika Holkar is married to Yeshwant Rao Holkar, the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Indore. She has been steering the company for the past two years. As executive director, she has been driving talent management, legal and intellectual property management, and mergers and acquisitions.

A solicitor by training, Holkar now finds herself in the spotlight, with her cousin Navroze Godrej stepping down to pursue personal interest. Holkar worked at Zia Mody's (daughter of eminent legal brain Soli Sorabji) AZB & Partners before being inducted into Godrej & Boyce. She is the only fourth-generation member of the Godrej family on the board. Her other cousin, Raika Godrej - sister of Navroze Godrej - is not involved in the business.

Holkar has once said in an interview that she was counting on the consumer-facing businesses of the company to drive growth. Holkar wants to bring together all of Godrej & Boyce's home solutions under the "One Godrej" retail concept. At experience centres - "U & Us" - consumers will be able to see all products under one roof. The Rs 10,000-crore Godrej & Boyce, known for its manufacturing prowess, already derives around 55-60 per cent of its revenue from its consumer businesses. The balance comes from segments such as defence and aerospace engineering, where the company provides key components and parts for the Brahmos missile and launcher. It also provides liquid propulsion engines, cryogenic engines, and satellite booster systems for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and has executed a number of orders both for ISRO and the Defence R&D Organisation over the years.

More recently, Holkar said the company had stepped into the civil aviation segment, supplying parts to companies such as Boeing and Rolls Royce. In precision engineering, where the company supplies equipment across industries, including steel and power, the priority for the firm will be wind, solar, and nuclear energy in the future.

And like Godrej and Tata, the promoters of Wadia group are also Parsi. They have a formidable reputation since long. Here the group chairman, Nusli Wadia had appointed Vinita Bali as the managing director of Britannia Industries. Vinita Bali, the alumnus of Delhi's Lady SriRam College, was the first woman to head a major consumer goods company in India, back in 2005. Even after quitting the company, she still serves on the boards of the other Wadia Group firms such as Bombay Dyeing, Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and Go Airlines. Clearly, Tata group has to find some accomplished lady to sit in Bombay House, the headquarters of Tata group since over one century.

A recent Deloitte report on women in the boardrooms around the world shows that over the last six years, India has seen a decline in the number of women CEOs. As per the Deloitte study, in 2016, the share of women CEOs in India stood at 6.6 percent but declined to 3.4 percent in 2018, and in 2021, it stood at a disappointing 4.7 percent only, way below previous levels.

According to Fortune magazine, currently India had only five women CEOs namely, Soma Mondal, director, SAIL; Anamika Roy Rashtrawar, director, IFFCO; Padmaja Chunduru, MD, Indian Bank; Vinita Gupta, CEO, Lupin and Zarin Daruwala, CEO, Standard Chartered Bank India. That is not all. Mondal and Daruwala were the first ever women CEOs appointed in the history of their respective companies. Soma Mondal has the distinction of not only being the first woman Functional Director of SAIL, but she is also the first woman Chairman of the Company. A graduate in Electrical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, in 1984, she has over 35 years of experience in the metal industry.

Why very few women CEOs are there at the top in India? Many Indian corporate watchers say that gender bias still exists in the Indian corporate sector. Although many initiatives are taken, the ground reality is very different from what is seen or heard. Another reason why women miss reaching the highest spot in organisation is the shrinking pipeline of women leaders in the corporate world. One only hopes that Tata group will promote women at key positions sooner rather than later. After all, it is a role model for Indian corporate world.

(The author is Delhi-based senior journalist and writer. He is author of Gandhi's Delhi which has brought to the forth many hidden facts about Mahatma Gandhi)

Vivek Shukla
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