Latest data from 2,257 companies listed on the National Stock Exchange, collated by Primeinfobase, show that just 45 of them have a woman in the chief financial officer or director-finance role. That number was 24 in March 2019 and 31 at the end of March last year.
Board members, executive search companies and legal experts said there is a lot of room for improvement. MNCs in India as well as large domestic firms and conglomerates are taking steps to enhance gender diversity in their top management, but they often find a shortage of talent to head the finance function, they said.
“On one in every three CFO search mandates, there is an explicit ask for a woman professional. However, it is essential to recognise that the talent pipeline varies across industries,” said Rahul Kakkar, partner and India head, CFO Practice, at the leadership advisory and senior executive search firm Korn Ferry.
For companies in the core industrial and manufacturing sectors, the talent pipeline is more limited compared with the services sector, where there has been greater success in cultivating and retaining high-potential, senior female professionals within the finance function. “However, where pipeline is an issue, we are seeing an openness to hiring talent from other sectors, prioritising potential over immediate readiness,” Kakkar added.MK Sharma, chairman and independent director at spirits maker Diageo, said there is a visible change in the addition of female leaders on corporate boards. “With active corporate legislation for hiring women leaders, there is a growing pool of women talent in CFO and legal roles. Possibly, they have not been as visible as they are today ” he said.Experts said a push is coming from board members to improve gender diversity (which is a key element in the ESG scores of companies) at the top deck. Investors too are looking to allocate funds to companies that are invested in social good.
A female CFO at a top company said women have been breaking the men’s club at several companies owing to regulations. So, there is a change in the male mindset of managements which is that women make good leaders too. “Several progressive corporates are now willing to make that bet and are actively seeking women leaders. And women are proving they can not only do as well as men, they are even better than them many times,” she said, seeking anonymity.
Abhinav Sharma, partner at PSD & Associates, a chartered accountancy firm, said the number of women in CFO roles is lower than in other functions, because women in finance generally gravitate towards consulting firms or specialised areas such as merger and acquisitions. “Almost 40% of students who qualify for CA courses are women. Women avoid switching jobs and taking career risks, which slows their climb up the corporate ladder. That trend is slowly changing” he said.
Recent appointments of women in the CFO role include Preeti Gupta Mohanty at Schneider Electric India, Suman Hegde of Jubilant Foodworks and Aparna Iyer at Wipro.
“In nearly 30% of our CFO mandates it is imperative to identify and hire a woman professional,” said Atul Vohra, managing partner at leadership search firm Transearch India. “Finance is a function in which women have excelled and from the ethics and diligence perspective too women are more respected,” added Vohra.