31772a6dd13fa30012a6de614c7ac0fc9734955e5797a33812 Money And Knowledge: Forced hiring by India Inc ensures women at the top; companies compromising competence

Forced hiring by India Inc ensures women at the top; companies compromising competence

A few days ago, headhunting honcho K Sudarshan got a frantic call from the human resources director of a multinational corporation. "Either you find us a woman director for our board or I will be forced to perform a sex-change operation on one of us," was the desperate plea of the HR head to the managing partner for India of EMA Partners International, a global executive search firm. Evidently, the MNC chairman was keen to hire a woman to showcase board diversity at a global investor meet.

The HR chief may have made the 'sex-change' jibe in jest, but it brings to light India Inc's dilemma when dealing with the diversity agenda. Should companies be bringing women onto their boards even if, in the bargain, merit gets a short shrift?
"Companies have the intent. But to a large extent, it is forced. Indian companies that are taking cues from multinationals find it fashionable to talk about equal opportunity and gender diversity. But the point is that in certain types of job roles it is difficult to get appropriate women talent," says Sudarshan.

Several women leaders ET spoke to rubbished the attempt by boards to resort to 'forced hiring' to ensure gender diversity.

Says Vinita Bali, managing director of Britannia Industries: "A mandate sets the direction for action but cannot and should not be blindly followed. Gender diversity is not a statistic. The idea simply is that we have to provide opportunities for qualified women for senior corporate positions. It would be short-sighted and, frankly, quite silly on the part of any company to hire someone for their gender and not their competence." Adds Kalpana Morparia, CEO, JPMorgan India: "There should be absolutely no reservation or tokenism in the name of diversity. Meritocracy has to be gender-neutral."