| Natasha Doff |
LONDON (WP-BLOOM) – When Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw set up Indian biotechnology company Biocon in
1978, female entrepreneurs were so rare that she said a bank offered her credit under a special program meant mostly for the disabled and the country’s poorest castes.
“They had a very patronising attitude toward women,” Mazumdar-Shaw said. “There was a cap on the amount of loans they were giving to women. I didn’t take it, of course.”
A lot has changed in the last 36 years.
Today, there are 22 female chief executive officers of publicly traded companies in India, the developing country with the second-most women holding CEO or equivalent posts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. China is number one, the data show.
Buoyed by wider educational opportunities, laws mandating female participation in corporate governance and government support for children and families, businesswomen in emerging nations are narrowing the gap with their more developed counterparts.
Ten years ago, there was just one female director of an emerging-market-based company.
Now there are more than 1,500, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
They clearly have a way to go, however. The percentage of Indian companies headed by women, 0.5 per cent, compares with 24 women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, or 4.8 per cent.
Globally, businesses with women in decision-making positions tend to show stronger stock performance and a higher return on equity, according to a Credit Suisse Group AG report, “Women in Senior Management,” published in September.
“If you are a woman employer, they will think, ‘Will the company last?’” said Mazumdar-Shaw, 61, now Biocon’s chairwoman. “The moment you start succeeding, you debunk all those credibility perceptions.”
Under Mazumdar-Shaw’s leadership, Bangalore-based Biocon’s market value has almost doubled to US$1.3 billion since 2004.
The rate of women attending universities and getting college degrees around the world is now higher than men, according to research from Yale University.
India’s so-called Companies Act of August 2013 required all businesses trading on the stock market to have at least one female director.
Currently, about six per cent of publicly traded companies in the nation have women on their boards.
Laws in Norway, Spain and France requiring companies to have a quota of women on their boards have boosted female representation at senior management levels.
At 41 per cent, Norway has the highest number of companies with female board directors, according to a survey by Corporate Women Directors Inter-national, a Washington-based advocacy group.
Malaysia introduced a 30 per cent female quota for senior roles in large companies, enforceable by 2016, while Brazil is considering imposing a 40 per cent requirement for women on the boards of state-owned enterprises by 2022.
About five per cent and 10 per cent of companies in both countries, respectively, have women on their boards, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
In most developing countries, the figure is below 10 per cent and in the majority of Middle Eastern nations it is under two per cent, the data show.
The proportion in Britain and the US has increased over the past four years to 17.9 per cent and 13.7 per cent, respectively, according to Credit Suisse.
China, South Africa and Poland are among the nations with the highest ratio of females in top management in the developing world, the Credit Suisse data show.
More than 550 publicly traded companies in China, or about 21 per cent, have women on their boards. Ceetop and China Teletech Holding, both based in Shenzhen, are two of the four companies in the world with all-female boards.
The one-child policy and strong family support networks, which ease child-care responsibilities for mothers, have helped women climb the career ladder in China, according to Fianna Jurdant, a senior policy analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“I’ve been working with Asia for about eight years and what I’m seeing is that gender balance in the boardroom wasn’t even a topic on anyone’s agenda five or six years ago and now there’s a lot happening,” Jurdant said.
Slowing growth in emerging markets since the 2008 global financial crisis spurred many developing-country governments to encourage companies to bring women into senior management, according to Jurdant.