Shaping the Future: The Rise of Female Leadership in Corporate India

Shaping the Future: The Rise of Female Leadership in Corporate India
Crop Woman Using Laptop in Modern Workplace, by Karolina Grabowska, via Pexels, May 17th, 2020.


Shahad Ghannam

East Asia Human Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence

In a significant evolution of the corporate landscape, Indian companies are making strides toward gender diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), aligning themselves with global human rights principles and the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), particularly Goal 5: Gender Equality to be achieved by 2030. This transformative journey within India signifies a commitment to equality and marks India's compliance with international human rights commitments.

As per the EY report on 'Diversity in the Boardroom: progress and the way forward', women's representation on corporate boards in India has tripled over the last decade, illustrating the increasing recognition of gender diversity as a vital business imperative. Nearly 95 percent, rising from 69 percent in 2017, of NIFTY500 companies (the top 500 companies listed on the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE)) now have at least one female board member. Additionally the life sciences sector leads in female board representation at 24 percent, closely followed by the media and entertainment industries. These efforts are bolstered by initiatives aimed at creating inclusive environments that counter workplace stereotypes and biases that educated and financially independent women in India are subjected to. At the heart of this change is flexible work hours and mentoring programs, among other initiatives to attract and retain working and returning female talent. Leading Indian corporations such as Cognizant, Larsen & Toubro, and HDFC Bank are at the forefront of this pivotal shift, emphasising diversity beyond numerical representation​​​​​​.

The collective efforts of Indian firms reflect an imperative to transcend traditional hiring norms and create environments where diverse talents are valued and can thrive. By prioritising DEI objectives, and adhering to mandates like the Securities and Exchange Board of India's requirement, in Regulation 17(1), for female board representation, companies are enhancing their competitive edge while contributing to a more equitable society.

The strides made by Indian corporations resonate with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on equality and non-discrimination (Articles 2 and 7), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which India became a signatory in 1993 (Articles 1, 2, and 11), showcasing a tangible commitment to women's empowerment across corporate India. These actions also align with SDG 5 and particularly exemplify the spirit of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action by advocating for women’s economic empowerment and participation in decision-making processes.

Despite these strides towards gender diversity and inclusion within Indian corporations, achieving global gender equality standards remains a goal yet to be fulfilled. To bridge this gap, corporations can play a pivotal role by enhancing transparency around DEI efforts, promoting work-life balance through flexible work arrangements for women, and actively developing a diverse leadership pipeline. These strategies not only aim to close the gender equality gap but also position Indian companies to surpass global expectations in fostering an inclusive corporate environment.

Sources and further readings:

[1] EY, 'Women's Representation on Indian Boards Has Tripled in 10 Years' (EY, 10 October 2022) <> (accessed 18 March 2024)

[2] EY, Diversity in the Boardroom: Progress and the way forward (2022) <> (accessed 18 March 2024)

[3] 'Gender Diversity in India Inc' (India CSR, 4 March 2020) <> (accessed 18 March 2024).

[4] 'Corporate India focusing on gender diversity to hire more women in 2023' (Business Standard, 26 December 2022) <> (accessed 18 March 2024).