State Bank of India chief Arundathi Bhattacharya on Wednesday said it is acceptable for female relatives to be appointed company board members if they have the required capabilities, AFP reported. Bhattacharya’s statement follows the decision of several companies to appoint female family members to their boards after a 2013 order made it compulsory to have at least one woman on the panel.
Firms scurried to meet the March 2015 deadline announced by the Securities and Exchange Board of India, and appointed wives, daughters and other female relatives to the post. On this Bhattacharya said, "A lot of women who are getting inducted after SEBI's rule are family members. And this isn't a problem as long as they understand the business."
Bhattacharya is the first female chairperson of one of the country’s biggest banks and the only woman chief of a public sector bank. She said the ruling changes a skewed gender ratio in company management, but that corporates still lag behind in promoting diversity. She stressed on the importance of an "outsider's perspective" and said that companies that complain about the dearth of qualified women for top positions are not trying hard enough.
Studies suggest that female presence is weak across the corporate vertical, both in India and internationally. The International Labour Organisation ranked India 120th among 131 countries in terms of female participation in 2013. The SBI chief attributes this to the prevailing view that women are primary caregivers. Bhattacharya is known for her initiative that allows women two-year sabbaticals that encourage women to stay within the workforce.
The agency said Bhattacharya, the fifth most powerful woman in finance according to Forbes, has been criticised for the problem of bad loans, which is slowing down the country's economic growth. She publicly denounced businessman Vijay Mallya's failure to repay his debts. Mallya, who became the face of the bad loan problem, is accused of several loan defaulting cases and owes around Rs 9,000 crore to 17 Indian banks.
Analysts speculate that the bad loans tag cost Bhattacharya her chance to be Reserve Bank of India chief. With her term concluding in September, investors are now debating if she will extend her tenure at SBI.