Let us be very clear - seeking to see more women in leadership roles is not about ‘political correctness’, affirms Zubin Palia, Chief Group HR & IR, Tata Steel. 

In October 2020, global steel major Tata Steel organised the fourth edition of its pioneering scholarship programme, ‘Women Of Mettle’. In view of the pandemic, the competition was re-designed to leverage the virtual platforms, including the first-ever virtual finale held today. It received record registrations from 600+ second-year female engineering students from over 50 premier engineering institutes across India, including the IITs, NITs and the likes.

Launched in 2017, the programme is aimed at encouraging gender diversity and inclusion in the manufacturing sector. The applicants go through a rigorous selection process that involves technical challenges at various stages. The shortlisted students get to work on a live technical challenge and present the solution live to the select jury. The top 10 candidates not only get the opportunity to become the recipient of a scholarship but also receive an opportunity to make a career at Tata Steel, by presenting their final solutions at the grand finale.

 Zubin Palia, Chief Group HR & IR, Tata Steel Limited, firmly believes that investment in such forms of education form the basis of creating women leaders of the future. Below, he shares his commentary on the topic, urging leaders in corporations to step up and invest in diversity.


Gender diversity in leadership is a great way to build a progressive and inclusive society. Studies conducted around the world have consistently shown that women leaders bring a lot more to the table, yet the gender gap in positions of power remains an aspiration that is yet to be fully met.

Ensuring such equality in outcomes, i.e. having more women leaders, must start with providing equality of opportunity for all. Among the many affirmative actions we can take to make this happen, one would definitely be to ensure that more women are encouraged to pursue their educational goals, starting from the primary level, going all the way up to the highest academic echelons available to men. We wouldn’t be too off-the-mark to argue in favour of providing direct financial incentives like scholarships to hasten this much-needed change in our society.

Women make great leaders

First, let us be very clear that seeking to see more women in leadership roles is not about ‘political correctness.’ A 2019 study by Zenger Folkman, a US-based organisation that helps in achieving leadership development goals, found that women make better leaders and backs this claim with solid data.

Out of a list of 19 leadership qualities that were considered in this study, women outscored men in 17.

There is another interesting fact to share. The 2020 Reykjavík Index for Leadership that measures the extent to which men and women are viewed equally in terms of their suitability for positions of power showed that India scored 68 (100 means that across society, there is complete agreement that men and women are equally suited to leadership in all sectors). However, the ground realities in India are far from ideal. For example, only 15% of our Members of Parliament (both houses) comprise women. Similarly, according to National Stock Exchange data for 2019, only 15% of the board members were women and less than 5% of CEOs were women in Nifty-500 companies.

Creating more room for women leaders, be it in politics, business or any field they may choose to be engaged in, has to start with creating a strong educational foundation that will not only focus on building capabilities but also play an important part in imbuing the confidence to lead.

One may argue that access to education does not guarantee the development of leadership qualities in women (or men for that matter), but it sure opens up more doors. We also know that a well-educated woman is more likely to stand up for herself and be a role model for others to follow suit.

In a patriarchal society like India, where parents tend to prioritise boys’ education over their girl children, particularly in the rural areas of the country, providing focused financial incentives like scholarships will help reverse the trend.

Today, we have a host of financial schemes such as Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, Balika Samriddhi Yojana, CBSE Udaan Scheme, and National Scheme of Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education, etc. supported by tax-payers’ money that are incentivising education of the girl child in India.

However, given the importance of what we hope to achieve in the long-run by building a fair and equitable India, the value of private sector participation cannot be underscored.

Such interventions coming from corporations, non-governmental organisations and enlightened individuals is deemed to be more effective in terms of outcome.

The private sector can also offer more than financial support by way of mentoring and a career. For example, the ‘Women of Mettle’ programme of Tata Steel offers scholarship and a career for 10 lady students from select engineering colleges across India every year. This not only improves women’s participation in the manufacturing sector but also grooms them to be future leaders in the company.

Imagine the transformative power of such schemes if every business house starts to offer their own version of the ‘Women of Mettle’ programme. This is hardly a tall order, particularly if we view this in terms of investing in the future of nearly 50% of the population of our country.

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