The old man called and he wants to speak to you—I was quite surprised to hear this from my partner. Around fifteen years back when I was a naive young professional, I refused to share some audit findings with this client , even though he reminded me that he was the managing director. I was quite adamant and told him that ‘I know Sir but I will not discuss anything with you right now. First I shall discuss the matter with my senior partner’.
To my surprise I was being offered an opportunity to be a ‘woman independent director’ of the very same company which once I used to audit in the capacity of internal auditor at a grass root level i.e cash vouching, physical stock verification, bank reconciliations etc.
At the first Board meeting I was welcomed with an open heart. The old members of the accounts team presented me beautiful smiles and flowers. The atmosphere was euphoric since everybody hoped that their company was on the right track and such a big leap of getting listed on a stock exchange will enable them to achieve their dreams. I on the other hand was a bit nervous. First of all I was not sure whether I was dressed for the occasion or not . I had a dilemma as to whether I should have chosen to be in a traditional indian outfit i.e. saree since the promoters came from the southern part of India with a rich culture and heritage or since it’s a formal meeting so I should be wearing western formals. To choose a middle path ,I finally picked a nice silk salwar kameez with dupatta .The other problems like whether to put on a little makeup or to carry ‘no makeup look’ : whether to wear some ornaments or just a statement piece : to tie the hair or to keep it loose : choice of hand bags etc got sorted out somehow with help of kitty party friends. These were the matters I cared much rather than what precarious duties I am agreeing to being a ‘WID’ .
First few meetings went well because the agenda items were quite regular like adoption of previous minutes, appointment of cost auditor, company secretary etc. However the meeting for adoption of annual accounts was quite taxing. This is because it was during the COVID era. Hence it was a recorded meeting. There is a little more pressure if it is not a personal meeting. This is because there is little scope to understand what the other person is trying to convey through his body language, facial expressions, hand gestures and so on and so forth. Further the technical matters like the connectivity issues, hardware problems and may be sometimes electricity problems add up the heat. Plus the stark contrast of ‘ board room environment’ and ‘work from home’ environment—better to keep mum especially if you are a mom !
Amidst all this when I finally started reading financials and notes to accounts I was startled to read ‘emphasis of matter’. I burned mid night oil and finally came to a conclusion that something was not comfortable about the financials. Then I consulted some experienced ,knowledgeable friends as to how to go about this. I was completely aware that pandemic has disturbed everyone's life and this peculiar business segment is heavily affected. However I knew that the intentions of the management were genuine. It was a matter of time . But I had to keep my emotions aside and to act diligently in the greater good of the small investors and other stakeholders. Hence I decided to raise a flag .
As expected the meeting got extended beyond the timeline. The statements , workings of the internal auditor, an explanatory note from the management point of view of statutory auditors were discussed at length. The other independent directors, having little knowledge of finance were quite merely spectators. On the other hand I was the only lady in the meeting room raising questions, arguing the facts, asking for clarifications .
I’m of the opinion that gender dynamics do play a vital role. In such situations, apart from that temperaments of the individuals, knowledge about the specific provisions of the law, general awareness, peculiar industry specific problems, presence of mind, ability to cut jokes in order to reduce tension in the air, interpersonal relations, impressions/image of other members, mind set as a group and many other facets are deciding factors for the outcome of a meeting.
Lastly based on my little experience so far, when initially I paid much attention to being a ‘woman’. I have learnt to pay attention to being ‘independent’ and to give ‘direction’. I would urge more woman members to take a plunge and prove their mettle in this exciting professional journey.