Corporate counsel are in favour of meritocracy and an equality charter that transcends numbers and quotas, but the battle is far from won. Vandana Chatlani reports

Supreme Court Justices Dhananjaya Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi recently passed a ruling that enables women officers to serve as army commanders. The court also granted women officers the right to extended permanent service – a privilege that previously applied only to men.

While the order affords women army officers the rights they deserved long ago, it does not fix overnight the backward views and stubborn stereotypes that persist within the corridors of power, be it those in the army or elsewhere.

True equality in the army, remark the justices, is only possible with a change in mindsets: “If society holds strong beliefs about gender roles – that men are socially dominant, physically powerful, and the breadwinners of the family, and that women are weak and physically submissive, and primarily caretakers confined to a domestic atmosphere – it is unlikely that there would be a change in mindsets.”

Equality goals

Assumptions about women and decisions based on perceived merit and capabilities, physical limitations, demeanour and domestic or caregiving responsibilities extend far beyond the army to many other fields, industries and professions.

The reluctance to promote women to higher ranks of the legal profession stems from similar biases and flawed beliefs. “The challenges women attorneys face are no different from challenges faced by women in other professions or organizations,” says Aparna Mittal, founder of Samāna Centre for Gender, Policy and Law, who advises companies on strategies for diversity and inclusion.

“Mentoring, focus on merit and not perception, progressive programmes to integrate maternity returnees, creating an understanding about the importance of men being equal partners when it comes to domestic or caregiving responsibilities … all of these aspects are crucial to building an environment of true equality.”

In the past several years, women have increasingly made strides as leaders in corporate counsel roles. “Today, corporates have evolved to a greater level of gender inclusion and are focusing on creating the right environment and policies to support this,” says Roop Loomba, general counsel and head of ethics for India and South Asia at Rolls-Royce, speaking in a personal capacity. “If one is focused and hard-working, there is no dearth of opportunities, irrespective of gender. At the same time, our society continues to be impacted by gender biases, and both men and women must be trained to deal with these in a mature manner.”

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