MUMBAI // Sminu Jindal is something of a corporate star.
She is a young Indian entrepreneur who is an inspiration to thousands of business school graduates.
And for good reason.
Ms Jindal, who uses a wheelchair and is in her 30s, leads Jindal Saw, a multimillion-dollar industrial piping company.
She said being a woman on top of the corporate world in India is not always easy - because of prejudices and age-old traditions.
But the tide is slowly turning.
"Discrimination against women in the Indian corporate world still exists, but because of the increased importance of the private sector and rise of multinational companies, the climate is getting better and there's an increase of women managers," she said.
Ms Jindal's words are backed by fresh research from the accountancy firm Grant Thornton, which found that the number of women in top management roles in India is increasing. The percentage of women in senior management has risen to 14 per cent this year from 9 per cent last year, according to Grant Thornton. The corresponding figure globally was 21 per cent, the company found.
India's top female leaders say women are getting ahead thanks to a growing female-friendly culture at corporations in India and the fact that companies are becoming more sensitive to working women's needs.
"Women have much more freedom in their choices today than ever before in India, in terms of part-time work, flexible hours and home working and second career chances. The way ahead looks even … brighter as women are getting recognised for leadership roles not only nationally but on international platforms, too," said Renu Sud Karnad, themanaging director of HDFC, India's largest mortgage company, with annual revenue of about US$5.6 billion (Dh20.57bn).
The report revealed that 66 per cent of Indian businesses support flexible working hours and working from home for women.
This number is higher than the global average of 52 per cent, thanks to widely improved human resources policies.
"These days, HR policies are much more people-friendly. They are looking at encouraging support systems and the overall environment to make it more facilitative towards people with families," said Ms Karnad.
It may not be surprising then that the study revealed human resources was the favourite profession for women, with 23 per cent holding senior positions. Finance and sales ranked number two and three, respectively.
But there is still a long way to go before India reaches equality in the boardrooms. The country remains a largely patriarchal society governed by ancient rules and unwritten customs. "India is a country that prides itself on being a traditional society.
"But the downside of it is that women face everyday social pressure to conform to traditional roles," said Ms Jindal.
But companies that embrace more female directors could be more successful, experts say.
"Investors may see outcomes of having woman on the board as an indication of forward planning and future value in a globalising world, where sensitivity to different outcomes is essential for long-term survival," said Amita Joseph, the director of the Business and Community Foundation, a non-governmental organisation in Delhi.
The Grant Thornton survey covered more than 6,000 businesses globally publicly listed and privately held.