It has taken over 10 years for the bill to reach this landmark no thanks to protests by male-dominated political parties. Now the bill needs to be passed by the lower house before it is sent to the president for signing into a law.
Ruling Congress party and the main opposition party BJP as well as the leftist parties supported the bill. Most likely the bill will see through the lower house.
India already has such quota for women in village councils which has improved the governance of these councils. But women in India face severe discrimination in other spheres of life. Last year, India ranked the 114th among the 134 countries in The Global Gender Gap Index computed by the World Economic Forum.
What it means for businesses?
While politicians have taken the step to bring more women in the mainstream of governing the country, what are companies doing to improve gender equality? Women remain largely unrepresented in the middle and senior management in businesses in India, except, perhaps, in the IT outsourcing industry. Women are rarely included in the governing boards of Indian companies.
Once the Women's Bill becomes law, the focus will be on businesses to introduce policies to ensure gender diversity. With 33% of lawmakers being women, businesses will have to rethink their attitude toward women. Business groups will also need to develop new skills and managers for effectively lobbying with female lawmakers.
If companies don't take proactive measures to enhance gender equality and diversity across organisation and supply chains and vigorously protect women's rights, new women lawmakers may push for a regulation for a similar reservation for women in private employment.
Should companies wait for the government to pass a bill to ensure women are fairly represented in companies' management? Or should they voluntarily, and sincerely, start promoting gender equality and gender diversity at all levels in the company? The choice is theirs. We all know voluntary action is the smart thing to do.