Soma Mondal, currently Director, Commercial, has been recommended to take over as the next Chairperson of the steel major
Soma Mondal's possible elevation to the top job at Steel Authority of India is a rare event, not just for the domestic industry, but for the global steel sector.
Mondal, who is currently the Director, Commercial at the steel major, has been recommended by the Public Enterprises Selection Board to be the next Chairperson of the company.
To be sure, one can't celebrate, yet. The recommendation has to be now approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. And even if it does get approved, it won't be before December, when the tenure of incumbent AK Chaudhary ends, that Mondal will take over the reign.
If she does, Mondal's appointment will be a key milestone. Mondal will be the first woman to occupy the corner office at SAIL. It will also be the first instance of a woman professional leading a steel company in India.
At present only two women head steel companies in India. Sminu Jindal of Jindal Saw and Rita Singh of Mesco. Jindal is from the OP Jindal family, and her father PR Jindal is the chairman of Jindal Saw. Singh's husband JK Singh had founded Mesco.
While Jindal and Singh are from the promoter families, Mondal's elevation at the top of a steel company is a first for a woman professional.
A veteran in the metals sector, Mondal had joined SAIL in 2017, moving from NALCO, where she was Director, Commercial. She had been with the aluminium maker from 1984, soon after completing electrical engineering from NIT, Rourkela.
The metals industry veteran's elevation, says Aruna Sharma, the former Secretary, Ministry of Steel, Government of India, is a sign of women increasingly becoming a part of the steel sector. "It is a recognition of women now actively being part of the shop floor of a steel company. There are many young women engineers and technicians whom one will see working on the shop floor of a steel company," Sharma, who herself broke the glass ceiling with her appointment at the Steel Ministry, told Moneycontrol.
Industry observers say women make up for about 20 percent of the workforce in the global steel industry. The percentage is lower in India. Among leading steelmakers, Tata Steel in 2019, said it planned to double the number of women employees to 10 percent by 2025.
Mondal's rise, Sharma reiterates, should be seen as of a "woman who has come to the top on merit. And not because she is a woman."
Global steel industry
It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a woman chief executive at any of the leading steelmakers globally.
"Except Martina Merz, CEO of thyssenkrupp, I haven't come across a women chief executive yet, at least in the bigger steel companies," says a senior executive who has been in the steel industry for over 30 years. "But there could be in the smaller ones," he added.
A search does throw up the name of Barbara Smith, Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer at Commercial Metals Co, a medium-size steelmaker based in Texas, US.Interestingly, the mining industry has seen more women chief executives. Elizabeth Gains is the CEO of Australia's Fortescue Metals Group, and Marie Inkster is the chief executive of Canada's Lundin Mining.