Riding on Reputation

Zia Mody, one of the founding members and managing partner, AZB & Partners, is considered among the top corporate lawyers in the country. Daughter of former attorney general Soli Sorabjee, her meteoric rise has been despite glass ceilings in a primarily male-dominated world. Mody shares with Meera Srikant some of her achievements, how the world is changing, and how men and women can ensure an egalitarian approach to the profession of law

Congratulations on being recognised as one of the `Top 13 Female Acritas Stars´ globally. Kindly tell us more.

Acritas Stars, started in 2016, is a database of stand-out lawyers nominated by clients following independent telephone interviews. Being recognised by them is very satisfying both personally and professionally, given the high bar that the ranking demonstrates.

As a person raised in the Bahá’í faith, what are some of your core driving values?

I think as a Bahá’í, what is ingrained in us is the complete commitment to honesty. We are told, ‘Work in the spirit of service is Worship’. And gender equality is a religious commandment. Men and women are like the two wings of a dove. Without either wing, the bird cannot fly.

Do you see a change in perception about women lawyers over the years?

The challenges women faced earlier as lawyers has reduced as far as corporate law is concerned. However, the challenges in litigation for women remain negatively intense. The bar has very few women even today. The perception that male advocates can handle the matter better is very much ingrained in clients.

What would your advice be to aspiring lawyers on how to approach gender differences at their workplaces?

I would advise young lawyers, both male and female, to appreciate the value, integrity and loyalty that women bring to the workplace and to figure out how collectively everybody should strive to find constructive solutions. There are yet not enough women in decision-making rooms. The key is (i) a mental shift and (ii) accepting the value that women bring to the workplace.

Do you think the SEBI regulation on mandating representation of women in company boards is implemented in spirit?

Laws on gender certainly help as a statutory push. The Companies Act assists. SEBI has mandated that there be at least one female independent director on listed companies. But corporate lawyers could do much more to reduce the gender disparity. They can point out non-compliance and see that these provisions are adhered to. Senior corporate law management can certainly push the gender diversity by seeing that retention of female lawyers is made an imperative, listen to their problems and find bespoke solutions.

In the light of some of the corporate scams in the recent past, how do you think corporate governance can be improved?

As far as corporate governance is concerned, again I think it has improved. Top management has to be made constantly aware that good governance enhances valuation.

How can Indian corporates handle cases of gender discrimination and sexual harassment better?

Indian corporates are still not ready to handle cases of gender discrimination more sensitively. I think that constant awareness and training is the only way to make the workplace safer.

How do you see the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem evolving and the pitfalls that one must prepare for?

The Indian entrepreneurial space will continue to be exciting and challenging and I hope India sees a lot more Unicorns (privately held start-up company valued at over $1 billion). I think the pitfalls are obviously the youngsters’ aggressive risk appetite and a lack of wisdom that leads to mistakes. But that is a part of the game.

An anecdote that taught you a life lesson?

As a youngster arguing in court, I made a statement which the other side said was wrong. The judge came to my rescue and told the other side that it will not be wrong if that is what Zia Mody says. That taught me how important reputation was and how it should never be compromised.

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