India is the world’s largest democracy, but ranks among the lowest in women representation at top levels of corporations.
According to a Grant Thornton poll, almost 34 per cent of businesses surveyed have no women representation in senior positions, while 34 per cent have no women at all. Oh, and only nine per cent of startup founders are women.
Women in urban environments tend to have more access than their rural counterparts in education, hygiene and sanitation, and nutrition. But whether a woman is in the city or the town, the ground is far from level with men. Systemic inequality in the workplace leads to other individual problems: Lack of self belief, losing momentum after maternity, societal pressure and limited growth opportunities.
So we spoke to six extraordinary women who have defied the statistics, to understand how they broke through and challenged the status quo to become a great leader. Their replies hit closer to home than the numbers.
#1 Anjali Batra, Founder, Food Talk India
Food Talk India is one of India's largest digital food communities that brings together people with a passion for Food.
On what keeps her going
It’s very important to have the right support system, someone who can hold you through the hard journey of entrepreneurship and who can keep you stable through the downs and humble through the ups of working on your own. I think I’ve been really, really lucky to have a great family who supported me through all of this. In fact, in many ways, they pushed me into doing what I’m doing today.
#2 Nandita Abraham, Pearl Academy of Fashion CEO
Pearl Academy is a premium higher education institute in India, offering undergraduate, postgraduate and diploma courses in design, fashion and business.
On being the only "saree" (and not a suit) on the board:
I come from a family of very strong women and while growing up there was always a push to be the best of what one can be. So I imbibed that while growing up. Pearl Academy is full of a lot of strong, ambitious women but somewhere there is a block about a woman wanting to be the President or the CEO. I was lucky to have mentors, even male mentors, who helped me push the envelope.
#3 Rashmi Virmani, Fashion Choreographer & Producer, The Ramp
With a legacy spanning more than two decades, The Ramp delivers services of an in-house modelling agency, talent booking & creative set designing, to create memorable fashion events.
On challenging the status quo and balancing career & family:
When I started, no one understood why an Economics (Hons) student would want to get into fashion choreography & show direction, and setup a modellig agency! It was a very different career choice, but it was just so important to me, it was something that was my calling, I think. Over the years, The Ramp was formed and I must say that marriage, children, it was all very important and I never put one over the other. Why do I have to choose because I’m a woman? I choose to do both. I was very lucky that my husband was very supportive- he has been my buddy through the years!
#4 Shweta Jain, India Head, William Grant & Sons
William Grant & Sons Limited is an independent, family-owned company distilling some of the world’s leading Scotch whisky brands and other selected premium spirits.
On making the right choices & leading by example:
It’s absolutely fine to make a choice between continuing to run and slowing down. It’s absolutely fine that you don’t want to run at that pace and instead of doing multiple things; Raising children, working, earning in a very time-pressure kind of a job, you choose to pursue your other self-interests. But if you chose to run, you must lead by example. So, reaching office at 8 am or choosing to reply to a mail at 12:30 am, is a choice that a leader must demonstrate.
#5 Carol Singh, Founder of Antidote
Antidote is a range of functional beverages such as cold-pressed, organic juices & almond milk, that provide easy, on-the-go nutrition.
On being the dark horse:
I think a lot of organisations, while working with women, don’t see them as competition. Prejudices like, "oh she’s married" or "she’s is going to get married and drop out of the race", sort of creep in! And I must say, it's great, because being a dark horse is a great thing!
#6 Christina Macgillivray, Founder of Mummy Daddy Productions
Mummy Daddy Productions is a boutique production house in New Delhi that conceptualises and executes branded video content for an online audience.
On making a mark in a male-oriented profession in a foreign country:
So, video and cinema is a very male-dominated profession behind the camera. I think less than five per cent of cinematographers and directors are women. So I’ve learnt to be tough, relentless, very physical and creative at the same time. I fell in love with India more than any other place, so I knew I wanted to be here. Starting a business in a culture that is totally different from my own was extremely challenging, but hey, I wouldn’t trade the challenges because they made the victories look even more glorious.