Thursday, 15 September 2011

Women Empowerment

Have women broken the glass ceiling? If yes, in which sector?
Indian women have come a long way since I started Biocon in the late seventies. At that time women were considered a ‘risk factor’ in business and I faced numerous hurdles because of my gender. No bank wanted to lend me capital and I found it difficult to find people to work for me. Today women get a lot of support from the government as well as from financial institutions.

Over these decades, women have made a mark in diverse fields such as business, the media, financial institutions, and pharmaceuticals through their sheer courage, hard work and conviction. Inspiring respect for taking their institutions to greater heights, woman business leaders such as Indra Nooyi, Chandra Kochchar, Kalpana Morparia, Swati Piramal, Anu Agha, Naina Lal Kidwai, Shikha Sharma, and Mallika Srinivasan, among others, have become role models for all to follow, irrespective of gender.
We have enormously talented women in our country who can rise to the top. However, they need to be willing to take on leadership challenges, balance work and family, and even change their attitudes. Women must use their spirit of enterprise and scale heights achieved by their male counterparts. I honestly believe that the glass ceiling is a perception and women with talent, determination and conviction can keep on chipping away at it till it is smashed.

Which sectors lag behind and why?
Sectors that require working at odd hours or in multiple time zones, traveling to on-site locations or to industrial units in interior parts of the country have fewer takers among women. Examples are the IT and IT-enabled sectors, manufacturing and traditional sectors like automobiles.

What is the role ahead?
Women who have made it to the top have proved that they can be as capable as men. They are naturally endowed with qualities like compassion, empathy, honesty, commitment, and the ability to work hard and multi-task which can be leveraged to their advantage. Companies need to do their bit by designing enabling organisational structures such as flexi-time options and choice of mobility that can help more women excel in the field of their choice. For example, Biocon encourages women not to work at odd hours and has a well-equipped crèche. We also provide a male escort for women who need to travel into the interior parts of the country.

Solutions such as reservations for women in boards have been floating around but I don’t think it is the answer. In fact, I would not appoint a woman for her gender alone but for the role she is capable of playing. Women have the ability to climb to the top but they must realize that responsibilities and challenges that come with it. At the same time, they need to be supported and encouraged by their organisation and family to attain their potential.

What are the road blocks which are yet to be overcome?
Perception is the biggest hurdle for women. A large number of people in India still believe that women are capable of performing only a certain type of jobs and that marriage must take precedence over career. Many times, women find it difficult to find jobs because of gender discrimination even when they are well qualified. This mindset, of both men and women, needs to change if any progress is to be made.
A second obstacle for many women is the pressure of balancing work and life. Since women are good at multi-tasking they can manage with panache the many roles they are expected to take on. However, they need support from their families and their employer.

Another major roadblock is the scant regard we pay to a girl child’s education. Reservation of seats or scholarships alone will not help unless the attitude towards their education and career doesn't change. We need to foster a culture that encourages women to pursue careers.

Is the break big enough or are we just touching it?
Although we have made enormous progress of late, the number of women who have reached the top is negligible and it would be foolish to think we've made a sizable crack in the glass ceiling. However, it is encouraging that there are many top woman professional executives in the country, not just women who have inherited leadership roles through their families. For the glass ceiling to truly shatter we will have to ensure gender equality, better educational opportunities for the girl-child, devise a support system for the working woman, change our gender attitudes, and ensure that society is not insecure about a woman’s success.

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