Smriti Irani, minister for women and child development and minister of minority affairs, during Fortune India's Most Powerful Women in the Business event today, said Indian companies must promote strong women leaders who are not afraid to make noise when it matters.
"And when you are picking the CEOs, I am sure in your list of talents, none of the CEOs is supposed to report how nurturing they are. If organisations are going to pick female leaders as to how compliant they are, how submissive they are, and how nice they are, you possibly will not find their mention at the top echelon of corporate power. That needs reflection. Why do we want to find amiable women in boardrooms who don't make much noise? Why can't we withstand the woman who is cantankerous with her huge rapturous voice, and was trying to bring drill some sense to you," she said during an interaction with Fortune India.
She said India has a Prime Minister who talks about development economics from the point of view of women. “I also believe that when looking at the agency of women from an administrative perspective, this year, we have had in totality about 60 departments, and allocation of ₹2,23,000 crore, only for projects dedicated to women's needs.”
She said: “Of 43 departments that were to report the gender budget, I have till now received the gender budget reporting from 41 departments already, which means fiscal disciple when it comes to gender justice.”
On the rise of the 'she economy' within the economy, the union minister said she’ll take “exception” to the terminology as it’ll presume “we as women will not be interested in the economy as a whole”.
She said when one talks about the budget, an impression one carries is that the women's agency's responsibility is of the woman and child development ministry alone. “For years and end, I have said on many platforms, that till the time it becomes the agency of every family and every family, you'll not find the changes you are hoping for.”
On the Centre’s priorities when it comes to women's development, she said under the G20 presidency, India recently had a W20 meeting. “The lady who began that initiative said it was an initiative of a group of people from Turkey because they felt the G20 community needed to discuss women's issues, and they did so on the sidelines. They were elated that now that the G20 presidency of India brings women's issues to the main table. The deliberations were are we genuinely needed it because now we had the Indian prime minister talking about development economics from women's perspective and how we are imperative as a gender to a nation's holistic growth.”
She said the 15th finance commission for the first time now has tied to gender justice across all panchayats. "This tie of funds on the basis of gender is not only limited to female-led panchayats, it is now imperative for every panchayat. The particular amount in the budget has to be spent on issues, which women deem fit within panchayat. This has not happened anywhere in the world."
On the higher ratio of women in corporate, the minister cited her own example, saying she wasn't sent to Amethi to contest Lok Sabha polls by her party, the BJP, because she was being nurtured but she was the most combative candidate.
Talking about Fortune India’s Top CEOs list, the minister said: "When we start giving those women positions of power within corporate entities, then in your top 100 CEOs, you'll need a different men's section. There are women with that capacity. The question is where are the men hiring them?"
On the representation of women in company boards, the minister said: "Ask any woman what are the challenges we face according to our age. If we are in our 20s, we are told we're young and inexperienced, if we are 30s, we're told didn't get married or aren't having babies. If you are in your 40s, you are told don't you want to mentor a 20-year-old. If you are in your 50s, you are told don't you want to mentor 30-year-olds. If we are in the 60s, we are already dead because we are told you want 20-year-olds."
She said it doesn't matter which way our professional lives are transitioning to, what matters is who's that individual or company who says this is the combative or balance of talent or tenacity it wants in its company. “Problem is when you are combative, people feel like you are bull in a China shop. The woman who is combative, may be prone to failure, is not easily digested."
On government’s initiatives, she said with Mudra loans, which were not a gendered loans, 70% of the beneficiaries were women. “320 million loans were given. Over 200 million women made a cause for what women can do in business.”
From 200 million, “you can't find women good enough on boards or leadership positions?” She asked.
She also said that there is an assumption that education will bring a huge change in how women are perceived. “But has it? " She asked.
Is politics gender-biased? The minister said not at all. “Otherwise, I would not have been minister consistently for nine years."
On women's representation in politics at all levels, the minister said there 1.4 million political leaders at the grassroots level are in India. “But they don't get counted in the global gender gap index.”
“By sheer math magic, if you look at the counting of 1.4 million panchayat leaders, MLAs, MPs and ministers, India will get ranked higher only on political equity,” she added.
What can digital entrepreneurs do to handhold startups, especially women entrepreneurs? The minister said the Covid pandemic proved to the global world order that people can adapt and adopt technology with electricity when need be. “Among 800 million plus users, the number of women who use interest is comparatively low but the internet is not available in their language of choice. In a country with 16,000 dialects and 125 constitutional languages, if digital solutions are provided in a localised linguistic capacity, more women will partake in the joy of the internet. It'll be a win-win for women and business."
On areas of women's presence in credit culture or self-help groups, the ministers said if one relies on budget pronouncements, it does talk about creating clusters out of self-help groups. “If you study past budgets of the government, self-help groups received support worth 1 lakh crore each year”.
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