PUTTING ASIDE the Covid-induced gap of over two years, the crème-de-la-crème of women leaders graced Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women (MPW) in Business Awards at ITC Grand Central in Mumbai on March 3. It was an occasion to celebrate India’s women leaders who have made a mark in business and economic landscape.
Addressing winners, guest of honour, Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Women and Child Development and Minister of Minority Affairs, said Indian companies must promote strong women leaders who are not afraid to make noise when it matters. During an interactive session on stage, Irani said, “When you are picking 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. 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 drill some sense.”
Talking about Fortune India’s Top CEOs list, Smriti Irani 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 Centre’s priorities on 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 the G20 presidency of India brings women’s issues to the main table. The deliberations are needed because now we have 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.”
The MPW event started off with panel discussions. The first discussion was on ‘Diversity in Core Sectors’. It tackled the entry of women in sectors where they were yet to make an impact in substantial numbers till quite recently. This includes manufacturing, steel, chemicals, real estate and automobiles. What emerged was that wherever there was diversity in teams, the results were much better. “Teams that are diverse had 18% better performance on engagement and profit,” said Karan Totlani, Director, Corporate Services, Sodexo India. “From a skilling perspective, when women in their role are not the primary care-givers, the amount of drive and energy they have towards classic socio-economic indicators of success they go after are exactly the same as men,” added Rohin Nadir, Associate Partner, KPMG in India. “As a sector, we have greater responsibility to be inclusive. We are very conscious of that,” says Mahika Shishodia, Head of Social Impact, Lodha Group.
The second discussion featured the ‘Entrepreneurial Explosion’ in the country. India has 85,000 start-ups, the third largest start-up ecosystem globally after U.S. and China. Of that, 18% have women as founders and co-founders. An entrepreneurial explosion is taking place with women leaders founding and leading businesses.
Divya Gokulnath, co-founder, Byju’s, says entrepreneurial explosion is happening because it is the age of digital entrepreneurs. “We can start from anywhere we want. It is possible, inclusive and diverse because it can start from home but not necessarily from the workplace,” she says. Ghazal Alagh, co-founder and chief innovation officer, Mamaearth, feels entrepreneurship has the capability to experience more and move forward faster. Vivek Gambhir, CEO, boAT Lifestyle, however, says while the country is witnessing an explosion of business, having diversity across segments especially in investments and finances still needs to be addressed. “Mindsets are changing. But if you look at the U.S. data, only 2% of venture capitalist funding went to women, the EU has only 0.7%. Now the great thing is India has 15 million women-owned enterprises, which is the highest number in the world.” It remains to be seen what will be the catalyst to drive more venture funding to women-driven organisations.
Anjali Bansal, founding partner, Avaana Climate Fund, says, “Entrepr- eneurship is tremendously empowering. It has so much responsibility. At the same time, it has a huge opportunity to create an impact. In a market like India, entrepreneurship is a responsibility to build very successful commercially-scaled businesses.” Devika Bhagat, Founder, Adventurist Spirits feels entrepreneurship allows delegating responsibilities. “The biggest learning has been not to do everything on my own, to be a team leader, to delegate responsibilities, and to let go.”
The last discussion was on ‘Workforce Mirroring Consumers: The Great Connect’. Organisations are increasingly feeling the need to ensure that their workforce mirrors their consumers. This includes not just having more women but also hiring people with disabilities, from the LGBTQ community, senior citizens as well as people from diverse educational backgrounds. That provides diversity in thinking, which in turn leads to better products and services delivery to consumers.
Anil Verma, CEO, Godrej & Boyce, says women play a leading role in decision-making for appliances, furniture, and home interior stuff. So for businesses like Godrej & Boyce, engaged in consumer goods, women employees act as influencers. P.S. Vishwanath, CEO, Randstad India, says, “Talent is scarce and borderless. So, we need to provide an environment where people can bring their true self forward.”
Santosh Iyer, MD & CEO, Mercedes Benz, says many women are buying luxury cars today, which shows transformation in society. A diverse work culture, he says, brings positive spirits and transformation within an organisation.
In his address — ‘Giving Wings to Dreams’ — Sandeep Batra, MD, HSBC India, said, “Today you can start your business at home. But, access to capital is needed when one is starting the process of entrepreneurship.”
The event ended with awards being presented to the most powerful women by guest of honour, Smriti Irani. The Fortune India MPW event was sponsored by HSBC and Unnati.