“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by,” wrote Robert Frost in his poem, The Road Not Taken. These words echo Arundhati Bhattacharya’s idea of life and what she has achieved so far as one of India’s most successful women business leaders. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, being woman,” Bhattacharya said, succinctly putting forth the achievements, of not only of herself, but of India’s most powerful women business leaders.
The former chairman of India’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) was speaking at the fifth edition of Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women (MPW) in business summit in Mumbai, on Friday. The almost four-hour long event, which was packed to the rafters, brought together some of the biggest women leaders in corporate India under one roof.
“I have a background in English literature. When I became chairman of SBI [in October 2013], people would very quickly skip over my academic credentials because they were enraged that a woman with a background in English literature was heading a Fortune 500 bank. Something that had not happened in the world,” said Bhattacharya. “But the fact of the matter is that I had a background in English but took the risk of getting into a bank about which I knew nothing and still managed to get up there and head it.”
Fortune India’s annual list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in business is an acknowledgement of the outstanding work that women entrepreneurs and executives have done in their respective fields. “In a country where women are still up against several socio-economic challenges, the 50 women who make our 2019 MPW list are examples of how determination, drive, creativity, and compassion can make a potent recipe for success,” said Sourav Majumdar, editor, Fortune India, while delivering the welcome address at the summit. “These women have proven themselves to be role models in diverse fields, charting out their own paths and, in the process, shattering the glass ceiling.”
The list of 50, added Majumdar, is just a representation of what creativity, passion, and entrepreneurial zeal can achieve, as more and more women scale new heights in the world of business.
Every year, the Fortune India MPW Summit brings together women executives and entrepreneurs to discuss issues related to gender, women in the workplace, the economy, and the society at large. And the debate is the highlight of the event. This year, the debate’s topic was: Women take fewer risks than men at the workplace.
Bhattacharya along with Ameera Shah, promoter and MD, Metropolis Healthcare, and Revathi Roy, co-founder and CEO, Hey Deedee, argued against the topic. Speaking for the topic was an equally high-profile list of women achievers: Zia Mody, co-founder, AZB & Partners; Rekha M. Menon, chairman and senior MD, Accenture in India; and Anupriya Acharya, CEO, Publicis Media India. The jury comprised Meena Ganesh, managing director and CEO, Portea Medical; Kaku Nakhate, president and country head, India, Bank of America Merrill Lynch; and Padmaja Ruparel, co-founder, Indian Angel Network.
“Women operate differently from men. Men are thrill-seekers, women are more deliberate. We (women) are thinking of outcomes and how it effects everybody else,” said Shah, during the debate. She also pointed out that women are more deliberate and thoughtful, adding that, “Women might not take 10 risks a day but when they do it is well thought out and planned.”
Mody countered Shah’s argument with statistics. Mody pointed out that according to a study by KPMG, 69% of women takes smaller/fewer risks at the workplace than men. “Our culture, our socialisation, the very patriarchal structure of our society allows a man to have the muscle out there and women to think: is it worth it?” said Mody. Shah responded: “Women do not take fewer risks but different kind of risks… risks are of different types and women take ethical, social, and personal risks which truly defines them.”
While the teams on both sides took a deep dive into the issues and challenges that women face at the workplace and at home, the team speaking for the motion won.
Over the last five years, the Fortune India MPW has built a community of women leaders, who come back to the summit every year for conversations, to debate and share their thoughts and experiences.
Apurva Purohit, president, Jagran Prakashan Group said two things that help women are a supportive company and supportive men in her life. “There is a lot of paternalistic bias. People think they are protecting women by not giving them jobs that require them to travel for 300 days a year… it is important to stand up for good work and success. There are many women who are very good at their work, but they prefer to be behind the scenes and don’t take themselves seriously,” Purohit said during a fireside chat with Majumdar.
“I want to give credit to the mothers today who are bringing up their child right,” she added.
Jyoti Deshpande, head of the media and entertainment business at Reliance Industries, who was also part of the fireside chat, stressed on the need for a change in the mindset of women at the grass roots level. “This room is not representative of real India.” She went on to state that women tend to be harder on other women at the workplace. “We set stricter norms [for women] because most of us have risen meritoriously and don’t want any concessions to be made,” said Deshpande.
And as with tradition, the culmination of the event saw the champagne pouring ritual that was carried out by Menon of Accenture in India and Roy of Hey Deedee.