IT WAS AN OCCASION to meet the women leaders making a difference with their leadership in India Inc. Top leaders responsible for business growth across sectors, including women leaders of Indian origin in positions of power globally, graced Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women (MPW) In Business Awards at the Jio World Convention Centre in Mumbai on March 15, an occasion to celebrate the leaders who made a mark in business and economy in the previous year.

Addressing the winners, chief guest, Smriti Irani, Union minister for women and child development and Union minister of minority affairs, said corporate India is not stepping up to empower women even though the government has provided a framework. A few months ago, Fortune India and SPJIMR began work on a whitepaper backed by the Ministry of Women & Child Development, CII, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Karmanya Counsel to identify and recommend ‘ACTIONABLE SOLUTIONS’ to enhance women leadership in corporate India.

“What has come out of this whitepaper is that women know companies now have a legislative framework of giving 26 weeks of maternity leave but are scared to use it because they look upon it as an opportunity for the company to offload them,” says Irani. “There has been, for too long, a presumption that SMEs don’t know better and that is why women don’t have enhanced opportunity with regard to career advancements in such companies. The problem is that the top of the pyramid is equally unjust. Until such time we keep looking only at the bottom of the pyramid and think the top is sorted out, we will be doing great injustice to women,” she adds.

The MPW event started off with panel discussions. The first discussion was on Corporate India’s Unconscious Bias. Marcella Wartenbergh, CEO of Spanish fashion group AWWG that includes brands such as Pepe Jeans London, Hackett, Faconnable who was also the Guest of Honour at the MPW Awards ceremony, says she applies the rule of equal CVs of men and women to ensure diversity in her organisation. “Then we see who comes out of that. We need to make a bigger effort right from scratch. It’s not about men or women, but women also need to believe they can do it.” She also spoke on policy changes, saying reporting and mandates are good, but expertise in the team is important. “We need to have balance, so leaders not seeking equality will not survive. Men love to work with women and women with men. Any manager not supporting diversity will not survive in the next five years,” she adds.

Daisy Chittilapilly, president, Cisco India and SAARC, says men have to be part of the programme design. “Intentionality is a big part of it. Don’t make the pipeline excuse.” Pavitra Shankar, MD, Brigade Group, says people need to see that women are bringing value to the table, which is important. “In terms of unconscious biases, some may be exposed in their family. The conversation should be about men being allies of women, not against them,” says Shankar.

Ritu Arora, CEO and chief investment officer, Asia-Pacific, Allianz Investment Management, says when she joined the company, she was surprised to know 80% of the team was women in her company. “I asked the previous male manager, how he nurtured women-dominated leaders. He said he didn’t think it was men vs women but a neutral issue. The moment there are conflicts about men vs women, conflicts start.”

The second discussion was on Women Entrepreneurship Uninhibited. “This is the best time that India is seeing entrepreneurship, especially women entrepreneurship, where the ecosystem and government are working together to ensure that more women take up entrepreneurship and enjoy greater participation across fields. We have not seen a better time than this ever before,” says Ghazal Alagh, co-founder, Mamaearth.

Vinati Saraf, MD & CEO, Vinati Organics, expects in the next 10 years, women will not require women-specific recognition because they will constitute 50% of the workforce as well. Concurring with other panellists, Akshali Shah, board member and executive director, Parag Milk Foods says this is the best time for women entrepreneurship.

Meanwhile, Guneet Monga Kapoor, producer and CEO, Sikhya Entertainment, says, “We are not each other’s competition, we are each other’s companion.”

Addressing the audience, Guest of Honour Marcella Wartenbergh says, “It is not necessary that you cannot get success or recognition if you don’t go through a journey, but it is important to go through those roads and need to recognise them and be happy.”

“If you want to win a marathon, you need to train for the marathon. Running a marathon without sweat is not possible,” says Wartenbergh, while sharing her success journey.

Speaking at the Fortune India MPW event, the CEO of the Spanish fashion group Pepe Jeans says leaders need to believe in change because it is not possible to progress without change. Citing an example of Blackberry and iPhone, Wartenbergh says Blackberry was the boss during her childhood, but it failed to evolve like iPhone and died.

Colleen D’Souza, HR head at Mercedes Benz India, says, “In the corporate realm, breaking barriers is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing commitment to dismantle systemic obstacles that hinder the full realisation of diverse talent.”

The event culminated with the Most Powerful Women in Business Awards being bestowed on the winners by Chief Guest Smriti Irani. The Fortune India MPW awards were sponsored by Mercedes Benz, Air-India Express and Amrut Distilleries.

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