Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The onus of empowering women lies equally on women too: Dipali Goenka of Welspun India

The CEO and managing director of Welspun India speaks about the changing perception of women entrepreneurs in India Inc., the fading patriarchal mindset and factors affecting the career prospects of women

Samidha Jain
Published: Jul 21, 2023 10:09:34 AM IST
Updated: Jul 21, 2023 10:41:54 AM IST

Dipali Goenka, the CEO and managing director of Welspun India Ltd.Dipali Goenka, the CEO and managing director of Welspun India Ltd.

Dipali Goenka, the CEO and managing director of Welspun India Ltd, has successfully led the company to become one of the world’s largest home textile companies and the primary supplier to the US. Under her leadership, the Welspun brand has reached homes in India and worldwide. Recognised for her achievements, Forbes has ranked her as the 16th most influential businesswoman in Asia. Additionally, Goenka's dedication to women's empowerment has led her to become the brand ambassador of WEConnect International, a globally recognised certification body for women-owned businesses in the textile industry and has made Welspun receive the certification of a ‘Woman Owned Enterprise’.
In a conversation for Forbes India’s Leadership Mantras video series, Goenka shared her remarkable journey, starting from getting married at the age of 18 to joining the business at 30, all driven by her aspiration to set a positive example for her daughters. Throughout this path, she encountered scepticism from those within the industry and was even labelled as “the boss’s wife”

In another conversation with Forbes India, for the 2022 Rich List edition, Goenka spoke about the changing perception of women entrepreneurs in India Inc., the fading patriarchal mindset and reasons for the gap between men and women billionaires in India. Edited excerpts:
Q. What are some of the reasons for a considerable difference in the number of women billionaires compared to men—in India and worldwide?
Evolutionarily, the roles were demarcated early on, men stepped out, received good education, mentorship and provided for the family while women took care of children and home because of their nurturing, empathetic and altruistic abilities. As the patriarchal mindset is fading, the effectiveness of women in top leadership positions is being tested and women are carving a niche for themselves. We need more women-led establishments to empower and inspire others to improve education accessibility, employment probability, and skill enhancement opportunities for women which will in turn uplift society.  
Q. In your opinion, what are the current perceptions of women entrepreneurs in India Inc.?
Perceptions regarding the capabilities of a woman running her own business are changing. A woman leader is now seen and respected because of her business acumen and ability to balance work and family. Women are observant, intuitive and also tenacious, and are able to ideate and implement those ideas with panache. They need to have good mentors, get quality education, network better, learn from bittersweet experiences and more crucially, need to be recognised, before someone would invest in their idea. The Indian government offers this opportunity via subsidies and SME / start-up loans for women, and I think they should grab these opportunities and be the new-age entrepreneurs.

Also read: Gender equality still a far cry: report

Q. A report by Deloitte mentioned that about 17 percent board seats in India were held by women in 2021. The same was about 43.2 percent in France (highest), 30 percent in the UK, and about 24 percent in the US. But often, this doesn’t translate to women leading companies. Why do you think this is so?
Indian women have been brought up with the belief of ‘family first’. As women increasingly gain occupational mobility, they are not only exposed to the hazards of the work environment but also exposed to the pressures created by multiple role demands and conflicting expectations. India Inc. should ensure more transparency and accountability at all levels of the organisation. Diversity and inclusion should also be on the top of the board’s agenda, and efforts should be made to improve the gender ratio at all levels of the organisation. Given enough flexibility, women can prioritise and balance their family lives along with their independent and professional achievements. Workplace diversity is essential to building company culture, it leads to more inclusivity and women’s board seats will surely increase.

Also read: Diversity is not just about women, it's about embracing the community: Dipali Goenka

Q. Comparing men and women graduating from college—they get equal opportunities and the same competitive pay scale. What changes as they go up the corporate ladder or want to start something new? What are the factors, at that stage, affecting the career prospects and growth of a woman, especially when they start equally?
An individual’s goals and objectives, which start with self-actualisation and self-evaluation, are connected to career development inextricably. Men and women are fundamentally different from one another in many ways. In case of women, personal reasons, such as maternity phase, taking care of children or the elderly, etc. often force them to take career breaks, which impacts their growth trajectory. The social oppression that women experience makes these issues even worse. Now, India Inc. has been more proactive in combating gender and pay discrimination than before. Through this yardstick, they will be able to set priorities relevant in each specific economic, political and cultural context.

I think it is also vital to remember that the onus of empowering women lies equally on women too. In that case, we should definitely consider women entrepreneurs who left their blue-collar jobs and pursued their dream to hit stronger.

Also read: For women, early promotion is vital to reducing the gender pay gap
Q. Do you think things will change for women in terms of raising capital, individually handling companies without a family backing, making profits, and eventually turning billionaires?
Absolutely. It is undeniable that some women have been making enormous fortunes, and I think the number of female billionaires will continue to increase.
In striking a good balance between the requirements of the business and other challenges, hard work plays an important role. The challenge is to practise the balancing act and manage it all efficiently. With strong support from families and peers, women are taking the lead, taking ownership across a range of tasks. The corporate world is open to new leadership opportunities and positions for women.

Since a few decades, women leadership roles have been crucial for continuation of various family and first-gen businesses while consistently focusing on innovations that would give a competitive edge. At the same time, outside factors including cultural pre-conception, gender biases, family customs are being debunked to provide a roadmap for future female business leaders. With a lot of upskilling and grooming programmes, and with good mentorship, women will continue to reach newer heights and ace all aspects of leadership.