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Forbes India W-Power Trailblazers: Raising a toast to resilient women

The celebration of women leadership, hosted by Forbes India, galvanized women, and also men, from different walks of life to come together and discuss the state of women empowerment in India, and the way forward

Published: Mar 30, 2017 06:39:02 PM IST
Updated: Apr 5, 2017 05:23:47 PM IST

Forbes India W-Power Trailblazers: Raising a toast to resilient women[L-R] Zia Mody, founder and senior partner, AZB & Partners;  Chanda Kochhar, managing director and chief executive officer, ICICI Bank; Latha Venkatesh, executive editor at CNBC-TV18; Ronnie Screwvala, entrepreneur co-founder of UpGrad; Naina Lal Kidwai, chairman, Max Financial Services and former chairman, HSBC India, and Dilip Piramal, chairman, VIP Industries, were the panelists for the session titled 'Gender Parity – What India Needs' (Image: Forbes India Photo Team)

The old maxim goes: Never send a man to do a woman’s job. But the galaxy of women achievers who were present at the Forbes India W-Power Trailblazers event in Mumbai on Wednesday evening bear testimony to the truth that today there are no jobs that a woman can’t do. From running multi-billion dollar global corporations to taming Asiatic lions in Gujarat’s Gir Forest, women can, and are, doing it all.

The Forbes India W-Power Trailblazers evening was a celebration of women leadership and its manifestation through the success stories of women entrepreneurs, professionals, chefs, fashion designers, artistes, and more.

The stupendous turnout at the event – comprising both successful women and men – evidence the encouraging extent to which the cause of women empowerment and leadership resonates with all sections of society.

The evening commenced with these achievers and other captains of industry such as Harsh Goenka, chairman of RPG Enterprises and Ranjit Shahani, vice chairman and managing director of Novartis India congregating for a networking lounge to informally meet and greet.

FULL VIDEO: The Forbes India W-Power Trailblazers 2017

PHOTO GALLERY: Saluting the superwomen: The inaugural Forbes India W-Power Trailblazers event

The main function began with a welcome address from Forbes India’s Editor, Sourav Majumdar, who elaborated on the reasons behind organizing this event, which follows the Forbes India W-Power Trailblazers special issue of the magazine, An eminent selection panel comprising legal luminary Zia Mody, Founder and Senior Partner at AZB & Partners; Chanda Kochhar, Managing Director and CEO of ICICI Bank; Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson of Biocon Ltd; fashion designer Ritu Kumar; Mallika Srinivasan, Chairwoman and CEO of TAFE; and Naina Lal Kidwai, Chairperson of Max Financial Services and former chairman of HSBC India, helped identify 19 women achievers who have excelled in across diverse fields. The life stories of these women were then fleshed out by Forbes India’s writers and presented to the magazine’s readers.

While this evening and this gathering is enough evidence of the distance women have traveled breaking stereotypes, an evening like this is also an opportunity to take this discussion forward,” Majumdar said. “Have conversations so that many more women and men are inspired to traverse the same path to success.”  

The main highlights of the evening included two panel discussions that saw leading industry figures and some of the women trailblazers brainstorm on the state of women leadership in India, the opportunities and challenges that women face at the workplace and in the society, and how some of them have overcome these challenges to set examples for others.

The first panel discussion was around the subject: ‘Gender Parity – What India Needs,’ and saw Chanda Kochhar; Naina Lal Kidwai; Zia Mody; entrepreneur and Co-founder of UpGrad, Ronnie Screwvala; and Dilip Piramal, Chairman of VIP Industries engage in a thought stimulating discussion moderated by CNBC TV18’s Executive Editor Latha Venkatesh. This panel discussion saw stalwarts like Kochhar discuss how organisations and their senior leadership should try and facilitate a better work-life balance for women employees, who are often required to manage personal and professional commitments simultaneously. Kidwai poignantly pointed out that in India, the names of most family concerns ended with the suffix ‘and Sons’, and never with ‘and Daughters’, signifying that in India the son was almost always the heir to the business.

In a walkabout chat with members of the audience that accompanied the panel discussion, chef Ritu Dalmia spoke of how despite women having an in-born talent for cooking and hospitality, only 3 percent of the world’s chefs are women. “It is not because they don’t know how to cook, but it is a very hard job for 18 hours a day, with the late evening being the busiest hours. When a woman is trying to manage a family as well as a professional kitchen it is very difficult. But once you pass that stage and reach the top of the game, there is no going back,” Dalmia said.

Venture capitalist Sasha Mirchandani added that the entrepreneurship ecosystem for women had become more conducive than it was earlier. The founder and managing director of Kae Capital also stated that the best performing venture in his portfolio of investments was a Japiur-based company that was run by a female entrepreneur, who is currently managing her business as well as nurturing a new-born baby.    

This was followed by a soulful musical performance by Maati Baani, comprising music composers Nirali Kartik and Kartik Shah, which enthralled the audience.

The second panel discussion dealt with the theme: ‘Women or Superwomen – Doing it All’. Panelists of this discussion, moderated by Sourav Majumdar, included Ameera Shah, promoter and Managing Director of Metropolis Healthcare; Samina Vaziralli, Executive Vice Chairman of Cipla; Sairee Chahal, Founder and CEO, Sheroes; Revathy Roy, Founder and CEO of Hey Dee Dee; Suchi Mukherjee, Founder and CEO of LimeRoad and Mariazeena Johnson, Managing Director of Sathyabama University.

The women trailblazers who were a part of this panel shared their inspirational stories and the challenges they overcame to reach where they have. Roy described how she channeled her passion for driving to start an all-women taxi service, when she had to support her family after the untimely demise of her husband. Shah, who took her father’s single-location pathological lab and transformed it into one of India’s largest chain of laboratories with a global presence, said that she had to face resistance from older male doctors who were hesitant to partner with a young female entrepreneur from a non-medical background. When she sought to raise funds for her venture, several investors expressed skepticism regarding her commitment as they felt that she may abandon the business once she got married and had children.

The star of the second walkabout discussion, and perhaps the entire evening, was 31-year-old Rasila Vadher, who has achieved what few women have in India. In 2007, Vadher became one of the first women to be recruited by Gujarat’s Forest and Environment Department in Gir National Park, home of the endangered Asiatic Lion. What is noteworthy is that Vadher wasn’t entrusted with administrative functions that are often assigned to women in such organisations, since tackling wild animals is perceived to be a masculine job. She is responsible for the rescue of wild animals.

Unassuming and candid, Vadher had the audience rapt in attention and in splits of laughter as she narrated her experience of working with the Gujarat government’s forest department. “All I can say is that when a man is faced with a man, he can deal with the situation. But when a man is faced with a lion, he needs a woman to handle the situation,” Vadher said to roaring applause from the audience.

Vadher’s final words, with which the evening concluded, hold true for women across diverse walks of life. “If you have self-confidence, you can succeed,” she summed up.

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