These eleven women leaders are making sure no woman gets left behind, in the corporate world.
This list, the first of a two-part series, is an ode to all the women corporate leaders who scaled to the top of their respective fields, but wanted to leave no woman behind while they were at it.
Society insists that ‘success’ and ‘the top’ are elusive destinations reserved only for a few women, for not too many are seen ruling the roost at present. Society thus claims that women tear each other down and would climb over each other’s heads to get there. The following eleven women leaders are turning that stereotype on its head. Even as they desecrated the glass ceiling and surged ahead of their peers and contemporaries – they decided that the summit would be lonely without the other women who could have been there too, had they not been held back. Meet the leaders who are making sure no woman gets left behind in the corporate world.
Citi, Infy, Goldman Sachs and Deloitte made her the boss, but she made herself a leader. The 47-year-old partner at Deloitte, marathoner and mentor not only works hard to be a worthy role model so that women aspire to a better standard, but also goes a step further to play the pied piper to take them to the top with her. She has many feathers in her hat – she was the first and senior-most woman Goldman Sachs had hired in India, before she moved on to Deloitte – and she wanted to leave no woman behind. So, roughly a year-and-a-half ago, when she noticed that “Women don’t have access to the right circuits, networks and funding, she established Sonder Connect, a cohort-based, not-for-profit mentorship programme over and above her day job. “I had to move the needle, even if it was on a small scale,” she had said to YourStory. Vaishali, with three other friends – Sejal Shah Gulati, Latika Pai, and Anju Shenoy — not only mentors them on everything from marketing to digital to fundraising, but also provides them access to networks, through expert voices and veteran players, like IBM, which also provided some funding, for six months.
The SVP Corporate Responsibility & Global Chief Diversity Officer at Sodexo joined the company and the cause when there was a lot of resistance to the topic, and there were very few women in leadership roles, not to mention none in Operations/P&L roles. Her job entailed building the company’s diversity strategy, particularly in human resources, and in creating an effective diversity scorecard to measure the company’s progress. The gender-balance case study that Sodexo has undertaken, that has collected over five years of data, determined that 40-60 percent is the ideal diversity mix to deliver sustained business outcomes. Their second step was “role-modelling,” wherein the men in the company were deployed to mentor the high potential women talent. Lastly, she worked to ensure women take up high-visibility and challenging roles, confidently, by offering them the required flexibility and development planning. The result? Globally, 54 percent of Sodexo employees are female, 50 percent of the Board of Directors are women, 43 percent of management positions are women and 32 percent of the Group Senior Leaders are women.
Sairee Chahal is the Founder, CEO of SHEROES - a community platform for women, offering support, resources, opportunities and interactions via SHEROES.com and the SHEROES App. Sairee is credited with building up women at work and future-of-work conversations in India, besides building a strong technology play to solve the problems of gender disparity in India.
A technology entrepreneur, Sairee has straddled the best of both worlds in her ventures Newslink, Fleximoms and now SHEROES. Her community-meets-deep technology approach has made SHEROES a globally formidable platform, changing the game for women and their aspirations. Over a million women have been directly benefited, and under Sairee's leadership, SHEROES aims to impact over 100 million women in the next five years. Sairee is also the convener of The SHEROES Summit – India’s largest women's forum.
Dubbed “Bae Dsouza” by the internet, the Executive Editor at business news channel Mirror Now hosts their flagship show, The Urban Debate, besides being the Editor and Anchor for the Personal Finance vertical at ET NOW. She first shot to fame as the familiar neighbourhood-watch-like voice that warned people about child lock enabled-Olas and Ubers in the viral WhatsApp video, and kept up the momentum by speaking – nay, reasoning with and appealing to – their viewer base of millions, on matters surrounding national and state policy, civic rights, and women’s rights. Her impassioned monologue tearing down the misogyny of a Muslim cleric trying to slut shame her on her show made her a household name, and since then, she has regularly utilised her clout and platform to voice her opinions on women’s rights issues, such as the heavy taxes levied on sanitary napkins. She is currently working on a book on Finance for Indian women with Harper Collins.
When Ameera Shah, MD of Metropolis Healthcare Limited, found herself up against the remnants of a centuries-old patriarchy while scaling her father’s pathology lab from one single unit to a chain of over 150 branches across seven countries, she decided to use her painstakingly acquired influence to bring other women up – with her novel, women-centric mentorship programme and a microsite, under the umbrella, Empoweress. Launched on December 9, applications for the programme are open round the year. Eleven entrepreneurs have already been absorbed into this programme – meant to empower women with emotional, professional and financial skills. Within her own company, women constitute 55 percent of the workforce, and Ameera has transformed Metropolis into a women-friendly organisation, with policies like work from home, flexible hours, extended maternity leave benefits with pay beyond the mandatory six months, and most importantly, a “speak up for what you want” policy – which is an open door.
The ISB-alum’s body of work in diversity and inclusion goes beyond the marginalised community of women, to include persons with disabilities as well. As Head Marketing for CBRE South Asia — a Fortune 500 company that is also the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm — one of Raka’s key initiatives at CBRE include the launch of CBRE’s maiden CSR journey in India. It is focussed on raising awareness about differently-abled children and adults, including those grappling with intellectual disabilities. In fact, CBRE has on boarded two individuals with intellectual disabilities as employees at their Gurugram office to create an enabling environment. “This initiative is very close to my heart where we help spread awareness about differently-abled individuals to enable a change in the mindset of the people and also encourage the inclusion of differently-abled individuals to earn a life of dignity,” she says.
As the Human Resources Manager at JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa, Pragya Kapur has spearheaded a slew of initiatives within their organisation focussing on women as well as other marginalised groups. She has pointedly ensured that their local community women — women who took a break in their career – are absorbed into the organisation. Besides this, they have introduced flexible working hours, and consciously placed women in typically male-centric jobs. Another novel initiative is their mentorship programme, with the goal of developing a minimum of five high potential women associates. Their “Encouraging the Youth Career” project also gets underprivileged and differently-abled individuals under its domain, and deploys them to various job roles across the hotel.
A stalwart in American politics — especially amongst the Indian-American community — Nisha Biswal is currently the President of the US-India Business Council. She was once up for a key position in Barack Obama’s administration. Nisha has started the Women Innovators, Social Leaders and Entrepreneurs (WISE) initiative to foster greater leadership, entrepreneurial spirit and more effective policy-making to enable women entrepreneurs. WISE is working with key women leaders to offer leadership, mentoring, and development opportunities for women entrepreneurs and innovators in an effort to increase women’s participation in growing India’s economy. The vision of the WISE initiative is “women supporting women to participate in creating the future of India”. It offers a platform to engage multiple stakeholders such as the central and state governments in India, industry bodies, startups, and academia to conceptualise and roll out programmes that encourage women professionals, innovators, and entrepreneurs. Also, it is encouraging a policy environment that is conducive to increasing women innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders.
Lathika is a serial entrepreneur while Sejal Shah Gulati serves as the MD and President of Time Inc. India. As for Anju Shenoy, she is the VP of Human Capital at Sequoia Capital. The trio, besides being stellar women who have set examples for women everywhere, are also part of the founding team at Sonder Connect along with Vaishali.