This week, I met yet another powerhouse of a woman. I met Priyanka Chopra.
Like the many millions of her fans across the globe, I’ve also been in awe of her many achievements. But what I’ve admired more is her deep commitment to using her influence and position of privilege to create positive change for the underprivileged, especially for children, women, girls, and refugees across the world.
Earlier this year, Priyanka Chopra wrote a moving post on Instagram after visiting Cox’s Bazar, a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. She wrote,
“The only thing on my mind is how much privilege I have been blessed with… I’m grateful for all that I have and will always be in a quest to make life a little easier for as many as I can. And I thank God for having the ability to do so.”
Priyanka Chopra and her quest to make a difference
This Tuesday, when I met Priyanka Chopra in Mumbai, she was doing exactly that. This time, she was shining a light on important social causes and issues in India, and providing people another way to support these causes through the Facebook India #SocialForGood Liv-Athon she was hosting.
Meeting Priyanka Chopra in real life and being interviewed by her on the women entrepreneurship panel, it was easy for me to see why she is so successful. She is sharp and brings a lot of energy and hard work. In fact, she hosted all the different FB Live panel discussions non-stop from 12 pm to 5 pm.
And through it all, she did not once seem less enthusiastic than she did at the start, nor was there even a hair out of place. She was enthusiastic and engaging and kind and impeccable throughout. And this reaffirmed the view that:
the ones who win, always walk the extra mile all the time.
Being a woman entrepreneur in a man’s world
Indeed, all the other women I shared the dais with at the women entrepreneurship panel of Facebook's #SocialForGood Liv-Athon have this in common: they've all gone the extra mile. Many of them are on par with male founders in their calibre and drive, and some have even known more success than many other male founders out there.
And yet, women entrepreneurs face one key question in all panel discussions on entrepreneurship: Is there a difference between being an entrepreneur and a woman entrepreneur?
This is a question I get asked often. Too often. One, I’ve been asked all through my decade-long entrepreneurship journey. It’s also a question many other female founders get asked too. Regardless of the success they’ve known. Or the number of years they’ve been running their business/es. And regardless even of their personal stories – ones that show that they’ve fought their own circumstances, defied all odds and emerged victorious, if you will.
And yes, I do find myself amused and a little bewildered when I’m asked that question. Or when another female founder is asked that too. And I can only hope that (soon) there will be a time when such questions no longer crop up.
But to be honest, there is a familiar feeling of responsibility – to answer that question as transparently as I know how. There is also a familiar sense of expectation – for other female founders to do so as well.
To acknowledge the reality as we know it, not just for them but for women and girls across the country. Without allowing our personal experiences to be the barometer of the reality for every women.
Because the truth is, there IS a difference. A vast difference in being a woman entrepreneur in a man’s world. And this difference stems from the ground realities for many girls and women across India.
The question of entry into the “playing field”
Indeed, for a vast majority of girls and women out there, there is no access to the “playground” or the “playing field.” The environment around them simply does not allow them entry into the field. Still, on the other hand, there are people in position of privilege saying that there is a level playing field.
But how can there be a level playing field for a boy and girl, when the girl is not even allowed entry into that field.
So, there is a difference in being a women entrepreneur, just as there is in being a girl or a woman in many parts of India. Just as there is for a daughter who has to fight her way through school and college, while for a son, in that same family, his right to a college education isn’t even a topic of debate. Just as a working woman’s ability to effectively manage both her career and home is questioned at every turn, while men are lauded for choosing one or the other and are celebrated nevertheless.
Because say what we will about the great many changes occurring in today’s society or the growing awareness of a woman or a girl child’s rights – to education, to decide her own future, to take risks, to seize opportunities – but the reality for many women and girls around the world, let alone India, still show we have a long way to go.
Here, I’d like to emphasise that for a large majority of girls in India, the reality still remains that they simply do not have the opportunity to even enter the playing field, forget debates and discussions on providing a level playing field.
The ground reality for Indian women is that we’re still nowhere close to where we’d like to be.
This is why I firmly believe that – irrespective of our backgrounds (privileged or otherwise) – we all bear the responsibility of recognising this reality. Acknowledging it. Talking about it. And using every platform we get to shine a light on these issues. Much like what Priyanka Chopra is doing. So that in the coming decade, it no longer remains an issue.
Let the discussions continue. Let the debates, agreements, disagreements and all the drama this topic brings with it remain. Change will come from the heart of such passionate conversations.
Not just for us in the cities and metros where we live in relatively more privileged circumstances. But more-so for the women and girls in the innermost areas and corners of the subcontinent, where some of us come from and where we know there’s so much more to be done for the girls and women there.
And with that, I leave you with my quote for the week.
“We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
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