Saturday, February 16, 2008
Women Business Leaders in India - Another Study in Contrasts?
I did not expect to have an opportunity to meet so many remarkable women in India who embody the traditions of their country together with a sense of extreme confidence and belief in the important part they play in India’s future. They were all, by the way, wearing traditional saris and projected a great sense of pride in their heritage.
Of course it all started with Dr. Indira, the English professor at the university, who despite her age and fragile frame sounded ferocious and was so very articulate.
Next we met Sinduri who is the granddaughter of Dr. Reddy. She is a very confident young lady who took over this “backend services” business and transformed it from being only a service for Apollo hospitals to one that is expanding to other hospitals as well as new markets. She told us that having family connections is not always an advantage in India yet she feels is part of a growing trend of women entrepreneurs in India. He poise and ease of talking to our students was apparent.
The woman that met us at IBM Daksh, Veenaa Santhanam was the assistant manager of business development. She kept the IBM presentation flowing like a conductor, bringing in people from various departments to talk to us while also managing to maneuver us throughout their facilities without breaking any security protocol all while maintaining a constant flow of information. She answered all of our question patiently and when she did not have an answer, she brought in someone to help. Her efficient manner was a testimonial to the caliber of people employed at her facility.
At Xansa, a company that was started by a group of freelance women working from their homes in the 60’s, we were greeted by Vijayalakshmi Sankar, the delivery director of the company. She took her time to talk to us about the role of women in business and how she has stayed in her company for 9 years because they have treated her right and let her work from home, when she needs to. The call centers we visited all stressed the fact that they provide transportation to and from work and escort women to make sure they are safe. (A lot of the media has been recently preoccupied with the law suit against HP brought as a result of one of their women employees being assaulted and murdered coming home from her night shift). She told us that since 2000, more women are earning more than their husbands and some families are even starting to accept having to move for a woman’s career.
Typically 45 to 50% of call centers’ employees are women. Many did not use to stay in the companies beyond their marriage or left after having their first child. However, companies such as IBM are pushing more women towards management and have 25% women among their leaders.
Finally, BioCon, the biotech company we visited in Bangalore, was established by Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw who still serves as its chairman (no “chairperson” here). She is a first generation entrepreneur who was awarded India’s highest civilian award for her pioneering efforts in biotechnology in 2005. She started the company 25 years ago with only $2500 and up until recently took no outside funding! Her unique vision has steered BioCon’s transition from an enzymes company to an integrated biopharmaceutical company with strategic research initiatives. Most recently, she has been invited to join the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade & Industry in India. She holds 39% of the shares of her company and the rest in traded on the Mumbai stock exchange. She believes that in 5 years her company will be traded on Nasdaq.
Overall there are only 15% women managers in BioCon and 25% working in R&D. Yet at the lower levels, 49% of the employees are women. This is a high number for India which the company is very proud of.
As I scanned the February 18th issue of India Today, I noticed an article covering a recent survey of youth in India. The caption read: “Family is the defining motif in the fabric of urban Indian youth, more so for women, who look up to their parents and seek solace in their men.” The article calls that “selective modernity” – women in India do want change, but only within the paradigm.