Still to this day, I am the only non-Indian employee at the Indian offices where I work. It’s a growing company with a couple thousand team members spread between offices in the U.S. and India and I’m proud to say that almost 50% of the employees are women. This is not a common stat amongst companies in India and I broadcast that message whenever I can because it should be broadcast … because it’s my opinion that women deserve equal rights and employment is just one the items on the ‘equality’ list.
So I’m not sure why it surprised me when I walked into a conference room of 120 amazing power women in Bangalore that I was once again, to my knowledge, the only non-Indian delegate at the event. I say ‘delegate’ because the moderator was the one and only Indian-born American power woman Sara Mathew, Chairman and CEO of Dunn & Bradstreet.
Held at Taj West End, Dare to Lead is an initiative set in motion by Sara Mathew and Dun & Bradstreet. Over the past few years, Sara has been sharing her presentation on “Leadership Lessons Learned after 30 years in Corporate America,” titled “Dare to Lead”. She realized that there is a need for mentorship and networking for women leaders in India, and is committed to helping bridge this gap. This initiative is dedicated to bringing together women who are pioneers in their fields, and have achieved both professional and personal successes, to share their knowledge and insights for empowering the new generation of women leaders – and men too!
Starting with breakfast and networking at 9:30, the event then kicked into high gear with inspirational first-hand accounts of feelings and challenges and triumphs surrounding leadership…drizzled with intimate personal tales from the lives of four amazingly successful, motivating and inspirational women — all of whom are listed on the Top 25 Most Powerful Women of India list (a couple for many years running):
- Kirthiga Reddy, Head of Facebook India
- Leena Nair, VP-HR Unilever South Asia and Global Diversity & Inclusion Leadership
- Archana Hingorani, CEO of IL&Fs Investment Managers Limited
- Vedika Bhandarkar, Vice Chairman & MD of Banking, Credit Suisse Securities India
I don’t know how I made it onto the list of invitees but I am truly grateful and wish to give hearty thanks as I say HATS OFF to Dunn & Bradstreet for gifting the women of Karnataka (and me) a massive dose of inspiration. Somehow just sitting in a room with 120 power executives, business owners, VPs of technology, engineers who build India’s expressways, women who run banks or NGOs, the only female auto dealer in Karnataka and so many more …. well, it is enough to make a woman sit up a bit taller in her chair and take pride in the wonderful talent pool and beauty around her. At least that’s what happened to me.
After breakfast, each panelist delivered speeches that touched the heart and resonated with the 120 Indian women (and me most of the time). And I say ‘most of the time’ because each of the speakers is married, where I am not – nor have I been for over a decade and I’ve been completely single for eight years now. So during the panel discussion and Q&A there was a tremendous focus at times on the topic of family life, married life and dealing with the pressure generally placed on an Indian woman to stay at home and nurture those parts of her life. It was interesting to hear that two of the five women on stage have arranged marriages – Sara and Kirthiga – and I only wish I had asked if all of them were in arranged marriages. I find the topic wonderfully interesting and enjoyed hearing some of the comments like:
- “The most important decision you’ll make is the partner you choose”
- “I couldn’t have gone so far in my career without my husband”
- “Make sure your partner has 100% buy-in with your career choices because that will make all the difference in the world”
Although I couldn’t relate to any of that, I have to admit that a spark of jealousy did ignite when I heard the discussions going on. I would love to ‘have it all’ and have some help at home and with my daughter and expenses … and these women definitely seem to have it all.
The Q&A session was quite interesting, with dozens of questions being asked by women who stood up, grabbed the microphone and asked about how to obtain a mentor, how to effectively network, what are the key traits to becoming a true leader and much more. Sitting in a room of only women was a tremendously safe environment for women to ask just about anything and it showed. Some women shared a bit of themselves as they stood up to ask a question. Others sent over their questions on a slip of paper. But all were interesting and every answer seemed to come from the hearts or the combined decades of business experience of the panelists.
As for me, like many of the women there I walked away empowered to try and become the entrepreneur who I think is inside me. It was a day to really help show us women that it’s okay to shed the fear and just go for it. On top of that, I think I found a new friend in Bangalore which is a major bonus! It was great to find a woman who works as a VP in tech, had lived in California and is now back in Bangalore who I clicked with right away. Fun, fun, fun!
Oh, and my personal favourite quotes of the day:
- “Hope and optimism is the key to being a good leader”
- and my most favourite, which made us all roar with laughter but is 200% true …. “Behind every successful woman is a maid. And a back-up maid” …. Now THAT I can relate to!
© 2012 Angela Carson