Indian women in business have become world-famous women leaders and entrepreneurs. We hope this essay will inspire you to achieve the same.
The phenomenon of the glass ceiling was the name given to the factors that limited the rise of women in business to middle-level positions only.
Greater emphasis on equal opportunities and higher education enabled businesswomen in India and around the world to break the glass ceiling and become a source of inspiration to future generations.
One of the biggest success stories in India was the Lizzat Papad Udhyog, a self-initiative women’s co-operative, and a name that all Indian women are familiar with.
Once the proverbial glass ceiling was broken, there was no stopping the businesswomen of the world. The 20th century has seen a large change in the business perspective.
Women CEOs have set their own rules and made great inroads in every field of business because of excellent leadership qualities and decision-making abilities.
They have shown a remarkable ability to strike a balance between work and family, which, as many businesswomen claim, is the reason behind their success.
Some famous women business leaders in India include:
- Dr Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (biotech entrepreneur)
- Naina Lal Kidwai (banking professional)
- Ekta Kapoor (television producer)
- Padmasree Warrior (Cisco CTO)
- Shahnaz Hussain (beauty entrepreneur)
Women in business have proved themselves and excelled in every field, whether it is or starting a new venture or joining an existing establishment and taking it to new heights.
Businesswomen in India have also shown remarkable business acumen, from planning and management to finance and all areas that are necessary to make a venture a success.
Women are born organisers. Their coping and leadership skills are a testament to the fact that there are millions of Indian women handling the responsibility of home as well as office effectively.
But despite the increasing number of women in business, their climb up the ladder of success is often impeded by social mores.
Even the Indian government has realized the importance of supporting women in business ventures. There are Government grants and small business loans for women in India who want to strike out on their own.
There are also a number of women leadership programs for developing women leaders and certifications that help women train in specialised fields to gain more knowledge and expertise.
Of course, growing up in a misogynistic and male-dominated society like India, it has not been easy for women to strike out on their own.
Despite laws regarding gender equality, there are still a large number of women who are short-changed because of their gender.
For working women in India, discrimination is rampant in areas of salaries, promotions and even preferences in interviews.
Despite all this, women have made great inroads in the corporate world and have established themselves as influential leaders in every field.
Their inherent leadership qualities, like empathy, help them to excel as leaders and bring out the best in people.
Women in India have moved beyond being no more than a source of secondary income to supplement their husband’s income, to leaders and entrepreneurs in their own right.
The age-old saying ‘Behind every successful man, there is a woman’ originated from the fact that women have been contributing to business affairs behind the scenes for a long time.
The Challenges Faced By Indian Women In Business
The biggest difficulty that women in business have been facing and continue to face is gender discrimination. Contrary to popular belief, gender discrimination is not just from the male coworkers but from other women also.
For some Indians, the idea of women and business is still a hard combination to digest, as it is in cultures where many women themselves do not want to work outside the home and consequently, discourage others who want to do so.
Indian women who do have the desire to use their talents to contribute to society and others must remember not to allow the insecurities of others to influence their own choices.
Indian women in business have made remarkable inroads in all fields in terms of business planning, marketing, investment, and making profits.
They now have an equal role to play in every field of enterprise and have proven themselves by being pioneers in tasks they choose to undertake.
Another important factor that plays an important role in the success of women in business, is education. The importance of education for women has been slow in catching on, especially in India.
Education gives women invaluable insights and confidence. It is this very confidence that enables women empowerment in India and helps them become successful in any field.
With online education becoming a reality and many universities now starting their own online MBA courses, Indian women in business are no longer restricted by geography and can even get an advanced degree from the comfort of home.
They can get expert business coaching to launch their dream business, create a stellar business plan, an amazing financial plan and more.
The Changing Roles of Indian Women In Business
Initially, the very idea of women entrepreneurs was limited to petty jobs at lower and middle-level managerial positions in various trades and organisations.
In the old days, the role of Indian women in business enterprises was limited to running small boutiques or beauty parlours, secretarial jobs, lower managerial positions in local factories or working as farmhands.
However, the role of Indian women in business has grown beyond small ‘supplement’ jobs to running full-fledged enterprises.
Small beauty parlours have grown into world-famous salons (Vandana Luthra’s VLCC), while women running boutiques have become famous fashion designers (Ritu Beri).
Women from small managerial positions have moved on to head large international establishments (Indira Nooyi of PepsiCo.) This journey for the Indian woman to be an independent and successful entity has been an uphill, but successful battle.
Today, Indian women in business are present in every field, whether in politics, oil, gas, electricity, retail, biotech, IT, construction, fashion designing, research, robotics or anything else you can think of.
Nor are the jobs of Indian women in business limited to managerial positions. Today businesswomen are at the heart of everything including marketing, sales and ground jobs, which were previously considered a male-dominated zone.
Many women entrepreneurs have even made it to impressive power lists compiled by the likes of Forbes and Fortune magazine. But if you think that they’re doing well only in clichéd “feminine” sectors like cosmetics and fashion designing, then you’re in for surprise.
Many world-famous women leaders head multinational banks, soft drink companies and stock-broking organizations. And they don’t just talk profits.
The Rise of Women Social Entrepreneurs In India
The role of Indian women in business has not been limited to the corporate work environment. Women have also been active participants in various non-profit organisations and social entrepreneurship.
A growing number of women in leadership positions are leaving fat paychecks to jump on the entrepreneur bandwagon for their own personal satisfaction.
Some do it just to follow their passion while others do it to create social change. The latter are known as social entrepreneurs. They use their intelligence to merge business with social welfare.
Social entrepreneurship is a vast field of work that deals with identifying a social problem and then creating an entrepreneurial solution.
The goal of a social entrepreneur is to bring about positive change in society. Women have always been associated with social entrepreneurship in one form or another. The facts speak volumes about the relationship of women to social entrepreneurship today.
Many of the top contributors to NGOs and other non-profit organizations are female entrepreneurs. Even these NGOs are run by socially driven women who invest their contributions into various causes.
Indian Women Shine In Social Ventures
Female leaders have always been passionate about their role in improving the lives of others. But with growing confidence and exposure to the world around them, they’re now taking their passion to a higher level by running large-scale, successful social ventures.
India has no dearth of inspiring initiatives and shining examples set by women social entrepreneurs. Here are some examples of Indian women who started successful social ventures.
Here are some women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ventures in India that have made invaluable contributions to rural development.
1. Ela Bhatt
The Founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Ela Bhatt is a renowned leader in the fields of microfinance and labour.
She founded SEWA in 1972 along with the late Arvind Buch who was then the president of the Textile Labour Association (TLA).
Thanks to an initiative by SEWA, villages in Bihar have become a base for rural women to earn their living by renting solar bulbs to other families.
These women buy solar bulbs at subsidized rates with the help of loans from SEWA and then not only use some in their own homes but also rent them out to other families, thereby earning their living.
Ela Bhatt has been awarded the Padmashri, the Padmabhushan as well as the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
2. Thinlas Chorol
Thinlas Chorol is the only Ladakhi woman to be trained to work in the field of mountaineering.
Having grown up in the mountains, Chorol went on trekking expeditions as a guide with “Around Ladakh with Students” (ALS), the travel agency owned by SECMOL, the Institute where she studied.
She founded the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company in 2009 to bring more women into the field of travel and mountaineering, and also to promote ecotourism in Ladakh.
3. Annie George
She is the founder of BEDROC, an organization that “helps build disaster-resilient, sustainable coastal communities.” Some of the fields that BEDROC works in are disaster management, Participatory Water Resource Management, and Coastal Vulnerability Mapping.
One of the main objectives of BEDROC is to “Leverage experiences of the 2004 Asian tsunami to create community-based, community-owned mechanisms for enhanced disaster response, mitigation and preparedness for coastal communities..
4. Chetna Gala Sinha
Sinha is the founder of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank (Mann Deshi Bank), a regulated cooperative bank run by women for women.
Udyogini Business School was founded in 2007 by the bank in collaboration with HSBC’s Indian arm.
There are thousands of girls who drop out of school in Maharashtra every year, and Mann Deshi Udyogini aims at providing vocational training and financial training to these young women to enable them to become entrepreneurs.
The bank also offers loans to these women to start businesses after graduating.
5. Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad
Also known as Lijjat, this is a women’s cooperative that manufactures a number of consumer goods. Lijjat was founded by seven Gujarati housewives from Mumbai in order to make a living with the skill they had – cooking.
“The seven women were Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, Parvatiben Ramdas Thodani, Ujamben Narandas Kundalia, Banuben. N. Tanna, Laguben Amritlar Gokani, Jayaben V. Vithalani, and one more lady whose name is not known.” (Source).
Today there are several members who work in a number of branches. Lijjat’s main motive is to generate self-employment for women and it provides employment to more than 40000 women.
Some more social entrepreneurship ventures started by women include:
- Sudha Srinivasan, CEO of The/Nudge Centre For Social Innovation, one of the top social enterprises in Bangalore (Bengaluru), has helped incubate about 80 social-impact startups in four years, impacting over nine million lives.
- Shilpi Kapoor’s initiative, Breakbarrier Technologies, aims to make technology solutions accessible to the differently-abled.
- Neelam Chhiber’s Industree Crafts works for the emancipation of local artisans by connecting them to viable markets.
- Vijaya Patsala founded Under The Mango Tree, an organization that promotes beekeeping among women farmers, and with the goal of making women more financially independent and self-sustained.
- Revathi Roy started ForShe, a taxi service run entirely by women
The Top 10 Businesses Owned By Women Entrepreneurs In India
Indian women have emerged as a force to reckon with, in the sphere of business and entrepreneurship.
This is evident from some of the large women-owned businesses that are adding significantly to India’s economy.
Let’s take a look at the top ten women-owned businesses in the country run by world-famous women entrepreneurs.
1. Biocon Limited
Started by Chairperson and Managing Director, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Biocon is India’s answer to the fast-growing biotechnology sector in the world.
The gutsy Mazumdar-Shaw is one of the most famous and inspiring women entrepreneurs in India.
She single-handedly converted her start-up worth Rs.10,000, functioning out of her garage, to the Rs.2,100 crore worth Biocon Pvt Ltd. as we know it today.
Today her company is worth well over $1.2 billion and has the largest statin, insulin and perfusion-based antibody facilities in Asia. For her contributions to the field of biotechnology, Mazumdar-Shaw is also known as the “Biotech Queen”.
2. Apeejay: The Park Hotel Chain
One of the most distinguished woman entrepreneurs in India, Priya Paul heads the Apeejay Park Hotel chain as their Chairperson.
This Economics graduate from Wellesley College (USA) started working in the company as Marketing Manager under her father, Mr Surrendra Paul.
She joined her family business at the age of 24, as the Chairperson, after the assassination of her father, Surrendra Paul.
Today, under Paul’s leadership, the Park Group is all set to launch its tenth boutique hotel in Pune in 2011.
3. Trent Limited
Trent is the retail part of one of the largest conglomerates in India, the Tata Group.
This Rs. 350 crore company is the name behind the popular cosmetic brand, Lakme and the retail chain, Westside.
The owner, Simone Tata, is listed as the 11th most powerful women in India.
4. Balaji Telefilms
Undoubtedly the most popular production house in India, Balaji Telefilms practically gave the television a makeover.
By producing trend-setting soaps and movies, Ekta Kapoor started one of the most powerful women-owned businesses in India.
Kapoor is the face of the Indian soap opera and serials industry. Born in an affluent “filmy” family, she suffered from low self-esteem due to obesity.
But with sheer grit and determination, she laid the foundation for Balaji Telefilms and gradually took the Indian households by storm with its cult serials like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kasautii Zindagi Ki and more.
She has also forayed into film production and is credited with producing successful ventures like Kya Kool Hain Hum and the recent, Love, Sex Aur Dhokha and Once Upon a Time in Mumbai.
5. Shahnaz Herbal Inc
The CEO of this enterprise, Shahnaz Hussain, gave a new meaning to holistic treatment by manufacturing 100% herbal products in the land of Ayurveda.
Today, this company operates in over 138 nations with over 600 active franchise clinics.
6. Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad
The story behind the beginning of Lizzat Papad Udhyog is probably the most cited example in any discussion about women-owned businesses in India.
Started by a group of seven women on the terrace of a Mumbai chawl, the Rs 650-crore organization now stands tall as an icon of sheer woman-power and an example of what women can achieve when they work together.
7. Kinetic Motor Company Ltd. & Kinetic Marketing Services Ltd.
No introduction is needed for this two-wheeler manufacturer. Sulajja Firodia Motwani is the name to reckon with in these women-owned businesses.
She is the force behind Kinetic Engineering Ltd and Kinetic Motors, and the Joint Managing Director of Kinetic Engineering Limited.
A national-level badminton player, her name is listed among the top 25 entrepreneurs in India and she is the recipient of the Society Young Achiever’s Award for Business in 2002.
8. Tractors and Farm Equipment Limited (TAFE)
This Chennai-based tractor and other farm equipment manufacturer is the largest of its kind in the nation.
Mallika Srinivasan is the Director of this organization and under her leadership, the company’s profits have jumped from Rs. 85 crore to a massive Rs. 2900 crore.
9. AZB & Partners
Zia Mody’s strategic contributions to this top corporate law firm of India have made it scale great profits and success.
She has also been awarded the Best Knowledge Manager by Financial Express.
Raj Kapoor’s daughter, Karishma and Kareena Kapoor’s aunt and mother-in-law of Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter, Shweta, Ritu Nanda is also India’s most powerful insurance advisor and the CEO of Escolife.
As the daughter of Bollywood legend, Raj Kapoor, her blood ties with the most prominent film family of India have made her one of the most recognizable women entrepreneurs.
But there is no denying the hard work she put in to create the well-known insurance company, Escolife Pvt. Ltd.
Under her tutelage, this woman-owned business has scaled such success that very few companies of its category have ever seen.
She entered the Guinness Book of World Records by managing to sell 17,000 pension policies in one day.
Now, her company boasts of a clientele of over 55,000 and was awarded the titles of Brand Ambassador and Best Insurance Advisor of the Decade, by Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), India’s largest life insurance company.
There are many more successful women-owned businesses in India, such as the companies started by these Indian women entrepreneurs in the IT industry.
There are also many organisations in India that help women entrepreneurs grow and thrive. So, whether you have a dream of starting your own business or becoming a woman CEO in your company, don’t let your gender hold you back.
All of these Indian business women have one thing in common – determination – the most important factor for success in life.
About the author:
Priya Florence Shah is the Group Editor at SHEROES and author of Devi2Diva, an emotional self-care book for women.