Indian Women In Business

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Namratha Machado is the daughter of Mrs. Prescilla & Vincent Machado who hail from Shirva. She grew up in Muscat and attended the Indian School Muscat and The American School of Muscat, Oman. She is currently pursuing her final year B.A in Economics at Mount Holyoke College, MA., USA. She spent her junior year abroad at the London School of Economics, UK, studying economic history, finance and sustainable development. An avid sportsperson and voracious reader, she also enjoys painting in her past-time. 

“Exotic” is the single most frequently used word by foreigners to describe India, and to some extent, Indian women. As an Indian woman, I feel agitated when I see the word exotic associated with anything “Indian”. Furthermore, I deem it to be unfortunate that the sense of enigma and enchantment surrounding Indian women has sparked a lack of awareness about them. It is essential to understand that India is a nation of dichotomies. On considering a simple issue such as the plight of women in the country, we see that while there is still a great deal of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, discrimination and a general lack of awareness amongst a certain section of women, on the other side of the spectrum exists an segment of women making a mark in the corporate world, in the fields of media and literature as well as the IT sector. With the advent of Globalization, educated middle class women have been provided with opportunities to build her own dreams and excel in fields which were earlier perceived as complete male domains. Indian women professionals are on the rise and are paving the way for future generations. Moreover, as India rises to its super-power status, we will witness the important role that women will enact in the process. It is quite ironic that India is a nation where maternal mortality rates in some rural areas are among the worst in the world, yet the country boasts of the world?s largest number of professionally qualified women, with more trained female computer programmers, doctors, surgeons, scientists and professors than the United States. Therefore, it is time to bid farewell to the nine-yard sari and all that ‘exoticness’ and to get ready to welcome the Indian corporate diva.

Indian women are becoming increasingly visible and successful in the professional and public sphere. From literature gurus Arundhati Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri to Barkha Dutt, an icon for many aspiring journalists and entrepreneurs Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Shahnaz Hussain, slowly but steadily Indian women have come a long way proclaiming the arrival of Indian women professionals. Vidya Mohan Chhabria, chairperson of the $2 billion Jumbo Group, and Naina Lal Kidwai, Vice Chairperson and Managing Director of HSBC Securities and Capital markets, are the only two Indian women who have been featured on the list of the 50 most powerful women in international business by Fortune magazine. This is indeed a great achievement, but perhaps one of the biggest success stories of Indian women in business sparked with the rise in power of the IT sector. Indian women computer programmers have shattered every myth associated with computer programming, an activity once described as ?an obsessive, abstract, and introverted activity unsuitable for women?. Taking the IT industry by storm, at present over one-thirds of Indian computer programmers are women. Some of the reasons for the attraction to the IT sector include India’s education system. Earlier fields like engineering were a male-dominated field and areas such as civil, electrical and mechanical, computer engineering were not pursued by women. However, today women are as likely to opt for various fields of engineering as their male-counterparts. Also, earlier women often took up computer courses after they graduated from college in order to acquire extra skills. On acquiring these skills, they soon realized their potential in this area and went on to pursue their interest as a full time career. The demand for technical professionals continues to be strong in the IT sector, and there is no gender bias as skill and experience are what count in this field. Moreover, many women gain opportunities to work for foreign companies and are hired for their skill and expertise.

One may question the reasons that sparked the sudden rise of Indian women in the corporate world. Some of the several notable reasons include the economic reforms that caused the Indian economy to open up, the increased role of the private sector, the IT boom and the increase in the number of MNCs that have sprung up all over the country. This has ensured the rise of Indian women professionals, which has in turn heralded a new generation of CEOs and entrepreneurs in the business world. Here are some women who have made their mark in their respective fields:


Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw’s Biocon is worth over $1.1 billion, with her stake at $449 million.  Shaw is a zoologist and India?s first woman brewer. In 1978, she attempted to extract an enzyme from papayas in Bangalore, at a time where few had heard of biotechnology. Her ambition was to use India?s scientific talent to build a world-class institution. Thus, Shaw is a zoologist turned brewer turned biotech queen. Today she heads the numero uno biotech firm in India, Biocon, which has evolved into a major pharmaceutical enterprise which produces everything from insulin to antibodies. Its annual revenues are $122 million and when the company went public; its shares were over subscribed by 33 times on its opening day. This Bangalorean now aims to make Biocon one of the world?s top-five biotech companies in the near future.


Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi is President and Chief Financial Officer of PepsiCo, the world’s fourth largest food and Beverage Company. A native of Chennai, India, she received a B.S. from Madras Christian College and an M.B.A. from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta. She went on to complete her MBA from Yale University Class of ’80 and then joined the Boston Consulting Group, where she spent six years directing international corporate strategy projects. She then held senior management positions at Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri from 1986 until 1994, when she joined PepsiCo. At Yale Ms. Nooyi is a member of the President’s Council on International Activities and the SOM advisory board. She also serves on the boards of the International Rescue Committee, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, Motorola, Planet Finance, Greenwich Breast Cancer Alliance, Eisenhower Fellowships, Asia Society, and PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation. (


Naina Lal Kidwai

Naina Lal Kidwai, the first Indian woman to graduate from Harvard Business School Class of ’82 has established herself as one of the country?s best bankers. After stints with Morgan Stanley and ANZ Grindlays Bank, she aggressively pursued opportunities in technology, and is said to be instrumental in the NYSE listing of Wipro and brokered a venture between AT&T and two conglomerates owned by the Tata and Birla families, to create a telecom company offering cellular service throughout the country. Kidwai maintains that she has no plans to leave India, and states that India is much more at the cutting edge of reform, where she has the ability to influence and shape. Kidwai has been named one of the most powerful women in business by Fortune magazine on more than one occasion.


Ekta Kapoor

Ekta Kapoor, one of the most successful women in the current television circuit started out by producing her first blockbuster television program ‘Hum Paanch’ at the age of 19. Popularly known as the ‘Queen of K Soaps’, she has rewritten the script for TV entertainment for the masses. As the creative director of her production company ‘Balaji Telefilms’, she continues to produce soaps for television and has recently attempted her luck at producing Bollywood films including the recent hit “Kya Kool Hai Hum”.


Shahnaz Hussain


Shahnaz Hussain, chairwoman of Hussain Herbals is a first generation woman entrepreneur in her family. While imbibing knowledge of herbal and ayurvedic products from her grandfather, her story is one of intense dedication and passion. She was the first entrepreneur to spot a business opportunity in ayurvedic products. Today, she has beauty centers all over the world and is said to be worth around $85 million. Heading a chain of over 400 franchises in India and abroad, her franchise-based enterprise has helped in the worldwide extension of the Shahnaz Herbal clinics, popularizing her formidable range of nearly 350 products.

Entrepreneurship ? Rural India

In March 1959, seven semi-literate women from Gujarat came together to supplement their family incomes and create a sustainable source of employment with the skill they knew – 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. They started out on the terrace of a large, old, residential building called Lohana Niwas in Girgaum, a thickly populated area in south Mumbai. This is where the seven housewives, bored and confined to their homes, saw an opportunity to set up an organization 44 years ago. Entrepreneurship was something these women had never heard of. The venture was immensely successful and marked the genesis of a cooperative “for the women, by the women and of the women.”  In 2002, with a turnover of Rs 3 billion, exports worth Rs 100 million, 62 branches and 40 divisions all over the country, and 42000 members, the Sri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad (SMGULP) was a women’s entrepreneurial success story in India. From humble beginnings in 1959, SMGULP has come a long way. The organization gained recognition through its most famous product- Lijjat papad. In addition to papads, SMGULP manufactured other household products like spices, bakery products and detergents. (

There are several other successful women in business such as Shikha Sharma (Managing Director of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company), Anuradha Desai, (MD of Venkateshwara Hatcheries),  Priya Paul (Chairperson, Apeejay Surendra Park Hotels), lawyer Zia Mody (Senior partner at AZB & Partners), Preetha and Sangita Reddy of Apollo Hospitals; Sulaijja Firodia Motwani (joint Managing Director, Kinetic Engineering Ltd) and  Mallika Srinivasan, (Wharton Graduate and CEO, TAFE – Tractors & Farm Equipment Ltd.) who figure prominently in the automotive industry. Unfortunately, not every Indian woman professional gets the respect and publicity she deserves. Also, the number of women at the top is yet to rise because of the many roles that women have to play, which often results in several women not willing to take on as much as they would like to. Moreover, Indian MNCs yet have to design women friendly arrangements that account for working mothers and institutional support such as the availability of quality childcare.

The good news is that the Indian economy is progressing at a tremendous pace and the emergence of India?s service sector including tourism, hospitality, media, and entertainment as well as business outsourcing and IT is witnessing an increased role for female employees at various levels. This rise in the economy will hopefully pave the way for future female professionals. Indian women have made significant strides in the corporate world and are seen to be striking a fine balance between their families and careers. They are smart, dedicated and on par with their male-counterparts. One of the most important factors that have led to this rise of women in business is education. Successful women in India have greatly benefited from a high quality education. There is an African proverb that says, when you educate a man, you educate an individual. When you educate a woman, you educate a family, a nation. When women become financially independent, their vision broadens and they view the world in a positive perspective.

Lately, the government?s concessions and encouragement has brought a tremendous rise in women entrepreneurs in the country. Traditionally Indian businesswomen attained success through family connections but the new economy and its flexible structures have seen a rise in businesswomen. Research also shows that women have the edge to succeed in business, because of their ability to multi-task and assist in teambuilding and communication which have become essential skills for running a 21st century corporation. Thus women will be critically important to the future of the Indian economy. The current scenario already indicates that women are steadily climbing up the corporate ladder. When the recent feud between the Ambani brothers cropped up, it took matron Kokilaben to resolve the rift between them. She succeeded in doing what her sons failed to do, and amicably demerged the Reliance Empire.

So after all, one can conclude that it is indeed a woman’s world…!

Author: Namratha Machado

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