What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
I belong to a conservative business family. Women in our family are educated but were not expected to pursue a career. Instead, they are supposed to get married after graduation. Despite this, I decided to continue my education by pursuing an MBA and a career in banking.
While in the corporate world, I realized the scarcity of women in top positions. How is it that women have 50% of a country’s purchasing power, but not 50% of the decision making power? In India, women drop out of the workforce due to family pressure, child care needs, and social norms. In my personal experience, I have found that there are so many well educated and skilled women who could be contributing to economic progress — but they lack the necessary support systems at work, at home, and throughout society.
This became clear to me after I became a mentor. My mentee came from an affluent family, and was very well educated, but she had gotten married very young and never joined the workforce. As a result, she had no clue how to run a business. Her husband had recently been diagnosed with cancer, so he pushed her to gain skills to take over the family business. I was able to teach her business knowledge I had learned from my experience, and I am proud to say that today she successfully runs her own logistics firm (in a male dominated-industry, at that). She pays it forward in her community by supporting education for girls.
She showed me that we need women leaders in business, politics, and all other areas of society because when a woman is successful, she invests in other women in turn.
Though I became a mentor to help my mentee meet her goals, serving as a mentor opened my eyes and changed the course of my career. I realized that there are so many women who could similarly excel, if provided the opportunity to be mentored and had a network of support to embark on new opportunities. So after twelve years in banking, I quit my corporate career to work in the women’s empowerment space. I started a venture called Altavis, a talent management and diversity consulting firm that helps organizations build their women leadership pipeline. We also launched a nonprofit organization, Biz Divas, to promote women’s participation in the Indian economy through facilitating professional mentoring relationships for entrepreneurs and women professionals, because when women are economically empowered, they have more choices, and their voices are heard.
Biz Divas focuses on three core areas: increasing female participation in business, politics, and public leadership; providing mentoring and training opportunities for women leaders; and creating awareness and advocacy campaigns around violence against women. In our first year alone, we made an impact on more than 1,200 women through workshops, round table sessions, mentoring programs, and public forums.
And we trained and mentored another 500 women in Delhi and Gurgaon to help improve their business skills, financial literacy and personal development.
Our Annual Events like “Global Mentoring Walk”- connecting Senior Women Leaders with Emerging Women Leaders and “I -INSPIRE” – a premium conference addressing challenges in promoting women leadership in corporates and business have been supported by International Organisations like the US Embassy, Vital Voices, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Capgemini, Barclays and many others.
Biz Divas’ goal is to identify, invest and bring visibility to extraordinary women in business, corporates, public and political leadership. To support this initiative we have a multi-year Mentoring Program which connects talented, emerging women leaders from all over India with members of Biz Divas’ Powerful Leaders for a six month-long mentoring program.
Also our initiative Women On Boards promotes the appointment of women to corporate boards. It is a proven solution addressing the lagging representation of women on Fortune 500 boards and the increasing demand for diversity in India’s corporate boardrooms. Specifically, Women On Boards aims to:
- Build a cadre of qualified women corporate director candidates for board appointment in India.
- Facilitate the appointment of women on to Indian corporate boards
- Reinforce the commitment of leading Indian companies to diversity in the boardroom
What has been your greatest achievement personally?
One of the achievements I am most proud of was being nominated by the US Embassy for a prestigious Women Leadership exchange program (Fortune/US State Dept ) where I spent one month in the USA being mentored by CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I believe everyone has some dream in them. But ideas when not executed are merely pipedreams. That is what has been the biggest asset of our team – taking action on our ideas and improvising as we go along.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t working on women issues, I would have still continued as a Banker but I would have continued to contribute on this issue in some way or other.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
I have been inspired by many people, their thoughts and ideas. Men who promote women leadership and women who support each other inspire me everyday. Each and every story from our Biz Divas members is an inspiring story.