Inspiring South Asian Women in Leadership Roles

Feb/19/2023 / by Melanie Fourie
Inspirational Female Leaders
Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of India. 
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Inspirational Female Leaders: According to a Mercer survey, women in India are underrepresented in leadership roles across all sectors of the economy. With nearly 80% of respondents reporting gender ratios for their various positions, the data from Mercer’s 2021 India Total Remuneration Survey (TRS) shows that employers are focusing on strengthening their efforts on diversity, but there is still a long way to go for real gender equality in the workplace.

Mercer noted that their poll included over 900 businesses, 5,700 occupations, and 14 lakh workers.
Based on statistics, the percentage of women working in professional capacities has increased by 20-30% during the last several years. Women made up 43% of entry-level positions in the IT industry, but just 12%-17% of management positions, and 4%-8% of executive positions. Information technology, client service, science and engineering talent management, data analytics, and business intelligence are just few of the fields where women are over represented. Women were under-represented in fields including legal, compliance, and audit as well as sales, marketing, and product management.

When comparing salaries at the entry level, women earned 95–99 percent as much as men did. Women leaders at the mid- to senior-level earn just approximately 87-95 percent of what their male counterparts do.
This decline in salary was attributed, in part, to women’s under-representation in “roles which drive organization value generation or P&L ownership,” according to the research. Organisations are generally dedicated to Diversity and Inclusion, but there appears to be a lack of accountability to drive development internally in India. While it’s encouraging that new labour laws are aimed at enhancing women’s employment, compensation, and security in the workplace, businesses still have a long way to go before they can be considered genuinely inclusive and empowering of women. Based on the results of the study, equality seems to be more feasible if women are better represented in positions closer to value generation.

Since its inception, India Inc. has been at the forefront of implementing innovative solutions to the gender pay gap and increasing opportunities for women in the workforce. Career and professional growth for women; hyper-local, proactive safety solutions for women; targeted high-potential women leadership succession aspirants; targeted enhanced representation of women in leadership roles; stoking the dedication of top management to a culture of inclusive leadership; male employees as advocates for gendered equity; and increased representation of women in leadership roles.

Salary premiums across tenures and industries, as well as the sectors that had the worst time attracting and keeping talent, were all revealed in the second half of 2021 by the Mercer Total Remuneration study. Technology, services, biosciences, auto-mobile, industrial, logistics, energy, and retail were just some of the industries that participated in the poll.

That said, there are many women who have bagged leadership roles across South Asia. These women have braved the storm of gender gaps and are excelling in male-dominated industries. They are known for their exemplary influence on a stellar scale. So who are they, you may ask. Find out about three of the most inspirational female leaders in South Asia here! 

Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister of India 

Nirmala Sitharaman’s birth on August 18, 1959, in Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, was to a family of modest means. Her mom was a housewife and an avid reader, while her father worked for the railroads. She takes after both her mother’s avid reading and her father’s strict upbringing. Because of her father’s work, the family moved about throughout Tamil Nadu when she was growing up. That’s why she was so comfortable with moving about and changing her routine.

She earned her undergraduate degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and her graduate degree from Seetha Lakshmi Ramasamy College in Tiruchirappalli. The effects of globalization on third-world nations were her favourite topic of study. This is why she is now India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry. In 1986, she wed Par akala Prabhakar, and the pair eventually settled in London. Sitharaman had great professional success in the United States, but in 1991 she decided to return to her native India. The happy couple now has a beautiful little girl.

Nirmala was a spokesman for the BJP under Ravi Shankar Prasad, and she is known for her firm delivery. Sitharaman, despite her husband’s and his family’s support for the Congress party, switched parties in 2006. She continued her rise in London and inside the BJP, where she held various key posts.
She was chosen as the party’s spokesman in 2010 under Nitin Gadkari’s leadership. Once she became the party’s official spokeswoman, she vigorously supported the BJP and its leaders, particularly Modi, in all national media outlets. She quickly rose to fame in both Delhi and the party’s heartland of Gujarat.
When Sitharaman was a member of the NCW between 2003 and 2005, she met senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj.

 Having been impressed by her poise and confidence, Swaraj suggested Sitharaman for the role.
Furthermore, she was selected to represent Andhra Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha. Nedurumalli Janardhan Reddy’s death has resulted in the seat being unfilled. Sitharaman was extended the opportunity by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the BJP’s main coalition partner. Currently, she represents Karnataka in the Rajya Sabha.
She is well-liked for her friendliness and she was a key player in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. As the next Prime Minister of India, she predicted Narendra Modi. Her diligence and commitment were thought to guarantee her a spot in Modi’s cabinet. At long last, in May of 2014, she was appointed to the ministerial position.

 She recently addressed the difficulties with the Companies Act, 2013 and said that the modifications to the Act are not required if the stakeholders are pleased with the improvements in the regulations.
She reflects on her past self and expresses jealousy for her younger self. Best piece of advise I’ve ever gotten? Maintain your equilibrium at all times by taking the centre ground. Don’t be too submissive and you’ll lose your respect, and don’t be too arrogant and you’ll be pushed about. Keep your equilibrium. If you do that, there is no way you can ever really lose.

Nirmala, who comes from a South Indian background, is well conscious of the fact that her knowledge of Hindi leaves much to be desired. Due to her long career in politics, however, she is now fluent in the language. The press releases are written by her lonesome; she is an avid reader. She takes great care to censor any party talk that may be reported on in the press. 

She is the first finance minister to confront the type of difficulties she has. She took over a weakening economy marked by falling spending and waning demand. The annualized rate of GDP growth collapsed from more than 8% in FY16 to 6.5% in FY19. After then, pre-Covid FY20 had a peak of 3.7%. Then, Covid-19 hit, and it was the mother of all catastrophes. In her second year in office, the GDP shrank by 6.6% in FY21.
Back then, Sitharaman and her staff were up all hours monitoring progress on the 20 trillion rupee Atmanirbhar Bharat program.

Leena Nair, CEO of Chanel 

A number of feats may be found in the work of Leena Nair. She made history as Unilever’s first female, first Asian, and youngest chief human resources officer, overseeing human resources for over 1,50,000 workers in more than 100 countries. She became the first person of Indian descent to run a major company in the French luxury goods industry when she succeeded Alain Wertheimer as Chanel’s worldwide CEO in January of this year. 

While at British Telecom, Nair served on the board in a non-executive capacity. Now she may count herself among the select few chief executive officers (CEOs) of major multinational corporations who are also of Indian descent, joining the likes of Parag Aggarwal (CEO, Twitter), Sundar Pichai (CEO, Alphabet), and Satya Nadella (chairman and CEO, Microsoft). Nair received her Bachelor of Technology in electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from Walchand College of Engineering, Sangli, and her Master of Business Administration in Human Resources from XLRI, Jamshedpur.

Chanel, meanwhile, is expanding its e-commerce offerings, digital initiatives like its virtual try-on services, and its standalone fragrance and beauty network throughout Asia. Chanel, which is trying to find its footing in the post-pandemic luxury market, may benefit from Nair’s time spent at consumer goods and packaged food behemoth Unilever, where she worked in a variety of regulatory and labour contexts. Chanel, the privately owned company that produces the “little black frock” and the legendary Chanel No. 5 perfume, had a successful 2020. 

They reported record-breaking sales in all product lines despite the global pandemic that severely impacted the retail and travel retail industries. More than a century after being established by Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (Coco Chanel), the London-based firm has seen a 50% growth in sales to $15.6 billion by the end of December 2021, and a 171% increase in operating profit to $5.46 billion. Approximately 28,500 individuals are employed by the organization on a global scale.

Inspirational Female Leaders:Aparna Bawa, COO, Zoom Video Communications

Aparna Bawa has spent the last year expanding Zoom’s feature set to include goods and services suited to a hybrid office setting, therefore transforming the company from a video conferencing app into a technology platform. Zoom offers a number of different services, including a cloud-based phone system called Zoom Phone, a contact centre suite called Zoom Contact Centre, a chat feature, and a virtual event platform called Zoom Events. 

Whiteboard, a visual collaboration software, aids individuals in working asynchronously, either in person or remotely, and supports several languages for captioning. Bawa, a former banker who worked at Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank, claims that the company is concentrating on providing a hybrid working environment for its staff. Zoom and Netflix both saw a surge in subscribers during the epidemic, but none have been able to maintain that level of popularity. On the other hand, according to Bawa, Zoom is still putting a premium on new ideas and making investments in promising markets. Sales increased by 55% in FY22, reaching $4 billion. Bawa, formerly Zoom’s chief legal officer, has shown enthusiasm about expanding the company’s offerings. The basis of their business is technology, and they want to remain at the forefront of advancement.


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