They are sixteen years apart and come from completely different sectors. But Roopa Kudva (50) and Avani Davda (34) have an important connection. They have both risen to the very top in their professions.

Ms Kudva is the MD and CEO of India’s largest credit rating agency CRISIL and Ms Davda the CEO of Tata Starbucks.

They are among the select group of women (most of them from the banking sector) who have defied the glass ceiling. While more women have entered the corporate boardrooms, the overall scenario in India remains pretty grim. The Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum ranked India at 101 out of the 136 countries it rated. Of the 1,112 directorships of 100 companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, only 59 are held by women. In Ms. Kudva’s six-year stint at Crisil, its profits have more than doubled, and its customer base has gone up by over 50 times.

Ms. Davda was named CEO of Tata Starbucks Ltd in 2012 – the youngest in the Tata system. By then she had worked for ten years, five of these as executive assistant to Tata Sons director R K Krishna Kumar.

Ms. Davda finds the glass ceiling concept ‘irrelevant’ in the corporate world.

“I believe if you have the capabilities, determination and passion, you will excel. It’s about how you want to target your life and balance it,” she says. Ms. Kudva feels there has been a marked improvement since she started her innings. “Earlier women had to work harder in the first decade of their working lives to prove themselves. But once you delivered and moved to senior levels, the fact that you are a woman became irrelevant. Things are much more conducive for women today even at the early stages of their career,” she points out.

Both CEOs see much cause for optimism. “We have fewer women corporate leaders not just in India but all over the world. But the Indian corporate landscape is transforming rapidly. You see so many women entering knowledge-driven sectors such as ours. There are many more women at the middle management level, than a decade ago,” both point out.

Ms. Davda says she has encountered several successful women across sectors such as finance, FMCG and hospitality. “Ïncreasingly, several organisations have made a conscious effort to improve the representation of women in their leadership teams,” she says.

What has helped them on their road to success? Ms. Davda feels her exposure to management opportunities within the Tata group helped groom her for a leadership position. Also, her values matched that of the company. “You need to find people who have the same values as yourself. It never works if you are in an organisation or team you are disconnected from,” she observes. Ms. Kudva says different skills are needed at varying career stages. “In the early stages of a career, analytical and technical skills are a must. To move ahead, what becomes important is attitude and focus,” she says. Strong communication skills and an outside-in perspective or seeing things from another point of view make a big difference, she feels.

Both CEOs acknowledge the need for corporates to help women balance their personal and professional lives. “There are areas where organisations need to be more sensitive. Such as mentoring aspiring women leaders by giving them the right inputs and support to stay the course during important phases in their personal lives,” says Ms. Kudva. “Women are insufficiently represented at the workplace so we lose out on half the talent available. Companies need to think about how they want to retain and nurture women leaders,” Ms. Davda agrees.

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