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Updated: October 26, 2013 17:19 IST

Ladies up the ladder

KANCHANA BANERJEE
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Women entrepreneurs swim against the tide in a male-dominated workplace. But now a new wave of initiatives is helping them forge ahead.

They are the ‘Third Billion’; women across the globe, mostly from emerging markets, who will join the global economy as employees, employers and entrepreneurs over the next decade. And women entrepreneurs are poised to transform their local economies.

Globally, many organisations are trying to help women excel. The La Pietra Coalition, a group of leaders advocating women’s advancement, launched ‘The Third Billion’ campaign to support women across the globe. Natalie Byrne, director of global impact at skincare company Dermalogica and the non-profit Kiva, launched the Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship (FITE), providing microfinance loans to 30,000 women across 68 countries. Vital Voices, the Cherie Blair Foundation, San Francisco’s Women 2.0 are other names in this space.

There is help closer home as well. Design entrepreneur Ruche Mittal started Her Entrepreneurial Network (HEN) India in 2011, for women to collaborate on projects, help each other with contacts, and share knowledge and inputs. The network today boasts of over 1200 members, who run businesses in areas ranging from herbal beauty products to IT Services.

She says, “I realised the need for a platform for women to exchange business information and learn. Hence HEN was born.”

Three dynamic ladies and friends — Sarika Bhattacharya, Priyanka Awasthy and Ranjana Deopa, each with around 15 years of experience in leading banks and financial institutions, started Altavis, a talent management firm. Sarika explains, “Today it has grown into a major player in the field of diversity and inclusion. Our belief in women’s empowerment, financial literacy and independence led to the inception of Biz Divas Foundation two years ago.”

Pearl Uppal, co-founder of start up accelerator 5ideas and former head of fashion e-tailer Fashion and You, launched Founders in Heels, a networking and mentoring platform for women. The initiative will support women primarily in tech-enabled industries. Uppal says, “Founders in Heels will focus on getting successful women entrepreneurs and senior corporate executives on board as mentors. The platform will also hold regular multi-city meets to engage with women.”

Mentoring is being extended not only to women entrepreneurs but also to corporate women. Companies are leveraging networks for high-potential women executives as well as in-house programmes to nurture women within the organisation for leadership positions.

The initiatives are paying off. The managing director of the Indian wing of Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company, is a woman, and a large percentage of its India executive team are women. The team is looking to expand the scope of its global women’s networking group, the Spirited Women’s Network. Cadbury India recently introduced the ‘My Mentor’ programme to encourage women to aspire to senior leadership roles. Several other companies like Accenture, Boston Consulting Group and Coca-Cola are recognising formal women’s networks as a critical retention tool for women leaders, particularly at the mid-career level.

Arun Duggal, Chairman, Shriram Capital, has has roped in 24 leaders, including M. Damodaran, Deepak Parekh and G.M. Rao, to mentor competent women to go on and become independent directors.Public shareholders at AGMs are demanding better representation of women on boards. According Spencer Stuart India Board Index 2012, women accounted for seven per cent of all directors to BSE 100 companies in 2012, up from 5.5 per cent in 2011. In the U.K., women accounted for 15 per cent of all directors in 2012 compared to 12.3 per cent the previous year. In the U.S., women accounted for 17 per cent of all independent directors in 2012. “Indian boards need more diversity of all sorts. Gender diversity is an important aspect,” says M. Damodaran, former chairman of SEBI.

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