Shaili Chopra: My heroes were all men, said Nicola Adams when she became the first woman to win an Olympic boxing gold. It was a telling statement – not a wrong one – about inspiration and aspirations around us. Adams wished she had a female box to 'want to be like'. We all hunger for motivation and brilliance, and in most cases it may well be gender-agnostic but look around and one wonders why there remain such few female role models. In the Indian context, we need to change this more than ever.

How does India Inc find female role models in business world



If you Google 'lists' of the last decade and you'll find the same women reigning the charts. They have aged, succeeded further but those lists remain narrow and concentrated on just a handful of women. We have remained stuck in our definition of idols. Notion of role models doesn't have to be limited to legendary figures, or women CEOs or even political achievers. Our world – driven by digital – is changing this even more. Every woman is a leader and most of all she is more of a 'real' model than just a role model. We have inspiration among women building digital empires from home, those spending hours teaching young children of the neighbourhood to those who run assembly lines at manufacturing units with a 9 to 5 job. What is holding us back from recognising these women? From celebrating their big and small achievements? Why must we be steered by outdated norms of role models and constrain the idea of inspiration?


Change the definition and we may change the attitude? Esther Dufflo and her colleagues have studied several aspects around women and I recall reading on particularly effective conclusion. "Seeing women in charge persuaded parents and teens that women can run things, and increased their ambitions. Changing perceptions and giving hope can have an impact on reality," she had noted. This study was done in West Bengal so it was real in the Indian context. These conclusions may well be true of urban India, corporations, and other organisations. We get inspired by our environment. And if our environment encourage women – given that historically they have been left out of the success journey in big numbers – we are bound to have a gender-democratic attitude.

India Inc is also among those who need to fix the gap. Though it's hard to confirm whether some forced efforts – such as Sebi's directive to increase women on boards – are pushing for encouraging women to high positions, one hopes the high-clipped awareness and recognition around what women bring to boardroom is being noted. It's not just an appointment but a new mentality. A paradigm shift. An HBR piece highlighted an important missing link in the approach. "Becoming a leader involves much more than being put in a leadership role, acquiring new skills, and adapting one's style to the requirements of that role. It involves a fundamental identity shift. Organisations inadvertently undermine this process when they advise women to proactively seek leadership roles."

Take the example of our entrepreneurship boom. India has hundreds of stories of female success and now is a good time to build upon those bricks of brilliance. Not only are they instrumental in paving way for others but also bring tremendous peer experience giving many the benefit of learning.

Modelling ourselves on others, learning their story and struggles is part of human nature. And so just like men from centuries, women with exemplary stories, successes, struggles must be hailed. Time to start that process is now.

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