'Konichiwa mina San'!! Hello Everybody!! Recently I was invited as a speaker on The International Conference for Women in Business in Tokyo that has been held every summer since 1996.
The event has 800-1000 participants and is the largest women's conference in Japan. The objective is to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to succeed as business professionals today and to provide an opportunity for active exchange, stimulation from International perspectives and mutual support among peers who share a strong determination to succeed.
My topic was 'Women in India and the Future' and my interaction with other speakers such as Soichi Noguchi - Astronaut, Goshi Hosono - Minister of Environment in Japan, Hiroshi Ishii – Associate Director of MIT Media Laboratory and many young Japanese girls, representatives from embassies around the world including the Indian Embassy were stimulating. The audience and fellow speakers were inspired and motivated by my speech. This made me realize that I am so proud to be an Indian as my country has given me so many opportunities and now it is my turn to pay it forward.
My speech touched upon the journey of my life which includes family, education, work and the inception of Crosshairs Communication and my involvement in International women entrepreneurs' affairs. The crux of my speech was the path laid out by women leaders in India in the past and the present. They were pioneers of India in every field and they helped in shaping the position of women in Indian society now. I took them through my journey in the past one year which started with Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in California where I met Warren Buffet, Marissa Mayers, Indra Nooyi, Pattie Sellers, Molly Ashby, Sherrie Rollins Westin, Dina Habib Powell, Alyse Nelson and many more. Meeting them made me realize that each of us have to pay it forward in a small way so that the ripple effect of the same can be created and we can change and 'move the world forward' which was also the theme of the Tokyo conference.
My speech also had my experience of DWEN Conference which I had the privilege to be part of. DWEN – The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network – spotlights female entrepreneurial success and creates an atmosphere where women can connect with one another, share best practices, build business opportunities and recognize female influence in business and technology. Few of the highlights according to a study commissioned by Dell were as follows. India is the ideal country to be in if you are a woman looking to start a business in 2012 and not the US or UK. 71 per cent of Indian women entrepreneurs are running successful businesses compared to 46 per cent in US and 24 per cent in UK. Indian women are technologically up to date.. the study said; 74 per cent said their technology needs are getting more complex against 51 per cent in UK and US. Multi tasking was another area in which Indian women led: 90 per cent of Indian female entrepreneurs started their business while maintaining a day job. In the US this was 68 per cent and 47 per cent in the UK. Social responsibility was another area in which they topped: 80 per cent of Indian women entrepreneurs feel their business should have a positive impact on the society against a mere 21 per cent in the UK and 50 per cent in the US.
Host Moira Forbes, publisher of Forbes Woman, led the two-day event around the theme, 'Innovation through Collaboration.' The agenda was structured as an exchange of ideas between female founders, CEOs, innovative leaders, business icons, experts and thought leaders who run businesses in top markets. With speakers and participants representing Canada, United States, Brazil, China, Japan, Australia, India, United Kingdom, France and Germany, the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network addressed topics such as doing business in India, social entrepreneurship and strategic giving, sustainability, customer engagement, social media strategy, going global and more. ''Women are playing increasingly important roles in leadership and we're seeing some of the most exciting global growth coming from female-led companies'' said Forbes.
My thoughts go back to a time where twenty years back there was no importance given to education a girl child. Traditional families always wanted a son instead of a daughter. India has changed and the world is looking at it. Illustrating this change is the story of Amita Devi from Bihar. Underneath four pipal trees in Dadar Kolhua village in Bihar, men and women are gathering for a meeting. Sitting at a table in front of them is Amita Devi. Three years ago she wore a veil and rarely left her house without a chaperone – addressing a 400-strong crowd would have been unthinkable. But today Amita is President of the panchayat (village council).
"I never had the opportunity to study beyond high school" said Amita, "but I want the girls from my village to go to university." Fielding questions on pensions for widows, road repair and land rights – subjects that matter to the villagers who elected her – Amita is one of 1.2 million women representatives in rural India. Sixteen years after the government reserved one-third of all panchayat seats for women, the first nationwide study on the institution counters a criticism commonly leveled against them. Women enter local politics of their own will and no longer depend upon the men in their families to take key decision."
Interacting with participants from all over the world has motivated and inspired me that we can create change. "Change is the Only Constant Thing". The story above is what is happening in our country: India. "Point of Impact is very important for growth of a company" says Michael Dell. "Women entrepreneurs are powerful engines of economic growth" says Moira Forbes. These quotes are very true especially in a country like India. When you picture the drivers of the fastest growing economies in the world (countries like China, Brazil and India) the first thing that pops into your head probably isn't a female entrepreneur. Yet, women entrepreneurs and small-business owners are the propellers behind much of that growth.
I remember what the secretary of state in the United States mentioned: women live in adversity and they overcome it. Women are a source of resilience and entrepreneurship. Ann Harvey at the White House said "women with small business should look at 3 Cs: counseling, capital and contracts." "Women are like tea bags. We do not know our true strength until we are in hot water" said Eleanor Roosevelt. This is true worldwide for women so the learning that women are engines of economic growth and the key to success for women in India is and which each one of us should do is like a chain: "Find Extraordinary Women ---- Invest in their Leadership Capital ---- Women Leaders Pay It Forward -----" I ended the speech by drawing a map for advancing gender equality by the year 2020 around the world.
While doing my research I realized that we all talk about empowerment of women but there are underlying truths that the real barriers and flaws that still exist in the system despite the opportunities we inherited. All of us who are highly educated well-off women are privileged enough to have choices in the first place. We are the women who could be leading and who should be equally represented in the leadership ranks. Millions of working women face much more difficult life circumstances. Some are single mothers. Many struggle to find any job. Others support husbands who cannot find jobs. Many cope with a work life in which good day care is unavailable or expensive. School schedules do not match work schedules and schools themselves are failing to educate their children. Many of these women are worrying not about having it all but rather about holding on to what they do have.
The best hope for improving the lot of all women and for closing a "new gender gap"—measured by well-being rather than wages—is to close the leadership gap. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone. We should and would work together with the purpose of advancing gender equality by the year 2020. Also we should amplify and support the work of increasing women in leadership in all aspects of life and make Asian women and global women synonymous with powerful women driving the world economy.