What Women in Business Want?

by Anjali Gupta

In celebration of Woman’s Day, Silicon India organized a Women 2.0 Summit across four major cities in India to bring together women to discuss issues around professional and personal growth for career-oriented women. I was surprised to see an extremely interactive audience with panelists having to field a lot of questions.

All top women executives agreed that that every organization wants to have an equal number on men and women in their top management layer. Despite the best intentions of men, women and companies, this does not happen. Multiple statistics and studies of successful teams prove that lop sided teams (very few men, or very few women) produce inferior unsustainable results. Then why can’t we have more women in management?

One of the speakers shared her experience in mentoring several women managers – there is a 5 year period in a woman’s life when she she decides to raise a family, and it is during this period most women drop out of the competitive circuit. They either opt to not work, reduce the nature of responsibilities, or work part-time. After 5 years when they are ready to come back, it’s difficult to get back into the groove.  The speaker was happy on every occasion when she managed to convince someone to not drop out by helping them realize that it’s only a matter of few years, and in the long term they would want to be professionally competitive. Although she admitted that her success rate in convincing is 1 in 10 women, she was happy to make that one woman stay put.

Another important issue raised by the audience was in finding the right mentor at the workplace, and the approach to identifying the mentor. A lot of fingers were raised at the various programs organized by HRs of top IT service companies.

Why do these programs exclude the lowest level of the organization such as the people who serve us, those who clean our desks and organize our facilities and food?

How does one go about selecting the right mentor or buddy? What can one expect from them?

Does phone-based mentoring work especially in MNCs where the mentor may not be in the same city? Here someone gave an interesting anecdote of having an SMS mentor!

The panel in which I participated was focused on entrepreneurship. My co-panelists were –Manjusha Madabushi and Suhasini Kirloskar, both highly accomplished entrepreneurs. Manjusha’s journey was fascinating; she moved back from the US in late 80s to pursue mountaineering in the Himalayas, and became an entrepreneur by accident.

As a panel we focused on helping the audience understand the motivations behind starting a company and how to go about doing it. It will be extremely rewarding if you make it, but it’s not easy.  No salary for a while, No weekends, No vacations and 24/7 thinking and breathing your startup baby is what they should be prepared for. I found it very encouraging that over 50% of the audience was thinking about pursuing entrepreneurship in some form. Many questions were around managing finances, handling social perceptions, and identifying the right idea.

I’m happy we got them thinking; my hope is that very soon we will have a healthy mix of women in the startup eco-system in India.  Why am I so optimistic? Several women came up to after the panel and wrote down instructions on how to join the Pune Open Coffee Club for entrepreneurs! My co-author Santosh (the founder of the Club) is going to be thrilled 😉