To be really successful, every conference deserves a session like the panel discussion on “Women, empowering retail – Leading Innovation” – it provided a dash of spice and humor – just the right touch to liven up proceedings and add several layers of grist for the post-event mills.
Panelists included Anisha Singh, Founder and CEO, mydala.com; Ivana Perovic, CEO, AP Group, Priyadarshini Rao, Director, Mineral Fashions Pvt Ltd; Natasha Shah, Founder, The Nature’s Company, Megha Poddar, Promoter and Director, Siyaram Silk Mills Ltd.. The panel was moderated by Vikram Bakshi, MD (North & East), McDonald’s India.
The discussions were around how stereotypes with reference to the roles that women play are evolving. While some of the typical gender based stereotypes are alive and kicking – for example – almost all the panelists and the moderator spoke about “allowing” women to work, and the usual “family vs work” conflict , the new words in the women entrepreneurs dictionary are “focus”, “fight”, “keep pushing”, “deal with guilt”, “be tough but fair”.
One aspect that has not changed is the need for a supportive ecosystem – be that friends, husband, or extended family. Shah’s admission that her husband is not just a CEO in his own right but “the real mother” to her twins, had the audience applauding.
Does gender open doors? The view was – it probably does – because, of the “face value” factor(See pic!) – but as Perovic put it “What you do after that door is opened is upto you. The door may open faster but the benchmarks against which your performance are measured are higher”. Similarly, Rao’s comment that gender can be a disadvantage when dealing with the government ‘babu’s’ because “they won’t take you seriously” struck a chord with the audience.
Does gender keep financiers at bay? – It depends on who the financier is. If you are looking to raise money from traditional PSU banks and financial institutions – the answer is probably yes. Sample Perovic’s telling comment on one financer who held back because they “were looking at who the promoter is”.
If your potential funder is a VC / PE entity – then gender is not really a factor – as Singh put it – “your business case matters more”.
Is there a glass ceiling? – The view was – unequivocally – “Yes, especially in retail”. The reasons are simply that employers won’t risk it, there will be questions on stability and the ability to deal with and balance pressure from multiple stakeholders both on the home and work front.
How do you deal with the “family vs work” conflict?. There were no easy answers but the view was that – “you deal with it”. Singh’s “We are all guilty mothers and so we are good mothers” probably summarized it best.
Advice to young women entrepreneurs? Poddar’s comment – “Tell her to think independently and have enough space from her husband and his thoughts –nurture her own individuality” summed it up best.
The best part of the panel discussion was the repartee between the moderator and the panelists. To sum it up – when asked “As a woman, do you feel aggrieved at the years of oppression that women have had to suffer at the hands of men and do you want to get back at them?” –Singh’s patient answer was “Vikram – we are women, we don’t do it like that. We are nice and evil and we know better ways to get back!”.
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