Renuka Ramnath, MD & CEO, Multiples Alternate Asset Management, at Biz Divas Delhi Chapter LaunchIt has been a year since the inception of Biz Divas. In the last year, Biz Divas has grown tremendously as a group, thanks to all enthusiastic women entrepreneurs! It was only logical that Biz Divas started its chapter in the capital of the country. Biz Divas launched its Delhi Chapter on August 7, 2012. What could be a better way kick off Delhi chapter meetings than listening to women at top talking straight from their heart?

Here are the highlights from the event “Women in Boardroom” – a panel discussion held at American Center, New Delhi. The panellists were Renuka Ramnath, CEO, Multiples Equity; Shaily Gupta, Head, HR, Edelweiss Group; Kanika Mathur, President, Digitas and Kuku Singh, Director, Tatva Leadership & Management Services. The discussion was moderated by Stephanie F. Morimura, Cultural Attache for Exchanges and Education, U.S. Embassy.

The opening address was give by US Ambassador Nancy J Powell. She said that more opportunities were opening up for women now allowing younger women to see broader career possibilities. With groups like Biz Divas and other signs of progress – more women enrolling in MBA programs, more women in long-term careers, more women CEOs in major corporations like Pepsi, Yahoo and IBM, for example – more and more opportunities are opening up, which means that younger women see broader possibilities.

She, however, acknowledged that there remained significant barriers for women in business everywhere though they have been at the cutting edge of economic change. She pointed out that access to financing, to markets, to training, to mentors and networks, and to technology, not to mention cultural attitudes and enduring stereotypes of what women can and can not do – are just some of the difficulties.

Powell noted that too often historically in India, in the US and around the world women have been excluded from the important business networks making the male-dominated business world a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

To start, the panellists shared their journeys and all the ups and downs they went through along the way. Contrary to what one tends to believe, it’s never a smooth ride for anyone who strives to reach the top. The usual, and sometimes unusual, problems of life do crop up and are to be dealt with patience, perseverance and passion for the goals.

Excerpt from the discussion:

Sensitization and breaking stereotypes:

Generally there is a tendency in organizations that if a woman has married recently, it’s not wise to hire her. She is going to go on a maternity leave. People keep asking whether you are trying for first/second baby. How does it matter? We would absolutely support laws that make it not compliant to ask questions like that in interviews and Equal Opportunity laws. But more than anything else, the management, middle and senior is responsible for building an institution. They should be trained to build a culture of not holding it against women.

The decision should me based on merit and market forces. There is very little participation of women in the boardrooms. We believe that women perfectly complement men in terms of how they think and make the whole situation lot more holistic. Perhaps making their participation mandatory by law will help in the short term while in the long term it should become market oriented. There can be a much more formal way of listening to problems of women workers and professionals through sub committees of the board chaired by women.

Quotas may work initially to give that necessary push but isn’t a long term solution. Otherwise you may end up fighting quotas rather than doing the real work which you are supposed to do.

Having it ‘all’:

Yes, we can have it all. Why not, if we deserve it? There are instances where women have to step back because of various issues. On the other hand, to put a little different perspective, there is other side of it too. Sometimes if there are the best women focussed policies and procedures, some women tend to take undue advantage of that. Many a times, a lot of hard steps have got taken by the organizations because people have misused these policies and the support system. Maybe these policies work for only the ones who are aspiring who have high achievement orientation. On the other side, there are women who are looking for jobs and not for a career. There is no way of distinguishing.

Advice for women just starting out:

It is good to aim for perfection but have the tolerance for imperfection. Don’t kill yourself if you don’t achieve what you’ve aimed for. Just stay on course. And never let the crisis go waste. Whenever there is a crisis, use that as an opportunity to build, to invest, to do something different. There is always an opportunity in a crisis.

Also, “I didn’t have enough money and therefore I couldn’t build a business” is the lamest excuse one can think of. No businesses did not get built because they didn’t find money. You don’t need money to build a business. If you build a good business, money will find you. So don’t lose focus.  Don’t exhaust yourself going to various venture capitalists, desperately trying to share your business plan. After the story is discovered when there are ten people knocking on the door, venture capitalists are perfectly happy to be the eleventh person there. But they may not show interest when nobody has backed you. So when you want to build a business, build a business. Find your customer, sharpen your business value proposition, get your target audience specifications absolutely perfect, and think about how you’ll make your business profitable on a unit basis. Once you do all of these things with very clear focus, money will find you.

Get your support system right. That means your family, your husband, your mother-in-law, even your domestic staff. They are your stakeholders. It doesn’t work if we please customers in the outside world and these internal stakeholders of ours are not happy. Sit and talk to them, share your dreams, talk about it, engage them in your dreams. Let them be a part of the dream. The families are supportive if you are able to share your dream. Let’s have smile on their faces. We’ll have smile on our faces.

An important thing when it comes to people who are starting new businesses is having a great business idea. Very often a lot of thinking is not done at that point of time. A lot of research and creative thinking is required actually to create that little seed that has the potential to grow. They believe is that there are lot of people in this world who could sit down and brainstorm with you. So not just your but there are people who are a part of the industry, whose wisdom you can tap At the end of the day if your business idea is really good, then it becomes so much easier to get the support system going, get finance, sell the idea to your customers etc.

 It’s all about you and the choices you make:

When you professionally choose a career and you have a high achievement orientation, every time in your life you make a trade-off. Those trade-offs are decisions that you are taking. So never be guilty of your decisions. Don’t see them as compromises.

Be a little more professional in your conduct. Once you have delivered everything and you have planned ahead, e.g. if you need to get your child’s vaccination done and you have informed your team in advance, no boss minds it. There are women who are doing exceedingly well in the team despite all personal limitations. Whether they log in from home or elsewhere, the delivery is on time. But at the same there are women who are single and slack on work.  Management cannot be sensitive to them or their needs.

It’s about commitment. If you are completely committed and those are the vibes that you give, that’s what is recognized, going for hospital visit or having a problem at home will never be issue because everybody sees the commitment. But if you use excuses, I am a woman so I can afford to take off, that doesn’t really work.

Don’t play the woman card, play the professional card.

Women tend to take less risks, they are less willing to step out and move forward because they are they always want to be safe at all times. There are many women who are extremely aggressive who want to get ahead. And then there are some who are just happy with their jobs and they just want to do what they are doing and go away at 5:30. There is a huge difference between these two personalities. When you are hungry and you want to get ahead, you want to grab things and opportunities whereas if you are not, you would just not want to move from the basic ambit of the job description. While there is nothing wrong with the either of the two, it’s a choice that you have to make. Not wanting to get ahead may come from familial circumstances or personality trait or some other reason but it is a lost opportunity. In many industries, women are pretty much equally considered.

If you make a choice of taking it easy then don’t grumble. There is a challenge when you see somebody else get promoted and you get into this whole negative thinking about yourself. Stay with your choices.

For women, a lot of barriers are in the mind than out there. Women are a little bit too disciplined. They are perfectionists. You got to get out of the box sometimes and say I want to do something extra or I want to try something new.

Some women have turned entrepreneurs out of their passion and choices. But there are women who do it because it’s their only resort. It is good for them to remember that “Necessity is the mother of invention”. If it is a need and you get pushed in some direction, sometimes you end up creating something you had not envisaged. So you look at it as an opportunity than as a compulsion in your mind. It’s all about state of mind.

About Mentors and role models:

As you rise higher, you are alone. It is not possible to talk about your anxiety, your fears to your subordinates. There is no way you can talk to your boss. You can’t talk to your colleagues either. At best, you can talk to your life partner at home but he also may be not as involved or sensitive to your problems. At times like these it helps to have someone you can confide in. Some have spiritual gurus, some have professional mentors. It helps because you get some reinforcement and some support. You also need to draw energy in from somewhere.

There lies the value of groups like Biz Divas.

Another new space coming up on that front is social media. That’s a place where you can exchange ideas, thoughts and also get support. Now in India, there are so many people on social media now. Some of the conversations that take place over there are superb. You can get absolutely phenomenonal advice at absolutely no cost. It’s a great place to network. You can create groups. You can find people who are entrepreneurs like you are. You can find people within your own industry or category. The whole world is beautifully opening up to all of us. Get onto the social world, there is a lot more that you can get from the world.

Ultimately you will be successful only if you want to do something. If you start something by saying, “what can I do, I have no choice.”, then you are better off not doing anything because you are not going to make much out of it. And mentors are not going to come and solve your problems. You can extract upon their wisdom. They give you a little bit of encouragement on that low moment but to expect that the external world is going to somehow prop you up to success will be a very wrong notion.

Mentors are more for conversation. They are great for brainstorming and stuff like that but finally it has to be you. A mentor can be male or female, anyone you have an equation with. If you have somebody who you can talk to beyond your apprehensions, that’s just great. Mentor works magic in pushing you. Every time you perceive there is a barrier, a mentor gets you going. Just don’t be dependent on them.

At the end of the day, the best mentors are those who see what you are doing, look into your eyes and say don’t do this because they don’t see conviction in you, or they say go ahead and do it because they see conviction in you!