From talking about Liberation of Women in the early 90s to talking about their transformational ability, we have come far” – said Ms. Sheela Rani Chunkath, Chairperson, Tamilnadu Industrial Investment corporation (TIIC). After a welcome address by Uncle Bala, it was a fitting way to start the proceedings of ‘Successful Women in Management (SWIM) – 2010’. The event, conducted by Great Lakes every year, brings together the best women leaders from the corporate world, academics and the social sector to inspire students and facilitate learning.The theme this year was ‘Women as transformational leaders – Academics, Business and Society’
Stories of rural transformation:
Ms. Sheela, having a wide administrative experience, narrated the stories of women she has interacted with, during the course of her stint as district collector of Pudukottai. Be it the story of Abirami, the daughter of a bonded laborer who has dreams to write the Tamilnadu Public services examination, Palani Amma, who has acquired the freedom to shop for herself, or Kannama, who volunteered to teach students under the literacy program, these are stories of women who have been empowered by the benefits of education and work. The state Government, after auctioning of quarries, gave them to women’s groups and it has resulted in a societal transformation that is changing the dynamics of relationships within the family. With the income from work and the empowerment brought about by education, these Women are increasingly confident about managing their earnings independently and are challenging the conventions and norms imposed on them.
Ms. Sheela concluded her address by saying that a woman should network freely, exercise regularly, grow holistically and make a wise decision when it comes to the choice of her life partner.
Women in academics and business:
Comparing the evolution of the modern Woman with that of a Volkswagen Beetle, Ms. Jaya Vaidhyanathan, Technology head, Scope International, said that women should not be satisfied with the level of successes they have achieved; they should continue their march with an inherent firmness and an eye for clear targets. They should play to their strengths, while understanding that the road to the board room is not easy. To be able to transcend the pressures imposed by the society and the workplace, she should make herself indispensable. Speaking from her own life experiences, she said that, a demanding career as an investment banker places an imperative on striking the right work-life balance. She also stressed the importance of networks and support groups in the life of a woman, as she advances in her career.
Speaking next, Mr. Kannan P Srinivasan, Owner, Independent consulting solutions, recounted the story of his dynamic assistant, a woman who demonstrated a keen sense of observation and brought a lot of value to the Sales and business development division of his enterprise. While advising us on the importance of the right degree of selling one’s competencies, he asked the men not to interfere in their spouses’ work. Following his speech, the dignitaries were felicitated by Uncle Bala. Professor Sriram, Executive director, delivered the thank you note for the morning session. The session thus ended, leaving us with a lot of food for thought.
The highlight of the afternoon session was Ms. Vinita Bali’s keynote addressand the panel discussion chaired by Shri TN Seshan, former chief election commissioner. The panel was composed of women from different fields – Academia, Insurance and Information Technology, to name a few. Mr. Seshan regaled the audience with his sharp wit, thought provoking comments and an amazing sense of humor. Ms. Jamuna Baskar, Senior Vice President, Future Generali, shared her experience starting as a 24 year old in an insurance industry, in which, “selling insurances are considered difficult next only to selling refrigerators to Eskimos.” Professor Indumati from the physics department of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, ruminated on how social structures in our country have still not kept pace with women’s advancement. She said that the Indian education system produces more women scientists than many other systems.
Ms Mandy Mok, Managing Director, QS Asia, gave the example of Naina Lal Kidwai, a Padma shri recipient. Ms. Lily Neelankavil, consultant, Great Lakes Institute of Management, simplified several issues to summarize that “A successful woman who can manage herself can manage performance and growth.” Ms Rajee Kannan, Senior delivery manager, HP Mphasis, said that hard work, honor of commitments, transparency, making people accountable, encouraging collaboration, demanding excellence and accepting change are the key attributes that have distinguished her own life and helped her progress in her career.
Mr. Seshan then assumed the role of moderator and directed the questions posed by the audience to the panel members. To a question on the existence of domestic violence and the ensuing trauma that women undergo, the panel felt that women should be given the instruments that can transform their immediate neighborhood. When one of the questions alluded to the possibility of celebrating the success of all the women achievers instead of always talking about empowerment, Mr. Seshan remarked that, education alone can lead to empowerment of women and the numbers currently don’t quite add up for the citizenry to simply focus on celebration alone! Mr. Seshan brought the discussion to a close with the thought that old ideas and traditions are quickly giving way to new ones and we should continue to think long and hard about the issues debated.
Dr. Shanthi delivered the thank you address by acknowledging the effort of all the Great Lakes staff, faculty and students involved in the organization and conduct of the event. As the curtains came down on the day, we went back celebrating the accomplishments of dynamic women and thinking about the issues that came up during the course of the day. Some food for thought!!