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Indian women are increasingly breaking stereotypical and traditional shackles, and making tremendous contribution to the country through their grit and determination.
I am indeed delighted to pen this article on the occasion of Women’s Day as this gives me the opportunity to salute the grit and determination of successful women in the current business arena. Women have recognised that they can be as successful as their male counterparts and with encouragement, achieve any goal.
Being a woman provides us with special attributes: strong people skills, multi-tasking and above all, the zeal to excel in a man’s world. Women have travelled a great distance since my early days. Women now have a lot of support, from the government as well as financial institutions, and can excel in the professional arena. There is nothing that stands in the way of the young breed of Indian women reaching higher pinnacles.
When I reflect on my early days, things were not all that simple. I set-up Biocon 30 years ago in the garage of my rented house. In fact, the garage doubled up as my office. I had to make the most of available resources and started with Rs 10,000 in the bank. Needless to say there were several obstacles that I had to overcome in my entrepreneurial journey. For instance, I faced credibility challenges: my youthful age, my gender and my unfamiliar business model posed enormous barriers. No bank wanted to lend to me, no professional wanted to work for me, and it proved to be a real challenge to set up a business because women were considered “high risk” in the business world. Once I overcame these, I had to face the technological challenges of trying to build a biotechnology business in a country where infrastructure was too primitive to support a high-tech industry like mine — that is so dependent on uninterrupted, high-quality power, high-quality water, sterile labs, imported research equipment, advanced scientific skills and the like.
Today, our challenges address those posed by new medical wisdom: addressing unmet medical needs at an affordable cost, researching new drugs, new drug delivery systems and new therapies. Overcoming each of these phases has been a rich learning experience that has helped me establish a world-class enterprise in biotechnology.
As women, we have special qualities such as compassion, sensitivity and an inner strength of honest and untiring commitment. With the right mix of skill, experience and resourcefulness, being at the helm can be one of the most rewarding experiences. Women are good team players and female bosses often make good democratic leaders.
Knowledge does not have a gender divide – women scientists, women engineers, women writers have enormous opportunities to excel and succeed. At Biocon, we do our best to ensure that gender sensitivity issues are addressed. Women are encouraged not to come at odd hours in the night and if women have to travel to interior areas of the country, a male escort is provided.
Biocon has a fully-equipped creche that enables employees to have their children cared for while they pursue their careers at the workplace. These considerations take care of employee apprehensions. However, I would like to point out that I am not the kind of person who will appoint women for the sake of their gender but will do so for the role they play.
In my opinion, starting a family should not be a deterrent to a woman’s career goals. There is no reason for a woman not to get back to her work environment after the maternity leave period. Women should be encouraged to rely on their family support system or provide adequate care for the child at a suitable day-care centre. In fact, as mentioned earlier many companies today cater to the needs of mothers and have creches on the campus to allow mothers to return to work after having a baby.
For a woman to rise in the workplace, a supportive husband and family are a pre-requisite. Whilst it is true that I was single when I built Biocon, the real growth came when I got married, and my husband has played a vital role in our success today. We balance and complement each other: I am a scientist and he has a strong financial background. Men need to be emotionally secure and should not get a complex with successful partners. My husband is a very strong and secure human being. I am most fortunate to have such an understanding partner. My husband has invested in me in every way, and inspires me every day to build a company that will be a torchbearer for Indian biotechnology.
I strongly believe that Indian women can prove to be an extremely successful breed over the next decade. In order to be successful, Indian women need to develop a sense of self-confidence, a sense of determination and a willingness to work hard. One should not be de-motivated with failure but learn from one’s mistakes. A sense of overall perseverance is very essential. I am proud to be a woman and strongly believe that the world belongs to those who want to make a difference.
I am truly inspired by women of courage and conviction in the business world who have broken glass ceilings, gained the respect of the corporate world and made a big difference to their companies by changing the gender mindset that unfortunately still exists in the so called intellectual arena. On Women’s Day, I would like to especially pay a tribute to Indian women in the corporate world such as Indra Nooyi, Naina Lal Kidwai, Shikha Sharma, Swati Piramal, Anu Agha, Mallika Srinivasan, the ICICI trio and many others who are helping to build a new India where women can hold their heads high.