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'Glass ceiling for women is a state of mind'

Last updated on: January 24, 2012 17:37 IST

'Glass ceiling for women is a state of mind'

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Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman and managing director, Biocon

The human journey of self-development is sometimes stalled by self-imposed limitations. We focus on and get defeated by existing systemic lacunae and the absence of enabling factors, instead of viewing those as a challenge that needs to be overcome in pursuit of our goals.

The proverbial glass ceiling is a similar mental construct that women must shatter to fulfill their dreams.

These barriers, however, were very real when I started Biocon in 1978. I had to overcome multiple credibility issues related to my age, gender and lack of business experience, to say nothing of my field of business -- the nascent and unproven industry of biotechnology.

I learnt to take on challenges one step at a time, and this helped boost my confidence. In course of time, I was able to hold my own in a predominantly male bastion.

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Today, women have a surfeit of opportunities before them. All over the world, as in India, women are at the helm across a spectrum of disciplines.

It is not incorrect to say in such a scenario that, most often, the glass ceiling exists in the mind of a woman. It is a perception among some women that she is facing an invisible yet impenetrable barrier because of her gender. I believe that the world belongs to those who want to make a difference and gender is no barrier.

We have enormously talented women in our country in leadership positions and many more who are standing on their own feet for the first time in their lives, inspired by these leaders.

My advice to these women entrepreneurs will be to start small and build on it, that will ensure a better success rate. Indian women have also taken on leadership roles in business and are doing an exemplary work.

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Image: Inside a Biocon laboratory.
Photographs: Courtesy, Biocon
Tags: , India

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Recently, Fortune listed India's 50 most powerful businesswomen -- ranging from banker Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma to filmmaker Ekta Kapoor and designer Ritu Kumar -- and all of these have carved a niche for themselves in their area of business.

Their success is not the result of a one-off effort, but a continual, persistent process of building on each succeeding success to reach that next milestone.

I believe women must never adopt this self-defeating belief in a glass ceiling beyond which they cannot soar. The glass ceiling is a perception and women with talent and determination must keep on chipping away at it till it is smashed.

Corporates, too, must judiciously support women who strive each day to balance domestic realities with career dreams.

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Preeti Vyas Giannetti, chairwoman and CEO, Vyas Giannetti Creative

Glass ceiling is a reality that we have had to live with. Women feel it the most when going up the pyramid in their career. After all, it is tough to behave like a man and become a part of the ubiquitous men's club that women encounter as they move up the career path.

Till mid-management, women perform really well. They are great team-players, with a good dose of sincerity which can be relied on and fare consistently well. But that is also the time when women enter their child-bearing and rearing stage.

Either they choose to stay at home or have to handle the pressures of being at work with a child at home. If the child needs attention, it is the mother who is often called back from her work.

Such a double-shift role tends to take a toll on some women. A sort of mental resignation also creeps in at times when women don't go after career progression and raises because the husband is then seen as the chief breadwinner.

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Image: Preeti Vyas Giannetti


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But such challenges are a reality that we have to live with. For those women for whom their work is a passion, it would be easier to excel at their work despite what goes on in their homes.

Another hurdle by way of the glass ceiling is that as the pyramid grows narrower on the way to the top in the corporate world, there are fewer people. And of those, women find themselves outnumbered by men at the table.

Women do try and fit in such as join them for a drink but it is far less prevalent. At the senior levels, men instinctively tend to take other men more seriously than their women colleagues.

But having a mentor and her own consistent performance could alleviate the isolation a woman could feel from the men's club that forms among senior management.

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The human resource departments can pursue equal opportunities only up to a point. After that it is up to the team-members of the women to ensure it. Till mid-level, the growth is inclusive for both genders. But the glass ceiling becomes more stark in the rarefied echelon of a company's top management.

Some women at this stage, forge out on their own, as entrepreneurs. I believed in setting up an organisation and hence I didn't practise alone.

In the world of advertising, I had found that my creative talents were appreciated uptil I became the creative director. But when it came to getting recognition for my strategic intent at senior positions, it became harder.

For example, being a designer from NID, I had a different way of looking at the world of communication with solutions other than just advertising such as experiential, interactive and digital media.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Preeti arts
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That was my cue to realise I had hit the glass ceiling. My philosophy of a different style of communication made me strike out on my own 10 years ago. It was the next level in my career that I had to realise. I have found out that if you have the rigour and passion to be good at your work, then people tend to forget your gender.

Women should regard the glass ceiling as one of life's obstacles and not 'The' obstacle in their career. It just has to be taken in our stride.

It becomes easier if we can stay our course. As for the glass ceiling itself, it would erode once people fully appreciate the different leadership style of women.

They are great team-makers in the workforce; they try to put everyone on the same page rather than make her team toe the line blindly. Contrary to belief, they also tend to take more risks and try out a different way of solving problems than men.



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