India’s Most Powerful Women: A Reality Check

Fighting the patriarchal system of the society and breaking the glass ceiling, many Indian businesswomen have achieved success and fame. Securing the 57th rank in Forbes 2017 list of World’s top 100 most powerful women is Roshni Nadar Malhotra, CEO of HCL Corporations. She handles the strategic decisions of a $7.5 billion enterprise that deals with technology, infosystems healthcare and talent management solutions. Roshni was awarded the Lewis Institute Community Changemaker award by Babson College in 2017 for her philanthropic work. She was also honoured with the World’s Most Innovative People’s Award for Philanthropic Innovation, Vogue India Philanthropist award in 2017 and NDTV Young Philanthropist award 2014. Roshini’s success saga is an inspiring one, considering her accomplishments and commendable career growth. However, did she have to struggle to reach where she is now?

Benefitting From the Family Tree

Being the only daughter of Shiv Nadar, an Indian industrialist and founder and chairman of HCL, Roshini became the CEO of HCL at age 28. Apart from her academic achievements and brilliance, the fact that she hailed from an affluent family with a successful business furthered her red carpet entry to the CEO’s chamber. However, she is not the only lucky one. Many successful women in India were able to reach the peak of their careers because of their family lineage. Ekta Kapoor, the Managing and Creative Director of Balaji Telefilms is the daughter of Jeetendra who is the Producer and Chairman of Balaji Telefilms and Motion Pictures. Belonging to a family with prior industry background fostered Ekta’s endeavours in the Hindi TV and film industry. Similarly, Vanita D.Gupta, CEO of Lupin Limited (transactional pharmaceutical company) is the daughter of Desh Bandhu Gupta, the founder of Lupin. Radhika Piramval, the Vice-Chairman and Executive Director of VIP Industries was assigned this designation by her father Dilip Piramwal, Chairman and Managing Director of the company. The Managing Director of DT Cinemas Limited, Pia Singh is the daughter of Kushal Pal Singh, the chairman and CEO of DLF Limited. Tanya Arvind Dubash, with a net worth of $4.0 billion is the Executive Director and Chief Brand Officer of Godrej Group. She claimed this position with the support of her industrialist father, Mr Adi Godrej.

These above examples suggest that it is usually the women born with a silver spoon who are likely to attain chief designations in companies. Most of the women who find a place in the ‘Most successful and wealthy women in India’ list are those who succeed the enterprises owned by their families. Being a part of a well-established family gives these women the opportunity to rise when compared to those women who have no big surnames attached to them. There are many women entrepreneurs and successful female employees in industries, but they go unnoticed. They consist of those women who need to strive to a make a mark. A number of start-ups in India are founded and run by women. But how many of them are even recognized? Considering this slow rise of women in India, they still have a long way to go. India, as a society is yet to respect and accept businesswomen or even recognize them as potential industrialists.

Women in Bollywood

Indian actresses like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone are painting the world red. The entire world, especially Hollywood seems to have woken up to their talent and beauty. Padukone made $11 million and was ranked 6th in the Forbes list of highest earning actresses in 2017. Priyanka Chopra featured in both lists among highest paid film and television actresses by raking in $10 million.

The precedent for exporting talent abroad was set by Aishwarya Rai. Soon actresses like Freida Pinto and Sonam Kapoor started receiving a considerable amount of visibility. With conversations revolving around race and inclusion, studios were looking to conceive projects with roles for “global” characters. Many foreign filmmakers jumped onto the bandwagon eager to get their share of the pie.

The Road Is Still Long Until Equity in Pay

Deepika Padukone’s salary may seem massive as a standalone figure, but compared to a Shah Rukh Khan, it is paltry. She made a mere 30% of his income. Besides, stars like Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan still have fan bases across the globe that warrants no questioning. The unfortunate wage gap that seeps into all industries affects the entertainment business also. According to a report on Sheryl Sandberg’s non-profit organization, Lean On, women in East Asia and the Pacific will take 111 years to equal their incomes with the men.

For women behind the camera, the trickle down widens the difference. Also, comparatively, the number of female technicians is much smaller. A study conducted by the Geena Davis Media Foundation in 2014, revealed that the global ratio in entertainment is 3.9 men to every woman. However, on the set of an Indian film, the ratio is much worse- 6.2 to 1.

For make-up artists too, the demographics are extremely skewed. In a gender role-defining society such as ours, it is hard to believe that 90% of make-up artists are men. Until 2014, a law had been set for 60 years that forbade women from taking up jobs as makeup artists. They were only permitted to be hairdressers. The reason behind it was simple: make-up artists earn more money than hairdressers. In 2012, the National Commission for Women filed a petition protesting this draconian rule.

Female directors and writers in the Hindi film industry are few and far in between. However, contemporary actresses are taking matters of the economy into their own hands and turning producers. This is a positive sign of an increase in awareness and change.

On the global scale, the prominence of Indian actresses is recent and sporadic. More so, the impetus is the trend of ‘inclusivity’ which may or may not solidify into permanency. Neither are women offered the same privilege as men to make many errors.Since few actresses are so prominently visible, the impression may be that there is no underlying issue. But if that is the case: Where is the money?

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