Shilpa Ajwani is the CEO of unomantra, a business consultancy that enables consumer-centric lifestyle businesses to grow faster. She is a seasoned social selling expert with a solid reputation for providing transformative leadership to MNCs like Tupperware, Oriflame and Vorwerk, which are leaders in the direct selling industry. With over two decades of experience in leading profitable business enterprises as well as taking brands from start-up to scale, Shilpa now dons several hats including that of Business Consultant, Leadership Coach, Sales Strategy Execution Expert, Keynote Speaker, Panellist and Board Member.  

Following is an excerpt from our conversation with Shilpa Ajwani.




Could you share some insights from your leadership journey, and any challenges you faced in your career by being a “woman in a man’s world?”

I feel very proud of my successful journey of 25 plus years and am honoured to have worked with so many wonderful people. During my career, I have had the privilege of experiencing and working with Indian companies as well as European and American Multinationals. I got exposed to virtually all functions within the organisation and had the fortune to lead wonderful Teams as a Managing Director too.

But it was after many years of working, when I was invited to an event as a “woman leader”, that I realised that “oh! I’m a woman!” Otherwise I was just going about my business and showing up in the way a professional should – with preparation, dedication and collaboration with the team. I just threw myself at every opportunity that came by to grow the Organisation.

But I won’t take all the credit for it – I had a very supportive eco-system in the form of my parents, in-laws, husband and my son. Their support, standing there rooting for me while having zero expectations, relieved me from the pressure of excelling at EVERYTHING and gave me a lot of strength. I feel very fortunate and blessed for having them in my life.

However, I did face challenges at every step too – since I was judged both as professional and as a woman. But I looked at them only as “professional” setbacks. I always introspected and asked myself whether it was something that was lacking in me or if I could have done something differently rather than blaming someone else for my setback.

In one instance when I didn’t get the promotion to the top Leadership position in an Organisation, I did go up to my boss and asked him the reason I wasn’t considered for the role. It took a lot of effort to ask but I did. I realised that the person had assumed I could be a great No. 2 but never a No. 1, without being able to articulate why.

This pushed me to realise that I have to take my career in my hands and not wait for others to give me the opportunity. When I became determined, I attracted opportunities from outside and I was headhunted for CEO roles. I did become a Managing Director spending almost 8 plus years as No. 1 doing what I loved!

The learning I pass on to all my clients and mentees is to never give up and write yourself off. Unless you ask, the answer will always be a no. Even when you ask and the answer is no, it doesn’t mean NEVER!

What motivated you to stay with the direct selling industry for so many years?

Having worked with the top direct selling companies in the world, I have had the special opportunity to understand the B2C model very closely. It is one of the toughest models to work with as you work directly with a “volunteer army” of salespeople and through them with the consumers. The beauty of it is the 2-way interaction since one gets to learn from so many talented individuals.

I also had an emotional reason for joining and staying with the industry. When I started working, respect for career women wasn’t a given especially in the sales leadership roles. During those days, women were not able to work outside their homes as they did not get the kind of jobs that could help them manage home and work seamlessly. That’s why even my own mother had to give up her career to look after me when I was born.  So, the idea of creating micro- entrepreneurs in our country felt very unique and apt for our socio-economic situation at the time. It motivated me to enter and stay with the industry for several years thereafter.

What was the thought behind moving on and starting your own business consultancy firm “unomantra”?

Last year, on my 45th birthday, I had this reflection that after building a very successful career it was time to move on from “success to significance”. Hence Idecided to start a new chapter and set up my business consultancy firm unomantra. My intent was to work with different entrepreneurs, businesses, business leaders; and use my experience and expertise to advise, guide and mentor them to become their best version. I felt that in a highly competitive environment where youngsters are leading their businesses amidst complexity, the energy of our young entrepreneurs could benefit from my practical multi-cultural and multi-functional experience of building much admired Brands.

I dream of a new kind of corporate India and that is what I want to help create now – the big Brands of tomorrow built on PURPOSE!



As a part of Brands such as Oriflame and Tupperware, you’ve spent several years helping create micro-entrepreneurs out of homemakers and women from middle class backgrounds, many of them from families where traditionally women were not seen as income earners. In your experience, what are the key characteristics of women who succeed as (micro) entrepreneurs?

I’ve played different roles while working closely with women micro-entrepreneurs – not just as a CEO or a Sales Leader but also as a Trainer, Coach and Mentor. This gave me insights into the everyday lives of these women.

Today I can confidently say that there are definitely some common traits visible in the most successful women entrepreneurs:

1) Resilience – the ones who say, “I will come back again” after facing setbacks are often the ones who succeed.

2) Coachability – the ability to say, “I don’t know but can you teach me?”

3) Self-discipline – while the busy life of homemakers doesn’t allow them to have much discipline in terms of keeping time and meeting deadlines, the ones who are able to adopt a professional discipline any business needs are the ones who succeed. 

4) Field-work – many women become adept at using technology and connecting with consumers over the phone or internet. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who use technology AND step out to meet prospects and consumers often.

5) Good relationship building skills– while women are normally great at networking with peers, those who nurture a deep connection with their teams and consumers succeed the most.

6) Adaptability – in this VUCA world where we are seeing dramatic changes and uncertainty, women earlier confined to the home now have the world coming to them through technology and innovation. The ones who adapt are the ones who succeed at scaling their business. 

7) Ability to set goals and work on them – many women set their sights on personal goals with respect to earning income and building assets for their family. Those who set goals and work consistently to achieve them are able to achieve success and raise their personal and family status.

What are the areas where a homemaker requires the most mentoring to become an entrepreneur?

1) Self-confidence – women nearly always need to be convinced that they are “good enough”, because they usually come with a feeling of being inadequate or not having any special talent. We have to work on making them aware of how powerful they are!

2) Professional sales skills – a lot of women are natural at networking, sharing information and they enjoy meeting people. However they need training on how to prospect and pitch to potential customers as well as in the use of tools that can enhance productivity.

3) Time management skills – women who manage home and kids now also have to manage time to attend meetings, prospecting and attending trainings. So they need to be mentored on how to utilise time well. This is critical as many of them come from families that aren’t supportive to begin with. A big mind-set change is needed alongwith actual time management skills.

4) Leadership skills– we need to teach women entrepreneurs the skills to lead teams and take a bigger responsibility without fear so that they can fasten their business building efforts.

What is the change that financial independence brings to the mind-set of women and their families?

Both the woman and her family completely change for ever. I can say that from my experience of seeing thousands of such transformations!

There are two kinds of changes we see when the women start earning:-

  1. The tangible impact is the visible change in the lifestyle and standard of living of the entrepreneur’s family.  That’s when they move to a bigger house and buy their own cars. With financial abundance, women shift the kids to better schools, enrol them in extracurricular activities and even sponsor their foreign education. They are able to save up for foreign holidays and feel proud that they can take the entire family on a vacation and build secure assets to safeguard the family’s future.
  2. The intangible impact is the growth in their confidence and outlook for their future. The women change their mind-set to believing their destiny is in their own hands. They develop a knack for multitasking, taking care of their finances, investing for future – very often having started from having no passport and 20 years ago not even a bank account.  This transformation is empowerment in the real sense.



From your experience, what are some common challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and women in corporate jobs?

Women are treated differently and compensated unfairly. There is a lack of opportunities for women to match their skill-sets. Biases about what they can and can’t do are still present within families and organisations. Most women still require social permission for taking any step in their life. The other challenge is that of small thinking – by society as it still operates from archaic stereotypes and also by the women themselves because they often don’t dream big enough due to the conditioning while growing up.

Unfortunately, we are in a world where equal pay for equal work and equal funding opportunities for male and female entrepreneurs are still a distant reality!

Specifically, I have found some real problems regarding funding and access to finance for women entrepreneurs. For instance, I discovered that there are several Government schemes for funding women entrepreneurs but most women are unable to avail the funds because they don’t have collaterals to pledge for these loans. Similarly, I’ve heard of women being turned down by Venture Capitalist firms because there was no man behind them!

Specifically, I have found some real problems regarding access to finance and mentorship for women entrepreneurs. For instance, I discovered that there are several Government schemes for funding women entrepreneurs but most women are unable to avail the funds because they don’t know about these schemes or they don’t have collaterals to pledge for these loans. Similarly, I’ve heard of women being turned down by Investors if there was no man supporting the venture! 

Having experienced the corporate world for so many years, do you feel that there is a “business case” for taking special measures to increase the proportion of women in the workforce of every organisation?

Yes! I have seen that having women in the top leadership creates a culture of empathy, collaboration and mentoring, it increases the desire to build leadership from bottom up and create equal opportunities for everyone. Women in top leadership positions consciously make an effort to build diversity in the organisation.  

Even if we don’t want to believe that gender balanced leadership is directly related to positive business results inspite of all the evidence available, what I can certainly say is that when results aren’t great there is EVEN more of a need to have a diverse team to cushion the impact – when the outside environment is bad, at least the inside should be warm and comforting.

In your opinion, how do we create a more enabling ecosystem to help Indian women advance?

The magnitude of the challenge is so big that one person attempting the change will not help bring the revolution that we need. There are still miles to go before we can sleep or even take an afternoon siesta!

But there needs to be a realisation that this change is good for everybody.

And we need collective action by all stakeholders –

  • More women in parliament will benefit the country and countries doing well will benefit the world. The UN bringing out the SDGs has been a good step because it has given milestones to both corporates as well as countries at the global level
  • I want to see a lot more happening for women from the Government. Constructive laws need to be made to benefit women and increase their active participation in society and the economy. Their safety and mobility needs to be facilitated. Women at the grassroots also need to feel empowered.
  • On the business/corporate side, I feel we need a lot more Not- For-Profits to work together with corporates to create sensitivity around ensuring gender balanced organisations especially at the leadership levels. Many programs can be created for sensitising CXOs on diversity and inclusion by sharing the valid data points that establish a sound business case for doing so.
  • I would also like to bring men into the conversation and include them in this movement as sponsors and mentors.
  • And lastly the women themselves need to realise that they don’t need permission from anybody to do what helps them to think big, become their best version and live a better life.
How do we get more men and women to mentor, even while in their careers?

I think people need to be made aware of the benefits of mentoring and the fact that mentoring can be very enriching for the mentor too. Mentoring needs to be celebrated in organisations by honouring people who take out time to mentor. We need platforms that allow mentees and mentors to connect with each other via technology. Industry associations and networking organisations can also do a lot to encourage more women too.

One last question – what is your personal mantra in life?

Live and let live! That’s my only mantra. I believe that everyone has the right to be who they are and should be allowed to become their best version by living their purpose.

Shravani Prakash

Shravani is the Founder of elleNomics, a digital platform aggregating resources for enabling women to advance and thrive. She is an Economist with more than 12 years’ experience in policy research with organisations like ICRIER and World Bank.

India loses 50% of its women workforce within the first 5 to 7 years of their professional careers- the time frame when they get married and have children. A big reason for that – While we mothers cherish motherhood, we let it engulf us instead of enriching us.

Our mission at TalentNomics India is to create an eco-system that will empower more women to stay the course, pursue their careers without drowning in the dual responsibilities or wallowing in guilt of non-performance. We impart skills and knowledge to women to become confident and capable enough not to be engulfed by motherhood and reach the pinnacles of their careers, if they desire to do so. We work with women to address issues at the workplace as well as at their homes, since career trajectories of women are defined not just by their professional prowess but their ability to navigate the challenges of their personal life cycles as well. Virtually every working woman goes through a phase of rethinking her career aspirations after having kids-thanks to the conditioning girls grow up with and the societal norms. Should I continue working or should I take a break? Will my kids and family suffer if I am not able to give 100% of my time to them? , Is it worth missing the moments in my child’s growth for the sake of my career these and similar questions pop up very often in the minds of professional women (but rarely for professional men) once they become parents. Some are able to build up a support system and carry on their professional journeys even after having kids, while several women end up taking temporary or permanent breaks.

Therefore, as part of CruciBOLD – our Leadership Development program for women, we mentor women on how to navigate their way out of the personal-professional dilemmas and discover the keys to achieving that elusive work-life balance. For instance, our recently concluded session on Negotiating for Self was all about equipping the participants with skills to ask for what they need and negotiate the best terms at work and at home. We also help women address their guilt by making them aware of research that has proven that children of working mothers turn out to be high achievers and grow into happy adults.

We have also gathered pathbreaking and actionable insights from TalentNomics India’s Annual Conferences that bring together Thought Leaders from across industries and sectors to deliberate upon themes related to advancing women’s careers and building a leadership pipeline of women. Some key takeaways on this issue, from the last four Conferences include-

  • Motherhood and career are not mutually exclusive, and women should believe that right from the beginning of their professional lives.
  • Mothers should focus on investing quality time with children instead of fretting over the quantity of time
  • Women should look for a championing spouse rather than just a supportive spouse!
  • Creating equal partnership at home should be the responsibility of both parents so that they can be role models for their boys and girls.
  • Both partners should swap gender roles at home and share the parenting responsibility by seamlessly stepping in for each other.
  • Women should find their inner drive and make choices without regrets.
  • Working parents should leverage their personal and professional networks to raise families and meet their work commitments.
  • Marriages based on shared passions are found to be the most rewarding, creating a home environment that naturally helps all members to move away from traditional norms to models that can lead to greater fulfillment for all.
  • Mentoring women at this crucial stage of their career could help them make the right choice for themselves and their families. More mentoring programs should be offered by organizations for women to deal with this specific challenge.
  • However, sometimes women may need to take on the full responsibility of running the home and bringing up children because of circumstances. This is fine as long as women get their chance to focus on what they want to do and the men/family support them fully.

In addition to mentoring women, we also realise that the women alone cannot fight the patriarchal mindsets deeply embedded in society or find their way up in workplaces that were traditionally designed for men. Which is why we at TalentNomics India are also trying to play a role in addressing the inefficiencies in the ecosystem around working women and to build an environment that is conducive to helping women thrive in their careers at every stage in their life.

For instance, our recently concluded Perception Survey to understand how Women Friendly are India’s Organisations showed that workplaces are highly biased against pregnant women and working mothers and we are now offering internal perception studies in organisations to help them cull out and address such biases.

To showcase role models for women, Our book, Bold and Untold-Life and Leadership Lessons from women who dared to dream outlines stories of women who even in traditional and conservative families had found allies to to create a space for meeting their aspirations.

In the coming future, we will be rolling out other initiatives in partnership with various players in the ecosystem, in an endeavour to create a more level playing field for women at all stages of their life.

Shravani Prakash

Shravani is the Founder of elleNomics, a digital platform aggregating resources for enabling women to advance and thrive. She is an Economist with more than 12 years’ experience in policy research with organisations like ICRIER and World Bank.

She was a little girl when she wrote in her class essay that she wants to grow up and become a lawyer. In 2015 she became the only lawyer to be featured in India Inc’s Rising Women Leaders list.
Vinati Kastia is a dreamer who dared to make her dream come true. She is a Senior Partner M&A at AZB Partners, one of India’s top corporate law firms.I come from a conservative Gujarati family where advance education had not been a priority for women let alone have a career. My parents were really taken aback when I expressed my desire to study further and have a career, remembers Vinati.
The family was also going through some tough times financially and paying for my education was a real struggle. But we somehow managed and I got my law degree from the National Law School, Bangalore, she adds.
Even though she is very independent minded and strong willed, one thing Vinati doesn’t like is, going against the people she loves. I like them all to be on the same page as me. Sometimes it takes a while to convince them to my point of view but eventually I manage that and only then do I proceed.
Despite her father’s apprehensions about her academic and career aspirations, he never stopped Vinati from doing what she wanted to do. In fact, he even urged her to go to one of the best law schools in the country once she had made up her mind to do law. He never thought I would pass the all India entrance exam, she says mischievously.
Law school was a whole new world for me. I went from a conservative and protected environment to a campus which was a melting pot of ideas and ideals. The debates and dissent broadened my horizons.
I met my soul-mate in the very first year of college, who later went on to become my husband. We came from completely different backgrounds. His father was a civil servant and his mother a teacher and a professional dancer. He always told me that sky is the limit for you. Do whatever you want. He has a beautiful mind and has always been the wind beneath my wings, shares Vinati with a smile.
After she graduated, she and her husband decided to settle in Bangalore but she wasn’t able to get the right job opportunities. Things were not working out for me in Bangalore and when my husband realized that he decided that we should move to Delhi, she explains.
Soon after the move, she joined Amarchand Mangaldas a leading corporate law firm in Delhi in 1996. I wanted to do litigation and argue my cases in court. Here I got the opportunity to work with both Mr Shardul Shroff and his wife Mrs Pallavi Shroff. I used to assist Mrs Shroff in litigation but started helping with some corporate work during the court holidays. It was during that time that Mr Shroff convinced me to continue working on the corporate non litigation side. Even though I loved doing litigation, I also started enjoying corporate non litigation work immensely, she avers.
Always a hard worker and extremely focused Vinati became a partner at Amarchand Mangaldas at the age of 31. She joined AZB Partners in 2004 as a partner and has risen to be a senior partner in the ensuing years.
I was very lucky to have amazing mentors, starting from Mr Shardul and Mrs Pallavi Shroff to Mr Ajay Bahl, who is the co- founding member of AZB.
I do a lot of mentoring now. I have mentored a few students who did the Young India Fellowship started by Ashoka University and one of the students took up law as a career and will be joining my team in August, she further adds.
Although she says that more women lawyers in India make it to partnership and management levels as compared to the larger international firms, yet it has not always been easy for her to be in a profession dominated by men.
Well there were instances where I would be the only female present in an all male room and I have heard my share of sexist and derogatory comments. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether men do it deliberately or inadvertently so I give them, the benefit of doubt, she smiles.
To be honest I have never felt unequal to men simply because
I do not think I am. And I think instead of gender equality we should speak of a genderless society where things are based on merit and competence. Gender should not be a card to be played as and when required, she says firmly.
Sometimes working women try to do everything themselves right from having a job, to raising their kids and looking after their homes. They need to strike a balance and they need to encourage their male companions to share responsibilities at home instead of aspiring to be super women or super moms. We need to create a whole eco-system that allows all working members in a family, be it man or woman, to balance things out.
In fact, when my first baby arrived I was ready to give up my regular working hours to be a more hands on mother but my friends, family and colleagues dissuaded me and I continued to work full-time with their support and help. By the time the second one arrived, I had created an eco-system of help and support around me which was very important, she advises.
She has been named a rising woman leader, what qualities should a leader have?
A leader should always be open to criticism. I have been fortunate to have colleagues and friends, who have been open with me and it has helped me evolve as a person. So, being a leader is to be in a constantly fluid state and not be static and stagnant with your mindset, says the rising leader.
It is not all work that occupies Vinati. She is an avid sports person who plays tennis, loves swimming and has a small cycling group. And when she is not doing any of those activities she is busy baking cakes for her children and friends. My life has never been more balanced, she says with a grin.
Her mantra is live in this moment. Don’t plan too much. Don’t have too many rules. Don’t stress yourself and always be open to new things and ideas.


Rohini Sharma

Rohini Sharma is a former journalist who has worked with leading print and electronics media groups. She is currently associated with environmental communication.

She is a fighter. She is a winner. She is a top HR expert with the heart of a philanthropist. Monika Navandar is a brave-heart who pulled herself out of penury by sheer hard work and a desire to excel in life. Despite the extreme circumstances of her early life she fought her way out and rose to become a woman to reckon with. Her life story is the stuff legends are made of.
Born in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, her family was so poor that her parents could not even feed and clothe their children. Our poverty forced my parents to send us to live with our maternal uncle’€™s family. That turned out to be a bigger hell for us because they not only treated us like domestic help but also abused me and brutally tortured my brother, Monika remembers with a shudder.
€œWhen my mother heard about this she brought us back home immediately. My father’s deteriorating health forced my mother to work. She came from a conservative Marwari family and had never worked before so she started stitching clothes for people and making shampoo at home which she would sell for some money. The hardships we had to endure were inexplicable, she says.
€œI was only 16 when my father expired and with a younger brother and mother who needed care, I took the mantle of being the head of the family. My first job at 16 was collecting cable TV dues from houses but the money I earned from that job was not enough and since I was a good singer and dancer, I performed at various shows to earn more to support my family and my education,€ she reminisces.
The only thing in their favour was the siblings brilliant academic minds. €œWe had nothing, the only reason we got an education was because we were very good in studies and our teachers and friends helped us,€ she says.
Her first mentor was her English teacher in school. She was a very graceful and impeccably dressed transgender whose name was Karishma (Miracle) Thakur and she indeed was a miracle for me because she made me quite proficient in English and Hindi. In fact, it was this proficiency in English which got me free tuitions in Mathematics from one of the best and most expensive tutors in Aurangabad because he was very impressed with my language skills, says Monika with a smile.
It is not only academics that Monika excels at; she is also an avid sportswoman. She has competed at the State and District level in many sporting events like Badminton, Short Put and Discus Throw. In fact, she still continues to participate in competitions. She has also won many awards. Sports in a way moulded my personality. It taught me discipline, competitiveness, team spirit and never to give up till you succeed mantra,€ she reflects.
It was this zeal to never give up and merit in studies that got her an admission in Engineering College. She did her Bachelors in Computer Science Engineering from Aurangabad. In the final year of her engineering she met her future husband. He is my soul-mate, my strength, my guide and my biggest support. In fact, he did not even take up a full-time job with any company as he wants to be flexible to accompany me wherever I go and has been consulting with start-ups and developing his own app to be able to do so.€ says the proud wife.
Right after her engineering degree she started working in a BPO in order to earn and shoulder her responsibilities. Despite having a B.E. degree in computer science she has always worked in HR and the reason behind that choice was, I wanted to work closely with the management rather than being a software programmer. So I chose to work as a trainer, a decision I am very happy with. Always a keen learner and analyst, my work sparked my interest and curiosity towards €˜the how and why of a business€™, and the strategies and processes that shape successful businesses globally, asserts Monika.

€œI was working with HSBC GLT when the company’s talent acquisition head Mr. Osborne Pereira suggested that I get a Master’€™s degree in HR if I wanted a more focused career in that field, she remembers fondly.
€œAfter considerable research I decided to do my Masters in Human Resource Management from Rutgers, it is one of the top five HR programs in the USA. Rutgers was an amazing experience, since it’€™s a research based university, they teach you what should be in the industry 15-20 years down the line, so you have so much to contribute to any organization within different functions under the HR umbrella. I worked with the Dean and Director of the Grad and Undergrad HR programs as their Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant. I also worked on a book called Cultural Agility with Prof. Paula Caligiuri, it deals with global work force management, she explains.
Always having people mentoring her to further her career she now mentors students from Oxford, Wharton, Rutgers, Cornell and Michigan universities to name a few. I mostly give them sound career advice and if possible connect them to the right people in the industry. I am also reverse mentoring some senior leaders in the Pharma and Biotech companies,€ she adds further.
Monika believes the factors that have helped her in her journey through life has been her family and friends, the mentors who always guided her in the right direction and her networking skills along with her insatiable thirst for knowledge. In fact, my current manager at Johnson & Johnson primarily hired me because she was impressed with my networking ability,€ she smiles.
For the last three years at Johnson & Johnson she has been working in the Global Office of Diversity & Inclusion and is shaping, driving and delivering on key global strategic initiatives for the J&J workforce around the world in partnership with senior leaders based in the World Headquarters (New Brunswick, New Jersey).
She has been a HR professional for more than a decade now and has worked with companies like IBM, HSBC and Volkswagen among others. Her exceptional work in the HR management field is being recognized by the World HRD Congress. She was invited to be a Keynote speaker as well as a moderator for one of the D&I sessions on their 25th anniversary and also received the Diversity Leadership Award€ at the World HRD Congress in Mumbai this February.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Monika plans to build an education trust fund in her mother’€™s name to sponsor education for the underprivileged children. My mother has been my inspiration in life as she battled all sorts of adversities for her children. She taught me and my brother to be good human beings and always aspire to do better in life. Our hard work and perseverance has paid off and both me and my brother live in our own houses, travel the world with our mother and have friends all over the globe, says an elated Monika.
Ever since I started working full-time I have been contributing to various organizations like Teach for India, Operation Smile for cleft lip and cleft palate conditions, Helpage India, Prayatna “ for people with special needs and a few other non-profit organizations,€ Monika adds.
With fire in her belly and kindness in her heart, this millennial is raring to go and conquer new horizons and make this world a better place to be for as many people as she can help.



Rohini Sharma

Rohini Sharma is a former journalist who has worked with leading print and electronics media groups. She is currently associated with environmental communication.

Charlie Chaplin once said, We think too much and feel too little. His words couldn’t be truer. Even though most people think of changing things very few actually take the plunge towards change. Yogesh Kumar is one such Charlie Chaplin fan who has taken the iconic tramp’s words to heart. He doesn’t think too much but feels a lot and his heart-felt desire is to see a society where women are safe and equal on all fronts.

We are told that if women are to be safe then they must stay at home and not venture out but I don’t agree with that notion. I believe that if more and more women come out and own the public spaces that outdated perception will change, Yogesh says.

My father was in the Defense services and was posted all over the country. My mother was the one who raised me and my two younger sisters all by herself. Even though not very educated, she is the strongest and the most open-minded person I know. She never stopped us from pursuing our dreams. Although she was looking after us, she always had my father’s support in all her decisions concerning our upbringing. I did my engineering; my younger sister became a professional dancer and model. They gave all of us wings and let us fly, says the son with great pride.

Yogesh did his engineering in Electronics and worked for a German company as production engineer for three years. But he was always restless and wanted to do something more. That something more led him to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) where he did his Masters in Social Entrepreneurship in 2015. The same year he went on to win the Young Social Entrepreneur Award given by Singapore International Foundation.

In pursuit of his dream of a society where gender equality is a given, he used his prize money to set up his logistics start-up called Even Cargo. The start-up only employs women for delivering products. Traditionally delivery services have been a male bastion but Yogesh wants to change that tradition.

I love children and the glint of hope and endless possibilities they have in their eyes. It pains me to think that these children especially little girls will grow up in a world that restricts those possibilities and throttles that hope. So I wanted to do my bit to change that in whatever small way I could, Yogesh ponders.

I have always had very strong female influences in my life and that has shaped my thought process. I feel our society is churning and the youth has to be the vehicle that initiates the change that will come from the churning. Everything that was going on around me relating to disparity or unequal opportunities for women, hardened my resolve to do something worthwhile, he reflects on his decision.

I wanted to empower women from economically weaker sections since financial independence is the first step towards equality and empowerment. They should have the confidence that they can do things even though they have been told otherwise all their lives. The focus is to overcome the barriers of unemployment through skill development of these women, he insists.

It was quite a challenge for him to convince the girls and their families to join his start-up. Most of these families don’t even allow their daughter’s to go out of the house, for them to allow their daughters to work outside the home was just unthinkable.

It took a lot of work on my part to assuage their fears. I convinced them that I will take all possible measures to ensure their daughter’s safety, he remembers.

I make sure that the girls do not go to unsafe neighbourhoods and after dark if they have to deliver then I accompany them. The products we deliver are women apparel, so they mostly have to deal with women. The girls are given proper training in riding a two-wheeler, they are trained in soft skills, logistic skills and most importantly they are trained in self defense by the Delhi Police. But despite all these steps, even though I trained 70 girls initially only six joined me as full-time employees after the training, he says pensively.

He not only ensures the safety of the girls but also makes sure that the people he hires are trustworthy. Background checks are carried out before hiring and police verification is mandatory for his employees.

The girls earn Rs 10,000 a month and they are putting this money to good use as one girl got her mother’s eye operation done. Another one is supporting her education from her salary and also investing in improving her language skills.

The response we get from the people is quite encouraging. One of my staff members went to deliver at a housing complex and the security guard was an old man. He was so surprised to see a delivery girl. He said, The world has indeed changed a lot. He was very appreciative of her courage and went out of his way to help her, shares Yogesh with a smile.

In some localities when the girls stop to ask directions shopkeepers, street vendors and by-standers are pleasantly surprised and some openly applaud them for the work they are doing. They are also very inquisitive about their work and ask questions. It also gives the girls a sense of pride and purpose, he says happily.

Perceptions take a long while to change but we have taken a step in the right direction and with proper guidance and support we will make it work, he further adds.

Yogesh is also being mentored by Karen Tay who is a regional marketing director at Metro Cash & Carry. She discusses growth strategy every month with him and connects him to individuals who give expert advice in areas where he needs guidance.

It is a venture with its heart in the right place but as a business is it making money? Not really at least not right now but we hope to become self sustainable in the next few months, says the social entrepreneur.

He plans to expand to other cities and employ 200 women in the next six months. He is in talks with many e-commerce companies for a tie-up to deliver their products both in Delhi and other metros.

As for the future he borrows a phrase from his favourite author Khaled Hosseini and says, Hope we see Thousand Splendid Suns.



Rohini Sharma

Rohini Sharma is a former journalist who has worked with leading print and electronics media groups. She is currently associated with environmental communication.

The first thing that strikes you when you meet her is her warmth and simplicity. The second is her honesty and humility. Her steady rise in life from very humble beginnings has added a sheen of exuberance to her personality that reaches out to everybody she meets. Shiny Rajan, GM-HR at Sopra Steria is a consummate professional, a doting daughter, dedicated wife and a caring mother.

Her transformation has been phenomenal. From an extremely shy and introvert person all through school and college, to a people’s person today who can address a large audience and hold her own in any given situation.

People who knew me then can’€™t recognize me today. Well even I can’€™t recognize myself today, she says laughingly.

€œI never thought that my life would pan out like this. I just did what was needed at the moment and gave it my all. Right after my graduation from Jesus and Mary College I started working as a secretary in a small company. My only thought at that time was that I have to supplement the family’s income. My father was the only earning hand in the house and taking care of a wife and three children was quite tough.€

Although my father was the sole bread-winner yet he made sure that we did not lack anything. He provided us with the best possible education. He is a pillar of strength in my life. He taught me how to deal with life no matter what the situation. He has given me the gift of calmness and serenity. Nothing in life fazed him irrespective of how tough circumstances were. And I have imbibed that from him,€ says the proud daughter.

€œI believe that you should be the best at what you do, it doesn’t matter whether the job is of a secretary or a general manager. It is up to you to excel at it and be happy in that space, says the incredible woman who started as a leave vacancy secretary in this company and has risen to become the General Manager HR.

She believes that always having a positive attitude, even when things are tough, is important as it encourages others to have confidence in you.

€œIn the year 2000 – I had been in the company for three years and was working as Executive Assistant (EA) to successive VP- HR at that time. I was offered the choice to be either the EA to the MD (the highest position in my stream) or start as a trainee in the HR department. I consulted my mentors and took a bold decision to let go of my training and experience of being an EA and chose to be a trainee and start afresh. Many thought I was taking a big risk. And as luck would have it and maybe because of my keenness to learn, I became part of an HR shared service team that was sent to London in 2002 for a month long training. As a team, we put together a set of ten processes that became standardized procedure for all the company offices.

Never one to shy away from challenges, When I was moved to BPS (Business Process Services) to take on the transitioning client HR processes, it was absolutely out of my comfort zone. To interact with clients and build rapport, train and build the team from scratch and get each of the services up to the business as usual mode was a huge challenge. The working culture of the BPS industry itself was new to me, SLAs (Service Level Agreements), trackers, client management, team management everything was very new, but I was able to manage it so well that I was recommended for promotion within a year of joining in this role.

Shiny insists that,€ having mentors who encourage you to look deep within yourself and trusting your own instincts is very important. I have been fortunate to be mentored by exemplary women. In fact, I have had women managers till about 2007 who encouraged me to accept challenges and remain strong in the face of adversity. Most importantly they gave me opportunities to explore my capabilities and to bring out the best in me. I was not pushed to take any decision but was given the confidence, trust and space to make the right decision.

In 2008, as Senior Manager, Shiny headed the very HR team that she had joined as a trainee. In those eight years she was promoted twice. I was with HR Operations for almost eight years and was appreciated so much for my work that the People Help Desk (as the HR Shared Service team was called) was identified with me.

€œWhen I was heading the HR shared services, 90 percent of my team members were women and 35 percent of the overall strength in Sopra Steria is women.

Being a woman who was mentored by women, she has always mentored and supported other women team members by motivating them to continue working even when many wanted to leave after having children. €œI gave extended maternity leaves, reduced their work hours and exempted them from late shifts. We also have a day care-centre at opra Steria where women employees can bring their own nannies if the child is less than a year. And if the child is above a year old we have our own nannies to take care of the children while their mothers work,€ says the mother of an 11 year old son and a 20 year old daughter.

I think for a woman to succeed in her career it is very important to have a support system. Like my husband never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. He always stood by my decisions. My parents were always there for me. In fact, both my children were practically raised by my mother, she admits proudly.

€œMy mother has been my back-bone. She first raised me and my siblings and then my children with very strong values and taught us all to be good human beings. I have also had some amazing friends who have stood by me through thick and thin. Now my daughter is my biggest support, advocate and best friend. I have been blessed to have all these people in my life who have contributed towards my success, reflects Shiny.

Despite her grueling work schedule, she still finds time to pursue her other interests in life. She is a voracious reader and has devoured the whole Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series. €œI love fantasy, science fiction and thrillers. I don’t particularly like emotional films as I feel there is enough emotion in real life, she says with a chuckle.

I am a person who takes each day as it comes. Always strives to give more than what is expected of me. I never become complacent and am continuously looking for newer horizons to conquer. At the same time, I firmly believe that you should treat people in the same way as you want to be treated by them. That way you earn love and respect of your colleagues and your journey is easier.

She has built a wide personal and professional network which is essential to a successful career. A supportive family, extreme dedication towards her work and diverse interests in life has made this journey worthwhile for her.

Always looking for new challenges and taking bold decisions and never worrying as to what will happen next, Shiny Rajan is a role model for many women. As she has proved that if you have the spirit and the gumption to take risks, time and destiny will take you places, no matter where you come from.

In 2014, I took another challenge and moved to HR Business Partner which is my current role and I am giving it my best,€ says the courageous woman.

As for the future, well she never worries, as her favourite line by Mark Rylance’€™s character in the movie Bridge of Spies says, “€œWill it help?”


Rohini Sharma

Rohini Sharma is a former journalist who has worked with leading print and electronics media groups. She is currently associated with environmental communication.

Together We Will Uncover

Who are we?
The pretty, the weaklings, the brides
The maids, the unwanted flies
Unable to work
Unable to earn
The good-for-nothing shortcoming, female

Who really are we?
Under the layers of stereotypical blankets
Under the layers of scathing wrapping

We are strong.
The preservers of the human race
The independent, unconventional beings with the ability to change the world
The amazing leaders and determined existences
We must uncover ourselves,
Unwrap ourselves,
Shed all the stereotypical blankets and wrapping
And defy the beliefs of society,
Creating an overdue change so impactful,
That it’s resonance sustains past the shoreline, FOREVER.
We must show the world that we are no less, if not more than a man
And we must do this TOGETHER.
By: Shivi Anand.

About Shivi Anand: Shivi is a twelve year old student of seventh grade at Pathways School Gurgaon.

She is a sincere student and a sensitive, empathetic, kind and helpful human being to her family, friends and everyone else alike.

She is a natural leader and is a member of the student council at school. She loves swimming and music and is a national level swimmer. She represented Haryana at the National School Games, 2016.

She is passionate about issues that affect humanity and environment. She wants to be a change maker in the society as an environmental specialist and aspires to represent India in the Olympics in swimming.

€˜More women in leadership positions make for better business results.

From Forbes to The Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal, leading publications and business journals have highlighted numbers proving a greater representation of women in business is better business.

According to a study done by the George Washington University, an even gender split at one company contributed to a 41 percent increase in revenue. Catalyst found that companies with a higher female representation in top management outperform those that don’€™t by delivering a 34 percent higher return on investment (ROI).

There is a business case for having more women on executive seats. The issue has been hot and heavy for several years. The world has been talking and writing a lot“ about it.

So why is it that in Fortune 500 companies, women represent 17 percent of board members, 15 percent of C-Suite executives, and only 5 percent of CEOs?

With gender equity being such a sexy topic, why are we making minimal progress?

Do we lack motivation and the will to take action? Are leaders in executive positions not doing enough to help advance the women that aspire to sit on executive seats?

To some extent I understand the apathy male leaders have in rectifying the status quo. Men currently hold 95 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and more than 80 percent of senior management positions. Letting more women into the €˜boys club€™ calls for a new set of behaviors, and new ways of thinking. We resist this change because change comes with uncertainty. It means disturbing the norm, and moving away from our comfort zone.

Yet, in my experience, men in leadership roles are growing more supportive, at least on an intellectual level.

But are women leading the way to demonstrate what empowering women can accomplish?

I have always had high expectations of myself and other women. I have always assumed women leaders lead with the goal of enabling greater access to opportunity for others who follow. I have always assumed women will jump at every opportunity to change the gender balance at leadership levels.

Much to my disappointment, having worked with and interacted with many women in leadership roles across organizations, I have witnessed reluctance, and at best, inaction.

There is apathy among some executive women leaders to be champions of women who aspire to leadership roles. What I’ve come to learn is this apathy is deep-rooted, sometimes unconscious, and often a result of the cultural context of our own upbringing and experience.

Over the course of the last two years, I have devoted my attention to better understand this issue. While I have met a few, very passionate and supportive women leaders, I’€™ve also seen many women leaders globally reluctant to support the development of the next generation of women leaders. From my discussions with them, I feel the following five factors are responsible for this apathy.

#1 Being Stretched Too Thin

Women leaders are so few in numbers that while we often make time to advocate for social and political reform, we lack the time to take concrete actions to bring about the desired changes, and build a support system.

#2 Believing Strongly In Tough Love

Women in my generation have climbed the ladder by working twice as hard as our male colleagues. Many have had to overcome significant challenges, difficulties and failures with little or no support from our supervisors, peers or senior leadership. Because this was our experience, and because we earned our positions without any formal support structures, mentors or sponsors, some of us see this way as the best way to identify the promising ones. This view may come from the underlying belief that being supportive to other women and actively mentoring and sponsoring them implies not giving these women the opportunity to earn their own success.

#3 Being Misunderstood

Often women leaders are reluctant to offer active support because of €˜how it may look.€™ Sometimes, we become fearful that the support and endorsement we provide other women will be perceived as bias towards our own gender. The fear of losing credibility the fear of not being perceived as œfair€“ prevents some of us from taking supportive actions.

# 4 Lacking Confidence In Our Own Authority

Sadly, sometimes women leaders believe it is not within their or their organization’€™s capacity to provide the needed support to develop the next generation of women leaders. A lack of imagination coupled with a lack of confidence in our own ability and influence holds some of us back from taking actions to make a difference.

#5 Seeing Other Women As Competition

A few, very few, in my view, lack interest in supporting other women, as they feel more women at the top will dilute their current achievements and increase the competition for future opportunities.

We Can Make A Difference

To Men Leaders:

Do not fear letting more women into the top echelons. What you may lose by letting go of the boy€™s club, you will more than make up by gaining new ideas, new perspectives, a better work environment, and improved business results. Not to mention feeling a renewed sense of accomplishment having contributed to making the world a more just and equitable place.

To Women Leaders:

Be confident about your strengths, achievements and successes. They are yours and well deserved. Do not waiver or be apologetic about providing the support to help other women realize their full potential. Remember, women are starting off from a point of disadvantage. We lack the kind of networks that men enjoy, and have fewer role models and women leaders who can sponsor us. We get paid less for the same roles and results. Through conditioning from our childhood, we often lack confidence to speak up and ask for what we need or want. In addition, as research has shown, in most societies women bear a greater burden of home and child-care, while juggling their careers. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. So your active support is not bias but essential to level the playing field.

Imagine that you had the support and networks to help accelerate your career. It would have had an immeasurable positive impact on the level of your achievements, made your career journey more enjoyable and enabled you to do far more for your family and community.

To Aspiring Women Leaders:

Don’€™t be afraid to ask for what you want, and what you deserve. Invest in yourself. Do not always wait for your boss or your organization to invest in you. Be proactive in finding people and resources to support your aspirations. Be the change you wish to see.

As women, we need to challenge our own psychology and attitude as much as we need to challenge the system that is disempowering us from achieving our aspirations.

We can work on this together, women and men. We all have experiences and insights that we can share and learn from. Let’s create a collaborative ecosystem, where we listen to different perspectives, discuss, introspect and engage. Let’€™s lend that supporting hand to others.

This is our journey, but not ours alone.