At the SAARC Women Leadership Summit in Colombo recently, I served on a panel talking about how media affects business and economy with a special focus on women entrepreneurship. While putting my thoughts together, I struggled with how women are generally projected in the media space. Women are either objectified as glamorous or are relegated to stories of rape, murder, trafficking. Very little space is given to women achievements and business endeavours. Women tend to confine themselves to pockets of business rarely stepping out of the traditional ventures associated with women to do something that requires taking big risks. Women are also cautious about success. They tend to start small and stay small. While women do have multiple roles and responsibilities when compared to men, it’s time to expand their horizons into bigger playing fields.
Today’s woman is more competitive, more qualified and more ready to enter the complexities of big business. She is capable, intelligent and carries the capacity for innovation. She just needs to be heard and seen more. She needs to find her place in the exclusive boys club or not as she sees fit. She must above all make the choice without judgment or guilt to go big, stay small or not enter the formal workforce at all.
There are perhaps not enough compelling role models of what female power looks like. But there is a steady rise of high heels in the board room. The world will always tell you NO if you allow it. Sometimes you have to fight for YES and maybe the fact that you had to work that much more to earn something will feel great because anybody can get things done when it’s easy, but it takes a woman to fight for her space and retain it without losing grace.
Men must be part of this conversation as with any gender stereotype we try to break. At the summit opening in Colombo, Suraj Vaidya, President of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industries pointed out that instead of dedicating conferences to discussions on ‘empowering women in South Asia’, we should change the theme to ‘women empowering South Asia’.
It isn’t a question of gender capabilities any more, it about women learning to navigate complex career situations and milestones. That women are not as prepared as men for the business is a deeply-ingrained cultural bias, but every perception can be challenged and overcome. This comes to light as we see a woman standing at the helm of the apex business body of the nation, FNCCI for the very first time since its inception.