As published on Sheroes, March 19, 2019
I’ve always shied away from the word ‘Feminist’ till I realized that it only meant asking for equal rights – for inclusion, for pay and for employment. But it also means asking for equal opportunity and herein lies the conundrum.
According to the UN, women are oft engaged in low paying vulnerable jobs, under-represented in labor force or economically dependent on their male counterparts. Women entrepreneurs are few, and venture funded ones even less. Similarly there are a handful of global women in positions of power who can create more opportunities for the same sex. So while we have agendas of women economic inclusion and equality for all by 2030, who are the people creating these opportunities? It will have to be the men.
I’m often commended for being the sole founder of one of India’s largest boutique resorts in the country but let me tell you the story as I see it.
With one parent in business and the other sought after horticulturist, we were never brought up to recognize that women could have a different opportunity set. In fact it was quite the opposite – economic independence was stressed upon. And so the decision to strive for the best in education and later in employment was almost a given. Institutions led by important men never missed a chance to celebrate us when we achieved results. Without the umbrella of an IIM/IIT degree the founder of now India’s largest private equity fund decided to offer me my very first job. He said the only thing he cared for was that I could work hard enough to get the first position in college. The platform was so enormous that it is still perhaps the most favoured part of my resume. The Ivy leagues were actually a little biased (towards the women) and I had the most wonderful mentors at Duke University in the US. When I came back to India, it was a man who wanted me as his venture partner while he set up a fund in India. And when I founded the company, his faith translated into an investment.
How will you travel alone? India is unsafe. Don’t take public transport. None of these questions were ever considered.
In 2014, when we got the first large funding from a VC, I was uneasy as I had heard stories of how investors take over, how they demand unrealistic things from entrepreneurs etc. However, the man who later represented the fund on our Board was anything but that. It’s been a journey – scaling the company to a different height, driving revenues and focusing on quality. And he’s been a part of it every step of the way. From helping us with next round of funding to identifying key members in the team to acquiring companies; it’s been a hell of a joyride for us.
We have so much to achieve together – and we are starting from pledging ourselves to the 2030 agenda within our own company. Even now, over 200 women from remote villages work with us in our resorts across India. And we want to increase this number to 20,000 over the next 5 years. So while we celebrate women on this one-day, while we spread our message to those less fortunate, let us not forget the men who supported us. The men who empower us.