Ceiling Breakers: Inspiring Women in Leadership

Author: Athira Premarajan

Gender equality struggles may now be swept under the rug as a cliché topic of discussion in today’s era. As millions of women around the world strive to figure out that one difference they have from their counterparts, as allies work tremendously towards bridging that indecisive gap of disparity, what emerges as a breather are some inspiring stories of the ceiling breakers, who made history!

While workplace statistics of women show us discouraging figures, it is essential that we come across success stories of women who made it to the top, living in the same society as ours, that fosters biased perceptions, cultural threats, and gender prejudice. Interestingly, the pandemic days have these success stories to their reputation, giving the world a handful of changes.

Roshni Nadar-Malhotra

As the first woman to lead an IT company in India, Nadar-Malhotra is the chairperson of HCL Technologies and CEO of HCL Corporation. Daughter to the industrialist- philanthropist Shiv Nadar, the founder of HCL, Nadar-Malhotra acquired the post succeeding her father in 2020. One of Forbes Lists’ 100 Most Powerful Women ranked 54th in 2019, Nadar-Malhotra’s role model is primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall. Her evolution as a leader of an IT giant is an inspiring journey, that revolves around several years of experience working with different teams, and various leaders, not only as a board member but also working on the shop floor of HCL’s manufacturing facility. In her role in giving back to society, she chairs the leadership academy of VidyaGyan, for the economically underprivileged students from rural areas. With this initiative, Nadar-Malhotra aims to contribute to an economically stronger India, with leaders hailing from rural India. Her passion for wildlife conservation encouraged her to set up The Habitats Trust, which was inaugurated in 2018.

Leena Nair

Rising to the position of Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of Unilever as the first female, first Asian, and youngest ever in 2016, Leena Nair is now noted as the Global CEO of the French luxury fashion house, Chanel. Making history with its effort on inclusion, Chanel proudly introduced their new CEO in 2021, the same year she was listed in the Fortune magazine 2021 most powerful women. Nair’s way of business was a people-focused approach, that led her to the success that she owns today. Her work in diversity, equity, and inclusion was called powerful by the current CEO of Unilever, Alan Jope. Hailing from Maharashtra, Nair graduated with a gold medal from XLRI, Jamshedpur bagging her MBA in Human Resources. Incidentally, Nair is the second Indian-origin woman to take over the role of the Global CEO of an internationally acclaimed company after her mentor, the only Pepsi Lady – Indra Nooyi.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

From starting one of the globe’s biggest biotechnology ventures from her garage in India to earning the Padma awards, Shaw is only portrayed as a strong-willed lady with grit and determination. Founding India’s largest biopharma company, Biocon, this first-generation entrepreneur, delved into the start-up mission back in 1978, which was dared to be done by the male members of the society. Hailing from a non-engineering, non-business background, Shaw had it in her to overrule the societal barriers to giving birth to a firm focused on delivering affordable healthcare solutions to the world. Gripping on to the technological basis with science in the backend, Shaw grew to the ranks of a global business leader, inspiring a million cohort of women talents of India and abroad. Currently marking a revenue of 1000 crores, Biocon is spurring its growth with new ventures and acquisitions. Revisiting her wishes for international women’s day, she is seen elegantly summing up the process of breaking the so-called glass ceiling. Shaw says, “the glass ceiling is merely an illusion and any woman with talent and determination can smash this glass ceiling easily.”