Breaking Glass Ceilings: Women trailblazers leading the change in India

In the Indic school of thought, women have also held the most important portfolios — Education is Maa Saraswati; Defence is Maa Durga; Death and Rebirth is Maa Kaali (the fiercest fighter); and Finance is Maa Lakshmi. Fast forward to the present, things are gradually returning to the way they always were. 

Steering this return to the dominance of women leaders are female entrepreneurs and ministers across the country. From Ahilya Bai Holkar in administration to Savitri Jindal in the world of business; women have not just broken but shattered the proverbial glass ceiling time and again.  

Particularly in India, a country celebrated for its rich socio-cultural diversity, women have challenged norms and braved hardship to carve out a niche that serves as a beacon of hope for future generations. They shape the narrative by weaving together stories of grit, determination, resilience and success. 

From being denied even basic rights including education to being trailblazers in all sectors, women have come a long way with their indomitable spirit. They are not just role models; they inspire and encourage many many more. Their progress and growth are also key to ensuring a bright, inclusive, and sustainable future for the country.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the most inspiring Indian women leaders of the contemporary times:

  1. Nirmala Sitharaman: Serving as the finance minister of India since 2019, Nirmala Sitharaman’s expertise ranges from finance and corporate affairs to women’s rights advocacy. She is the first woman to serve stints as full-time finance minister and full-time defence minister. She has also served in the National Commission for Women. She is also the first Indian woman to be in the Forbes list of ‘Top Most Powerful Women in the World’. Under her leadership, India became the fifth-largest economy in the world in 2022. Also, it was during her tenure that the Indian Army conducted the counter-terror Balakot air strike. Her sway in the field of politics signals the changing perceptions towards gender roles in the Indian society.
  2. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: Founder of Biocon Limited, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is a billionaire entrepreneur and one of the richest self-made women. She is a trailblazer in India’s biotechnology industry. With her strong leadership skills and focus on research, she has made Biocon Limited a global giant in the field. She started her career in the field of brewing and malting and had a short stint in Australia. However, when she looked to relocate to Delhi or Bengaluru to pursue her career, she was rejected because brewing was a “man’s work”. Hence, she went on to establish her own biotechnology company and has now been named as one of Forbes’ most powerful women in the world.
  3. Madhabi Puri Buch: Appointed as the first female chairperson of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), Madhabi Puri Buch has made a mark for herself in the field of finance and regulatory affairs. She was the only one to opt out of the placement drive at her alma mater to the dismay of many. She then started her career as a social worker and went on to serve in various roles including financial analyst, lecturer, market consultant etc. before being appointed as the first female chairperson of SEBI, an organisation that oversees the country’s over $3 trillion stock market landscape. By rising to the top of India’s burgeoning stock market, she has stormed an ecosystem that was so far considered a traditional male bastion.
  4. Radhika Gupta: How many of us can stare at adversity with a straight face? Probably just a few, but that’s what Radhika Gupta has learned right from an early age. For the longest time, people called her the “girl with a broken neck” because of a birth defect. However, her rapid ascent to success, numerous accolades and strong foothold in the asset management industry as a visionary leader helped her get past naysayers and cemented the belief that disability is only a matter of perception. An accomplished asset management professional, she is one of the youngest CEOs and the only woman heading a million-dollar asset management firm in India. In her words, she enjoys leading teams and building businesses.
  5. Ghazal Alagh: In her words, Ghazal Alagh is a corporate trainer-turned-artist and a mompreneur, who launched her brand Mamaearth with the intention to change the beauty landscape of India by understanding consumer needs and catering to them in a D2C first manner. Her entrepreneurial streak led her to co-found a company that makes natural toxin-free baby care products with international standards. It is becoming one of India’s fastest-growing FMCG brands and the company has clocked a revenue of INR 964 crore in FY22, a growth of 109% in just a year. Through her company, she now aims to nurture a purpose-driven house of brands with a digital-first approach in the beauty and personal care segment.

These (and many more) stories serve as a testament to how Indian women are scripting their narratives of triumph against all odds. Armed with a strong vision and unparalleled determination, they are now dismantling centuries-old systems that perpetuate gender bias and inequality and rebuilding a social landscape that inspires and encourages the generations to come.

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