It has been scientifically proven that women are better leaders than men. The leadership style of women leaders in the Covid response has been described as more collective than an individual, more collaborative than competitive and more coaching than commanding.
Here's a look at five women who are exemplifying these ideals with their work through the pandemic.
Lawyer Indira Jaising is a social justice warrior. Her legal activism has brought her both admiration and constant challenges. Her passion for gender justice has led her to fight landmark cases including Mary Roy's case, which led to the grant of equal inheritance rights for Syrian Christian women in Kerala and the Rupan Deol Bajaj vs KPS Gill case, which was one of the first cases of sexual harassment.
Be it representing activist Teesta Setalvad or challenging the discriminatory provisions of the Indian Divorce Act in the High Court of Kerala, Indira is fearlessly driven within the courtroom and outside it. She is India's first woman additional solicitor-general and the first-ever woman to become a senior advocate in Bombay High Court. In 2018 she was ranked 20th in the list of 50 Greatest Leaders of the World by Fortune magazine.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
Starting with just a dream, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw went on to become a billionaire entrepreneur in a little known industry. In 1978, she founded Biocon Limited, a Bangalore-based, biotechnology company in her garage with a seed capital of Rs 10,000 and only one employee. She faced funding and recruiting challenges because of her age, gender and her unique business model. Kiran fought prejudice, sexism and infrastructural limitations on her path to success.
Biocon India, eventually, became the first Indian company to manufacture enzymes and export them to the U.S. and Europe. Within a year, Biocon was able to shift to a 20-acre campus. This former chairperson of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore won the Othmer Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to the progress of science and chemistry, in 2014. In 2019, she was listed as the 68th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes and for good reason. Ms Mazumdar Shaw is someone who engages with even the most contentious issues and uses her success to speak up for others.
Poonam Muttreja is the Executive Director of Population Foundation of India, a nonprofit organisation focused on programmes on family planning to empower citizens, especially women and adolescents with information and awareness. Poonam’s commitment to help women take decisions regarding their health, sexuality and well-being has been tireless over a span of 40 years. She has spent nearly a lifetime in public advocacy and promoting women’s rights and rural livelihoods. Her grassroots work is intersectional and diverse as is evident from the many NGOs, she has helped establish. She is one of the founder members of SRUTI – Society for Rural-Urban and Tribal Initiative that works towards social change across rural and urban India. She also co-founded the craft collective Dastkar and Nagrik Ekta Manch, a relief effort that helped Sikhs affected by the 1984 violence. Poonam co-conceived the popular transmedia initiative, 'Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon' as she believes in the positive power of edutainment media. Her staggering body of work demonstrates the critical role that the voluntary and non-governmental organization sector can play in helping citizens who need information and inspiration.
When Sudha Kulkarni decided to marry her 'good friend' Narayana Murthy in 1978, she decided to spell her new surname differently because she felt, 'Murty' and not 'Murthy' was the correct spelling. The wedding was a simple affair, costing around Rs 800 with the bride and the groom pitching in an equal amount of money. This is a small example of Sudha Murty’s need to be independent and fully convinced about a path before she takes it.
Today she is recognised for her social work and philanthropy, as an educator, and a multilingual acclaimed author. She is also the Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation and much of her work involves improving education, sanitation and hygiene conditions and poverty alleviation in rural areas. She has worked with sex workers, leprosy patients, HIV patients and to her, society is progressive only if it can offer a child, three meals a day, clothes, the right to education and enough skills to get a job. One of her famous quotes is, "Poverty is not lack of wealth, it is the lack of confidence." She believes, once a person builds up their confidence, they can build their life. Her passion for writing has resulted in over 92 books including novels, short stories, travelogues, books for children, technical books amongst others. Her biggest legacy however is her philanthropic work in rural Karnataka to help children realise their dreams.
This gold medalist in English Literature knows from first-hand experience how hard it is for women to pursue their careers after motherhood. Saundarya Rajesh had to give up her banking job after she became a mother but refused to be discouraged when getting back to work proved to be tough. She became an educator and visited the UK on a Chevening Scholarship in 2005. This gave her an insight into the lives of professionals who had fulfilling part-time jobs. From this came her idea of creating a space where women could access opportunities that did not force them to choose between their homes and their professions. Today, 'diversity' and 'inclusion' are the words that Saundarya lives by. As a social entrepreneur and Founder-President of AVTAR Career Creators, a recruitment and HR consulting firm, and AVTAR I-WIN network (for women returning to work after a break), she has pioneered the concept of 'Second Career' opportunities for women in corporate India. To bring more mothers and homemakers back into the professional mainstream, she advocates Flexi-timing and believes that work and life can be integrated seamlessly. She has systematised a network to help women re-enter the workplace with counselling and skilling sessions as well as recruitment opportunities. Straining against the prejudices of recruiters and companies, she has today with sheer persistence, mainstreamed the idea that “returning” women professionals can be an invaluable part of the corporate workforce.