The world that we live in today sees us witness an era of self-made women, with several forces converging to create a climate in favour of their success. In the dynamic landscape of the corporate sector, women leaders in India are pioneering new strategies to foster female leadership, smashing the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’, and strengthening the future of gender diversity in their organisations.
The first part of this feature in Bazaar India shines the spotlight on ten terrific women.
Vineeta Singh—co-founder and CEO, Sugar Cosmetics
We started our business over a decade ago with the mission of being the most cherished beauty brand for young, working women. Today, women all over the country have more access to the Internet and greater control over what’s being consumed. In fact, they make up over 25 percent of the workforce in the country. Our mission has now expanded to being more innovative and inclusive. We are among the top three brands in India in the make-up category...and our goal is to be the largest make-up brand in India.
We make sure our team factors in regional conditions, Indian aesthetic, and global trends in all our launches. I am extremely proud that there are more than 2,000 women working at Sugar! During the pandemic, we did not lay off a single employee, and, instead, concentrated on growing, launching new products, and doing more. Partnering with all these young women—and, of course, men—was a great learning opportunity and provided me the chance to give back to the community, which is very crucial.
Here at Sugar, we are passionate about creating a female-friendly environment. If a team member returns from maternity leave, she is given bigger opportunities. I believe that women struggling with work-life balance should not have to hide it from their co-workers in order to get ahead. Structurally, we needn’t do many things apart from ensuring fairness in terms of policies and start acknowledging and celebrating the balance that some women are able to accomplish—and making that a role model. Having said this, I feel founders are expected to be alpha personalities with a 10-year-vision, but during my interaction with female founders and my own experience as an investor, I have found that while most women are ambitious, they tend to be modest...they tend to hold back when it comes to truly valuing their achievements.
I realised early on in my journey that I am not Steve Jobs and Richard Branson. Comparing my entrepreneurial journey with theirs would be a futile exercise, because all entrepreneurs are unique in their own ways. I have begun owning what I’ve accomplished rather than weighing myself down.
I am empathetic and always strive to inspire people by taking initiative. My significant learning as a leader is to coach and mentor people, helping them accomplish their best. The one mistake that I constantly made during my younger years was choosing businesses that were opportunistic rather than doing businesses that I truly love. There are myriad ups and downs in the entrepreneurial journey and staying true to yourself will give you the power to get through. Failures, which I believe are integral in this journey, are important. Crying, being vulnerable and emotional is normal as long as you have the ability to bounce back the next day. On days when the going gets tough, I look at my wallpaper which is a picture of my kids and remind myself that they are going to be extremely proud of me someday.
I believe women should have role models and meaningful partnerships at home to be truly successful. And as the gender gap continues to exist, my sincere hope for the future is for female entrepreneurs to get more funding, more easily.”
Photo credits: Navy symbolic Blazer and Looking Like a Diva Pants, both RSVP by Nykaa Fashion X Nikhil Thampi; OH Poppi Bolt Link Necklace, Outhouse Jewellery; shoes, stylist’s own; Photographs: Neha Chandrakant. Styling: Pranay Jaitly and Shounak Amonkar. Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Hair: Rakshanda Irani.
Monica Shergill—Vice President of Content, Netflix India
Netflix India has achieved so much over the last few years. We are extremely proud of the phenomenal content that we’ve managed to create, the passionate team that we’ve built, and the manner in which we have scaled up. We ‘programme’ in every category and create conversations that really matter. Our content is more inclusive and diverse, and we tell powerful stories about change. Netflix stands for innovation and has set the bar high. It is a company that has transformed the way people consume entertainment today. When we build our teams, we pay close attention to inclusivity—50 per cent of our leadership and of our overall employee strength is women.
I believe in leading by example. I like to be humble, confident and always excited about what I’m doing. I like to build a passionate team where everyone’s visions are aligned. It is also important to create a safe space where we are open to mistakes and learnings. Experimenting but thinking about the audience is our aim. Most of us have moments in life where we feel we could have done better or the decisions we made could have been different. However, we should not label our past as mistakes or failures, but view them as learnings. Everyone is trying to do the best they can with the given information at a certain point in time, whether they land at the right place or not. The advice that I would give to others is to dream big and nurture your aspirations without fear. Every great thing you want to achieve lies on the other side of fear. To myself, I would say, be a little more easy going and don’t overthink.
Today, stress is gender agnostic; it is a part of a modern, professional life. But it is true that the journey is harder for women. To reach places, we need help from fellow female and male colleagues, mentors, and family and friends. People who surround you, who help you get up every day to do your best, play a major role in your success. It is also important for organisations to trust women, especially those returning from maternity leave. It is crucial to give them bigger challenges and not underestimate them so they don’t quit. Lastly, it is important for women to believe in themselves and not be plagued with self-doubt. Often, we don’t demand our due. We are always second-guessing and self-doubting, whereas men tend to come from a more confident and entitled space. It is crucial for the ecosystem to support women. Women come with a lot of integrity and are conscientious team members. This can work in favour of every organisation.”
Photo credits: Silk culottes and pleated top, Payal Khandwala; shoes, Monica’s own; Photographs: Neha Chandrakant. Styling: Pranay Jaitly and Shounak Amonkar. Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Hair: Rakshanda Irani.
Aparna Purohit—Head of India Originals, Amazon Prime Video
There’s a lot to celebrate about at Amazon Originals right now. We have released over 56 originals, nearly 60 direct-to-service films in six languages, and expanded our programming to 10 languages. And I am proud to have launched Maitri: Female First Collective, which is a safe space for women from the Indian media and entertainment industry to share their stories, challenges, and successes, and build a community for positive dialogue and change. At Amazon Originals, representation is extremely important to me. I realise that I have been able to succeed in my journey because somebody before me had carved the way. Women who are in positions of responsibility and authority, including me, should keep the doors open for other women to walk in. Many of us have been through difficult experiences. And that is one of the reasons it is so important to have a sense of community and camaraderie—a space of mutual trust, friendship, and sisterhood. Building a forum where we can just come together to talk, discuss, and make it easier for other women to find their way is crucial.
Today, I notice more women in positions of influence and authority. And there is more female representation on screen. It is good to see an equitable representation in films and shows, where women are not just wallflowers or props hanging around, propelling the narrative for the male actor forward. In cinema, it is also really important to build a distinct female gaze, and that can only happen if there are more women in the writers’ room; where a story is taking shape, where there are more narratives about women. For instance, I have made it a mandate to have a woman in every writer’s room. There are times when I’m told by men that they are ‘feminists’ and would be able to tell a female-centric story very well. So I respond by saying that if they are indeed feminists, then they shouldn’t have a problem with having a woman in the writers’ room.
The other thing that I have been active about is preparing a database of women in cinema. So, if anybody comes to me and says, ‘Where are the women in cinema?’ I can hand over the database and say, ‘Here!’. It is crucial to have more women as writers, as directors, as showrunners, as cinematographers, as production designers, and as make-up artists. We need more women everywhere, because only then will our stories be told.
Photo credits: Complete look, Aparna’s own; Photographs: Neha Chandrakant. Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Hair: Rakshanda Irani.
Ashi Dua—Film Producer, Founder, Flying Unicorn Entertainment
I never set out to be a film producer...I always believed that if you want to be a film producer, you have to invest your own money in it. After moving to Delhi for my college years and exploring journalism and history, I found myself unsatisfied with the city and decided to visit Mumbai for a weekend. I instantly fell in love with Mumbai and decided to live there. I started out with an internship at Percept Pictures, where I met filmmaker and actor Anurag Kashyap. Anurag changed my life. One day, out of the blue, he handed me the script for Dev D, which he was directing at the time, and said, ‘Why don’t you work on this?”’. And that’s where my journey in the film industry began. Anurag’s belief in my abilities encouraged me to pursue a career as a producer. A few years later, I conceptualised an anthology film, Bombay Talkies, to celebrate Indian cinema’s 100-year mark. After convincing directors like Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar to collaborate, the film received funding from Viacom 18 and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Post that, I established my own production house, Flying Unicorn Entertainment, and continued to produce well-received films, including Lust Stories (1 and 2), Ghost Stories, and Netflix Originals such as Paava Kadhaigal (Tamil) and Pitta Kathalu (Telugu).
Strangely, throughout my career, most of my mentors were men. But now, I work with a lot of amazing women, so for me, sisterhood is important and I see it as women uplifting each other. I acknowledge the discrepancy in funding and opportunities for female led films, especially in genres such as action. But times are slowly changing. Today, when I take a female-driven script to a studio or to a platform, and it’s a good story, they’re willing to bite into it. They’re willing to give me the money I need...perhaps not as much as a male actor would earn, but we’re getting there.
The market will continue to expand in the near future as female-centric films prove their commercial viability. But for that to happen, it is most important for male actors to empower and support their female counterparts. To create true equality in the film world, we need collective efforts to dismantle gender barriers and provide equal opportunities for all filmmakers.
In the future, I hope there are many more female producers, many more female directors and many more female-driven stories. And I also hope that every talented person who does not belong to the film industry starts getting more chances.”
Photo credit: Sienna Hand-pleated Midi Skirt, Sienna Summer Blazer, and Salt Lake Crafted Abrie Collar, all Moonray; Broad Bumpy Hoops, Radhika Agrawal Jewels; Bombina Spiked Sandals, Christian Louboutin; Photographs: Prabhat Shetty. Styling: Palak Valecha. Hair and Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Fashion Assistant: Tarangini Goel. Hair and Make-up assistants: Dinkle Gosrani and Virja Mehta.
Diipa Büller-Khosla—Digital Content Creator and Founder of Indē Wild
Being the founder of Indē Wild is an honour. Indē Wild is a global beauty brand that we launched about 18 months ago, and it has already exceeded expectations. My husband and I also launched an NGO called Post for Change about four years ago. And then, let’s not forget my personal online brand—Diipa Khosla [laughs].
I believe I was always a businesswoman. Even as a teenager, I would sell friendship bracelets in high school. I’m a natural entrepreneur, and branding and marketing is what interests me. It has a lot to do with the psychology of people and storytelling, which has been an innate part of me. When it comes to my own beauty business, I tell my team that as long as the product and the story is good, word-of-mouth will get the job done.
I started my influencer journey about eight to nine years ago. I think I was at the right place at the right time. My first internship outside of law (she is a law school graduate) was in the biggest influencer agency in Europe. I was lucky as I got to see the onset of change in the media landscape. And being an Indian woman in the West gave me a leg up in the market. As the global fashion and beauty industries were changing, we were learning more about diversity. And they were looking for a diverse face, which happened to be me. I believe I am good at networking, collaborating with people, and telling my story. For me, success is not just about working hard, but also about being smart. If you want to be good at something, you need to put in the hours. There are some days when you will feel defeated, and the only way out is to think of a goal that is bigger than yourself. Building a community can impact people in a big way, and what kept me going on bad days—such as when I was trolled (on social media)—was the belief that I am working on something that is bigger than me. When you have goals, you have to work on them every single day.
The other trait that leads to success is passion...it shows in your eyes. You have to be passionate about your career. I’d like to tell young founders to enjoy the journey, because that is the fun part. And today, that’s just how I feel with Indē Wild.”
Photo credit: The Jodhpur Power Suit, Raghavendra Rathore; Viper Bracelets, Radhika Agrawal Jewels; Wave Arm Cuff, Patchwork Cuff, Frida Kahlo Cuff, and Rockpool Earrings, all Metallurgy; Matricia 100 Silk Satin Sandals, Christian Louboutin; Photographs: Prabhat Shetty. Styling: Palak Valecha. Hair and Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Fashion Assistant: Tarangini Goel. Hair and Make-up assistants: Dinkle Gosrani and Virja Mehta.
Dipali Goenka—CEO & MD, WELSPUN INDIA LTD
I feel fortunate about leading a brand that has to its name several industry-first initiatives. Welspun India has witnessed so many milestones over the past few years... Crossing $1 billion in revenues for two consecutive years has been a significant achievement for the organisation. We have become India’s no. 1 home textile brand with 11,300+ stores in 500+ cities across India.
The only way to ensure more female leaders is for women to have access to good mentors, receive quality education, network better, and more crucially, be recognised. As the patriarchal mindset is slowly fading today, the efficacy of women in top leadership positions is being tested and women are carving a niche for themselves. It is good to see the perceptions regarding the capabilities of working women changing. A female leader is now seen and respected because of her business acumen and ability to balance work and family. For more successful female leaders to emerge, we need to continue working towards embracing inclusivity and giving women equal opportunities to succeed. Personally, I do not believe in resting on past laurels; rather, I try to keep myself motivated to achieve even more. I would love to upskill with specific skill sets that make me an even better leader and businesswoman. I would also like to take more time each day to read and broaden my knowledge and improve the way I think.
I consider an unwavering persistence as a marker for success. In addition, as you move up in your career, it is vital to lead from the front, tackling challenges while also gaining important experiences along the way. No path to success is free of obstacles and challenges, but what matters is never giving up. Even in moments of crisis, the focus should be on necessary steps to correct the situation and take away valuable lessons from it. Apart from helping one improve professionally, this outlook also aids in one’s personal evolution.
I am a firm believer in the power of female mentorship, and it is essential for women to uplift and empower each other in all walks of life. When women support women, they create a network of strength, resilience, and inspiration. Through mentorship, we can foster a culture of inclusivity, equality, and professional growth. Over time, our way of handling challenges becomes our outlook, and impacts how we find solutions. Which is why I would like to once again draw attention to the importance of never giving up and finding new learning opportunities with every hurdle that life throws our way.”
Photo Credit: Complete look, Dipali’s own, Photographs: Neha Chandrakant. Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Hair: Rakshanda Irani
Anjali Bansal—Founder, Avaana Capital
When we talk about female entrepreneurs and their ability to source funding for a business, I must admit that it is much tougher for a woman to raise money. Biases and inherent gender-based discrimination still persist in the startup ecosystem, all over the world, where only a small percentage of global venture capital goes to female-founded companies. The situation in India is no different, with limited funding opportunities for female founders. To address this issue, multiple interventions are required. First, there is a need for more women in decision-making roles in venture capital firms. This includes not just junior positions, but also leadership positions. Secondly, efforts should be made to increase the number of women founders who operate in technology and digitalisation. This can be achieved by proactively creating opportunities for women to join founding teams and supporting their networks. Lastly, large capital allocators, such as pension funds and institutions, need to allocate more capital to female-led funds and fund managers. Women should not limit themselves by networking only with other women, but should also engage with individuals regardless of gender, so they can build diverse and supportive alliances.
When it comes to climate change, it indeed affects women disproportionately, as they often face the brunt of its adverse effects due to their lower socio-economic status and caregiving responsibilities. Recognising climate change as a feminist issue is crucial, as it highlights the need for increased representation and leadership of women in addressing climate challenges. Governments, corporates, and individuals must acknowledge this intersectionality and work towards creating more opportunities for women in climate leadership roles.
In my career, what keeps me going is a strong desire to create positive change and make a lasting impact. I strive to leave a better world for future generations and I constantly seek opportunities to learn and grow. So a good day is when I have done something to help others and create some positive change. And a day where I have learned something new.
When I meet other successful individuals, I find that confidence combined with humility, and a focus on collaboration, are common traits among them. To boost my own productivity, I cut the clutter and focus on what is important—I prioritise constantly. I have been fortunate to have terrific colleagues and teams at work and at home. Surrounding oneself with positive, likeminded people is also a key factor in driving productivity and growth. Investing in strong relationships and teams, and maintaining a positive can-do attitude can help us achieve large outcomes that go beyond ourselves and contribute to a better future.”
Photo credit: Complete look, Anjali’s own; Photographs: Neha Chandrakant. Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Hair: Rakshanda Irani.
Jayanti Chauhan, Vice Chairperson, Bisleri International Pvt. Ltd
What truly interests me is how to build a brand and get people to emotionally connect with it. Bisleri already has that advantage and I can see how deeply ingrained it is in people’s minds. I applied some of these learnings to our new brands at Bisleri, such as Vedica Natural Mountain Water, and our recently launched carbonated sodas—Rev, Pop and Spyci Jeera. Today, there are so many brands on shelves, and the consumer has many choices. So why should they pick your brand? There has to be a story around your product—some emotional connection or a preference for a specific flavour. To succeed, it is extremely important to have a good team, which I am lucky to have. They are on top of things, and they won’t let me down. And they are great at guiding me because they understand that I am still learning. We work together as a team and everybody offers their input. I am thankful that my team has given me that space to do things in a certain way.
In today’s world, it is crucial to keep upskilling yourself. For example, I recently took a language course and photography is my passion. The process of learning is what brings new ideas. It is also important to surround yourself with people who match your goals and ambitions. I believe it is important to create an environment where women leaders can come together, share their stories, and exchange ideas. We are also working to add more women into teams such as sales, which is traditionally male-dominated. I think women are very creative and have good instincts. For me, a good work ethic is about honesty and transparency, which is what you need to make an informed decision. Your team should feel confident to tell you both good and bad news, and know that you will be able to get through it together.
As for personal goals, I want to learn to be more patient. I need to learn how to stay in my ‘zone’, even when things around me get chaotic.
Photo Credit: Black Dahlia Dress, Turn Black; Coral Thick Slab Ring and The River Ring, both Metallurgy; Hoopla Pendant, Eurumme; shoes, Jayanti’s own; Photographs: Harmeet Singh Sana. Styling: Palak Valecha. Hair and Make-up: Riya Saluja. Fashion Assistant: Tarangini Goel.
Masoom Minawala—Digital Content Creator
My content creation business is the foundation of what I do. I consider it a massive privilege because how many people actually have the opportunity to do what they love, love what they do, and also be able to make a difference through it!? Most days, I’m reminding myself that it’s pure destiny, and that, in itself, is enough motivation.
When I started out, this was not a platform, and definitely not a business. I look back and realise that I was young, and I didn’t care about the opinions of others. I just experimented without overthinking. When you’re young and unsure what to do, it’s important to experiment, but on your own terms. It is also important to be consistent and not give up because you can never know when that day of magic will happen. And if you don’t continue showing up, you are never going to know. Consistency does not mean showing up every day—that sounds overwhelming. You don’t microanalyse but macro-analyse, and see how often you can show up. Also, consistency is not about doing the same thing over and over again. Yes, it is about showing up, but if you’re not pivoting, there’s going to be a dead end. I’m constantly pivoting and asking myself, what more can I do with the access I have, and the community I’ve built.
Now, when I’m able to impact a brand positively, they (the Internet) call it the ‘Masoom Magic’. I don’t think I create the best content, but I’ve been doing it consistently to a point where I’ve earned a voice of authenticity. I’m careful about what I recommend and about how important my community is to me. Also, if I make mistakes, I own up to it. People have seen me through my journey and it’s almost like they’re thinking ‘this girl is not going anywhere, so we might as well take her seriously’ (laughs).
For me, having clarity about a certain situation is extremely important. So, things like making a decision about whether I need to be at an event without my baby…can be quite confusing. In such situations, the first conversation that I have with myself is that I am my person first; being a mother is just an addition to who I am. When I understand that my roles—as an influencer, a businesswoman, a wife, a mother—are only additions to my personality, that’s when I perform the best at them. The only way to make those hard decisions is to ask yourself what ‘you’—not the businesswoman or the mother—need at that moment. The second thing that helps is that I always macro-analyse. So, if I’m giving up an opportunity today, of course I’ll be upset about it. But what helps is knowing that I will make up for it in time.
My goal is to reach the masses—at least 40-50 percent of the Indian population—as I really have something to say through my content and fashion.
Photo Credit: Blazer and Skirt, Dior; Photographs: Dinesh Ahuja. Hair: Geeta Kanojiya.
Vaishali Shadangule—Fashion Designer
I hail from a small town called Vidhisha in Madhya Pradesh. I was 17 years old when I ran away from home in the middle of the night without any money... I was just tired of living in an environment where I was not allowed to express my feelings. So I took a train to Bhopal and started doing odd jobs there. And quite unknowingly, I began advising people how to style their clothes. Around then, someone suggested that I study fashion design. So I enrolled in a local school but it was challenging because in 1997, fashion was not a profession one could survive on, at least not in Bhopal. However, I knew in my heart this is what I wanted to do and so I moved from Bhopal to Baroda, and finally to Mumbai in 1999.
I began working as a gym instructor and one of my clients helped me get a bank loan of `50,000 to set up my own boutique in 2001. It did well and I opened three more stores. But I realised I really wanted to study fashion. So after 11 years of working, I decided to pursue a postgraduate degree in fashion from Delhi. At that time, I was running three stores and 60 people were working under the label. While studying, I got the opportunity to showcase my creations at Lakmé Fashion Week. Back then, no one appreciated handlooms—it wasn’t considered glamorous. But I knew it had so much potential.
Today, we talk about sustainability but in India it has been a way of life. I feel it is my mission to take Indian fabrics to a global stage because it is so deeply rooted in innovation, sustainability, and craft. I was the first Indian female designer to showcase at the Paris Haute Couture Week (in 2021), following which I showcased in Milan (in 2022) and was already showcasing in New York (in 2016). I think this is just the start for me. I’m so happy I followed my heart and that little voice within that pushed me ahead saying, “Let’s do it”.
The sari is the most beautiful ensemble, in my opinion. And in its creation, we can support so many families...however, this is an artform we are gradually losing. As fashion designers, there is much we can do to educate people on the beauty and importance of Indian handlooms.”
Photo credit: Top and Sari, both Vaishali S; necklace, Vaishali’s own;Photographs: Prabhat Shetty. Styling: Palak Valecha. Hair and Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Fashion Assistant: Tarangini Goel. Hair and Make-up assistants: Dinkle Gosrani and Virja Mehta.
By Smita Tripathi