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Drishti Bodhraj Premprakashi

JWB Blogger

FICCI FLO: ‘Sexism Will Stay. Just Believe In Yourself And Face It,’ Says Gunjan Jain

  • JWB Post
  •  September 10, 2016


With gleaming eyes and a bounce in every step, I excitedly walked into The Lalit for an interactive session on ‘The Indian Woman and Her Struggles’ with Gunjan Jain, Rajashree Birla, and Swati Piramal. The discussion was organised by the FICCI FLO Jaipur.

The room at first was quite cold because of the air conditioning (should’ve carried a jacket, lol) but in no time, the atmosphere had become warmer because of the inspiring women present at the event.

The aura of these smart and successful women had captivated me. Clearly, I was in for a surprise.

(L-R) Mrs. Vinita Bimbhet, Ms. Gunjan Jain, Mrs. Preeti Saboo, Mrs. Rajashree Birla, Mrs. Swati Piramal

Clad in a beautiful black Anarkali, author of ‘She Walks, She Leads’ Gunjan Jain was the woman of the hour. The event began with the lighting of the lamp. Ms. Preeti Saboo, Chairperson of FLO Jaipur Chapter, gave the opening speech. She said that when she took up the position, she had one motto, which was ‘Ignite The Spark.’ She also shared a saying by Margaret Thatcher that went like, ‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’

Ms. Vinita Bimbhet, President of FLO was next up in line to ignite the shine. She mentioned that India’s GDP could rise to 60 percent if women are empowered and involved in the economic development of the country which is what FLO wants to do.

Take note, patriarchy

Advancing women rights, building women’s leadership & investing in this movement are the key enablers of change. Every Initiative, project, event undertaken by FLO is driven by the goal of creating more just & sustainable environment for women. Gunjan’s book celebrates extraordinary lives & they are the stories that matter & inspiration for all,” she said in her speech.

The woman that came up to the stage next left me awe-struck. Do you ever just look at a woman and think, ‘Oh my god! She looks so elegant!’? Okay, now multiply that feeling into a hundred. This iconic and graceful lady was Mrs. Rajashree Birla. The graceful and elegant philanthropist called Gunjan’s book a ‘celebration of woman power.’ She said that if you have the courage and determination, then there’s nothing that cannot be achieved. All it needs from you is the ‘never say die’ attitude

She spoke about how being a daughter-in-law in an Indian house is hard because of how women have to carry the weight of traditions. Today, working women are finding it difficult to manage their relationships. She mentioned that couples should work together on their marriage to understand each other like her husband and herself did. The way she spoke about her love life with her husband made my heart melt faster than mozzarella on a pizza.

Mrs. Birla mentioned how inspired she was by her grandfather-in-law. “My grandfather-in-law, Shri GD Birla ji took painting lessons at 80 and my mother-in-law, Maa, took French lessons at the age of 90. She is one of my three inspirations. The other two being my husband Aditya Ji and my son, Kumar Mangalam Birla.”

*Eyes widen; mouth hangs open* Oh mon Dieu!

Next up was another elegant lady, Mrs. Swati Piramal. With her knowledge of the medical field, she changed her husband’s family business from textiles to healthcare. While talking about women leaders around the world, she said, “I noticed how all those empowered women like Angela Merkel and Indira Gandhi had one thing in common. They had strong fathers who encouraged their daughters to speak up.”

(L-R) Mrs. Vinita Bimbhet, Mrs. Rajashree Birla, Mrs. Swati Piramal and Ms. Gunjan Jain

She also spoke about the health camps conducted by her and how she came across a woman who changed her life. “We were at a polio campaign, and I was giving the children medicines. Just then, a woman came up to me and said, ‘these children need love too. Only medicine won’t do. I noticed how she was wearing a white sari with a blue border. I then realised that she was Mother Teresa! I feel so glad to have met her. I follow her teachings till date.

Talking about health care, she also spoke about her son Anand’s work who provides pure drinking water to rural areas. They called the project Sarvajal, and it has been running successfully after being put to work in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan.

After she had finished her speech, Mrs. Piramal read a few excerpts from the book. She started with Mrs. Chanda Kochar, the CEO of ICICI whom she worked with for a while. She dedicated the song ‘I believe I can fly’ to her.

Next, she spoke about Mrs. Yasmeen Premji, wife of entrepreneur Mr. Azim Premji. She spoke about Mr. Premji telling Mrs. Yasmeen that if she wanted to be successful, she would have to learn and know more than the others. To her, Dr. Piramal dedicated the song, ‘Hum Honge Kamyaab.’

Third on the list was Mrs. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the managing director and chairman of Biocon Limited. Her father was a brewmaster and wanted her to pursue a career like him. Well, I guess that was the beginning of the story of one of India’s richest self-made women. Brewmaster is not something you find women doing very often. Mrs. Shaw went on to study about Malting and Brewing but soon moved to the field of medicine and now makes medicines at a lower cost. She dedicated, ‘Saare Jahan Se Achha’ to Mrs. Mazumdar-Shaw.

And no, those are not goosebumps on my hands.

Lastly, she read about Mrs. Rajashree Birla. If you can’t tell, I am completely fangirling over her. The excerpt from the book also had an interview with Mrs. Birla’s daughter, Vasavadatta who said that her father, Mr. Aditya Birla was a strong person and her mother perfectly complimented him (Awww!). The song dedicated to her was ‘Sasural Genda Phool’.

The next part was something I was specifically excited about. Hala!

Yep, it was time for the panel discussion moderated by Gunjan. She spoke about her book that took her three years to write. She then moved forward with the questions.

Gunjan: How far have we come towards women empowerment and how long do we have to go?

Dr. Piramal: We still have a long, long way to go. The number of women that have been empowered so far is just a drop in the ocean.

Gunjan: You became the First Woman President of ASSOCHAM in 93 years. I think that tells us a lot about our country. How did you deal with it?

Dr. Piramal: *Laughs* I hired all women into my team. There was a time when we had a meeting with the President, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. He was the only man among 90 of women. I bet he felt like Krishna *laughs*.

Gunjan (To Mrs. Birla): You’ve achieved success in life. But to get to those heights, you also have to fail. How did you handle failure?

Mrs. Birla: Just do your best and leave the rest to god. If it doesn’t work out, then god has something else in store for you.

Gunjan also asked about managing relationships and getting over parenting guilt. Mrs. Birla responded by saying that children and family come first. Dr. Piramal agreed with it.

Gunjan: You went to do your master after you gave birth to your son. Has that affected your relationship with your children?

Dr. Piramal: At first, I felt very guilty for leaving my kids behind although they were being taken care of my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I made sure that family always came first – and work second. After my daughter grew up and got married, she told me, ‘Mumma, I am glad you’re a working woman because now I am too, and I know how to handle both my personal and work life like you did.’

Following the panel, there was a vote of thanks and a book signing by Gunjan. I took this chance to walk up to her and ask her a question.

Mrs. Preeti Saboo and Mrs. Swati Piramal

I was so excited to talk to her; my heart was literally pounding.

All these successful women that you’ve written about must have faced sexism some or the other time. What do you think is the best way to deal with it?’ I asked her.

Well, I’ve been working on this book for three years, and I’ve faced a lot of sexism myself too. People have come up to me and told me, ‘Why are you doing this? Why don’t you just settle down?’ The key is to believe in yourself and not let others underestimate you. You’re going to face sexism throughout your life, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, but you can always believe in your capabilities,” she said.

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