The Unstoppables! - Women's Day Feature

It’s easy to get disturbed about the state of the world for women. For all the progress that women have made over the years, sexism can still be found in all parts of society. Men still out-earn women in every industry; violence against women remains an unresolved issue and is given lower priority; and repugnant misogynistic behaviour is still normalised. But there are bright spots to be found.In 2018, everywhere we turn, we are presented with the undeniable power of women – from moguls to world leaders, dignitaries, and stars. Despite so many differences – in socioeconomic background, race or age — we have united around a common cause. Be it Indira Nooyi, Roshni Nadar, Priyanka Chopra or Mithali Raj, these powerful, brave, and all-around amazing women inspire us every day.

So as the world marks International Women’s Day on March 8 –we commemorate the event by featuring nine women of Indian origin, especially those fighting towards gender rights, equality, and basically, kicking through that glass ceiling. Chances are you may not know who some of them are (yet!). Here’s why you should!


What a year Priyanka Chopra had. She’s continued her stint in Quantico and debuted in the Hollywood flick Baywatch, both of which have raked in big numbers. She has graced top magazine covers, made appearances on popular talk shows, and was also present at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner hosted by outgoing US President Barack Obama. And if that wasn’t enough, the Jamshedpur-born actor was ranked 15th on the Forbes list of Most Powerful Women in Entertainment and Media and featured in the TIME’S 100 Most Influential People in the world. She also scooped up the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Dramatic TV Actress for Quantico, thus becoming the first South Asian actor ever to win a PCA.

In a career that now spans nearly 15 years and 52 movies, the Bajirao Mastani actor continues to rewrite the rules with her unique choices. At present, the 35-year-old actress is busy with the third season of Quantico. That apart, she stars in two Hollywood films – Isn’t It Romantic starring Rebel Wilson and A Kid Like Jake along with The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons and Claire Danes from Homeland. Although the international projects have kept the Barfi actor away from Bollywood, her production house, Purple Pebble Pictures (PPP) is busy churning out small-budget, content-driven regional cinema like the Marathi film Ventilator, which won three National Awards.

She is awell-known human rights activist who is involved in several efforts to promote girls’ education in India and protect children’s rights, including her namesake charity--The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education. Chopra continues to impress and inspire us – all while carrying herself with such dignity. The Padma Shri awardee was appointed as Unicef’s Goodwill Ambassador in 2016, and is also a United Nations Foundation Girl Up Champion.


At 35, Mithali Raj is the Indian women’s cricket team captain, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest women to ever play the sport. Last year, the right-handed batswoman led India to the top place in Twenty20, second in Test, third in ODI and fourth in Women’s Championship – and became a national hero in the process.

Born on December 3, 1982 to a Tamil family in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, Mithali Dorai Raj began playing cricket at the age of 10, and at 17 she was picked for the Indian team. Following her debut in 1999, she garnered national attention when she took over the captaincy of the women’s side and created a force to be reckoned with. In 2003, she received the Arjuna Award, followed by the Padma Shri in 2015. In the same year, Mithali made history when she became the first female cricketer to win the Wisden India Cricketers of the Year recognition.

In her 16-year career as a batswoman, with an average score of 48.8, she has six centuries and 49 half-centuries to her name. She became the first Indian and second woman after England’s Charlotte Edwards to complete 5,000 runs in women’s one-day international cricket. And if that’s not enough, the sporting icon is called the new ‘Captain Cool’ as she was reading a book while awaiting her turn to bat at the World Cup last year. While the team has yet to win a World Cup during her tenure, with her strong leadership, Mithali has clearly set the stage for other women to follow in her footsteps.


She was among the few women at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi in the 1980s, and has since been named a figure of note by various publications over the course of 35 years. Now one of the most celebrated names in Silicon Valley, India-born Padmasree Warrior is a female force in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men.

After becoming the CEO at NIO US – a premium autonomous electric vehicle global start-up primarily based in China –Warrior was previously the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Motorola for four years and the Strategy Officer and Chief Technology at Cisco for seven years. True story: In 2007,

John Chambers, Cisco’s Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer relentlessly pursued her for over a year before she agreed to join the firm as its CTO. She was later given additional charge of heading strategy for the American technology major.

Since then, she has been crowned with a collection of titles and awards commending her for her successful career in technology, including being called one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, one of the 50 Women to Watch by the Wall Street Journal, the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes, and the 11th most Influential Global Indian by The Economic Times. An alumna of Children’s Montessori School and Maris Stella College in Vijayawada, Warrior, who earned her master’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University, also sits on the board of several tech companies including Microsoft and Box.


Being handed the role of leading the world’s fourth largest company is an accomplishment in itself, but steering the company toward a purpose-driven future is truly the test of a leader. In 2006, when Indra Nooyi was appointed Pepsico CEO, many industrial leaders saw Pepsi as a bloated giant whose top brands were losing market share. With Nooyi’s shift toward a more health-oriented product line, investors including Nelson Peltz fought hard to split the company in two. But, as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Nooyi triumphantly led Pepsi and it enjoyed steady revenue growth after several flat years.

Prior to PepsiCo, Indra, who grew up in India, joined the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 1980, and then held strategy positions at Motorola in 1986, and Asea Brown Boveri in 1990. However,
Nooyi had to work harder than the rest of her colleagues because being a working woman and non-American is no easy task. She knew that too well when she said, “Being a woman, being foreign-born, you’ve got to be smarter than anyone else.”

A versatile personality, Indra Nooyi believes that during times of crisis, a true leader’s talent and abilities are put to the test, and only someone with true potential emerges from the challenge.
She joined PepsiCo in 1994 as a chief strategist, and in 1997 she pushed Chief Executive Roger Enrico to spin off Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC. Each of these moves has paid off. Today, she oversees a snack empire that includes Tropicana, Quaker Foods, Frito-Lay, and of course lots of soda!

Nooyi has struggled, dealt with all the social, emotional, and cultural biases that are the general norm in any workplace. But her confidence, determination, and work ethic helped her figure in all major power lists. This includes The Wall Street Journal’s list of 50 women and Time’s 100 Most Influential People in The World to watch in 2007 and 2008. Forbes named her the 3rd Most Powerful Woman in 2008, 13th in 2014, and the World’s Most Powerful Women In Business 2016 and 2017. A true benchmark of hard work and diligence, Nooyi has been recently appointed to the board of the International Cricket Council (ICC), making her the first ever independent female director.


Most women know that making a mark for yourself in a male-dominated society requires a lot of perseverance and hard work. We have many motivational stories from across the country, where women have achieved remarkable success. And then there is Shobhana Bhartia – the first female Chief Executive of a national newspaper – who keeps inspiring us all the time.

Bhartia is the current Editorial Director and Chairperson for India’s largest listed media company, Hindustan Times Group, publisher of the Hindi-English-language dailies HT Mumbai and Hindustan Times. Under the helm of Bhartia, HT Media has expanded its business to include diverse media platforms. This includes four FM radio stations, websites like Bollywood site, tutoring arm Studymate, job portal, and a social and digital media outfit, Webitude. In 2013, Bhartia launched Mint Asia in Singapore, a business weekly.

Bhartia’s journey has been phenomenal, but none of these achievements would have been possible without her family’s support. The media baroness, who grew up in Kolkata, is the granddaughter of the legendary Ghanshyam Das Birla and the daughter of the industrialist K.K. Birla. According to her father, while she was pursuing her Master’s, Shobhana would often send cuttings from different newspapers to her father, pointing out what the articles missed out on and how their own publication could improve. After graduating from Calcutta University, even though there were diverse businesses on her radar, Shobhana decided to venture into media.

Today, even as India is just coming to terms with women leadership, leaders like Shobhana Bhartia help eliminate archaic beliefs about women in business. The 61-year-old inherited a newspaper that was intended to provide the agenda of independence and not a profit-making concern at the time it started in 1924. A few years down the line, Bhartia is credited with giving the newspaper a makeover with a young feel. Leading a successful and profitable business, Bhartia was recently named in the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list. Last year, French ambassador Alexandre Ziegler conferred her the Officier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur – the highest civilian award given for an outstanding service to France, regardless of the nationality of the recipients.



2017 was a busy year for Chanda Kochhar, the CEO of ICICI Bank. Like other banks in India, ICICI was bludgeoned by a slowing economy, an increase in nonperforming assets, and stagnating corporate growth. The country’s largest private bank’s standalone profits grew just 1%, with operating profits growing 11%. However, Chanda only focussed on improving the technologies the bank adopted and the outreach program, ICICI Digital Village. The ambitious project provided financial tools to aspiring entrepreneurs and brought vocational training to over 11,000 villagers in 17 states in India. The programme reached 500 more villages by year’s end. This wasn’t the first time the Jodhpur-born executive chose not to give in. In 2009, after being appointed CEO and Managing Director of ICICI, she had her work cut out for her. After the 2008 financial meltdown, the economic downturn wreaked havoc in all sectors, especially banking. But Chanda triumphantly led ICICI out of the insecure period through paradigm shifts in strategy and some tough decisions.

A brilliant student, Chanda joined St. Angela Sophia School in Jaipur and moved to Mumbai to get her B.Com degree from Jai Hind  College.  After graduating, she studied cost accountancy from the Institute of Cost Accountants of India, where she was awarded the J. N. Bose Gold Medal. She later acquired an MMS degree from the University of Mumbai from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies. In college, she received the Wockhardt Gold Medal for her academic performance.

Kochhar has carved a niche for herself in a career spanning over 30 years. Widely recognised for changing the face of the banking sector in India, her effort and determination can be witnessed with the growth of ICICI. She is the first Indian woman to receive the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Award for Global Citizenship, joining the ranks of Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Ranked 20th Most Powerful Woman in the world by the Forbes Magazine, Kochhar’s ambitious community made history when she took the bank’s insurance business public, the first IPO of a general insurer in India. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that ICICI has been awarded the Best Retail Bank in India for five consecutive years.


No list of powerful women would be complete without a mention of Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. An entrepreneur par excellence, Kiran is the Chairman and Managing Director of the country’s leading integrated bio-pharmaceutical enterprise, Biocon Limited. Founded in 1978, the firmmakes a range of generics to treat, among other conditions, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
India’s richest self-made and one of the nation’s most successful female icons, Kiran’s path to fame was never an easy one. In Kiran’s case, many eyebrows were raised when she entered the
male-dominated corporate world where women were not readily welcomed. Money was scarce as banks were reluctant to lend, power and water supplies were unreliable, recruiting employees for a start-up did not provide job security, and getting the market to accept biotechnology was challenging. But Mazumdar rose above them all, answering questions with her efforts, and focussing on developing affordable drugs for people across the globe.

Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Kiran holds a Bachelor’s degree in zoology from Bangalore University and is qualified as a Master Brewer from Ballarat University, Australia. Apart from that, the 64-year-old   has  also  received many honorary doctorates in recognition of her pre-eminent contributions to the field of biotechnology. Shaw’s been voted twice by Forbes as one of the most powerful women in the world, and ranked 2nd in The Medicine Maker Power List 2015.

Known as India’s most generous biotech billionaire, Kiran saw a 35% jump in Biocon’s market capitalisation in 2017. Plus, Biocon recently tied-up with Mylan, which boosted Trastuzumab, their chemotherapy drug. In addition, the firm’s insulin manufacturing facility in Malaysia began commercial operations, supplying to the domestic market. Over the years, Kiran has been giving away half her income as part of the Giving Pledge, which aims to make quality healthcare accessible for patients across the world. It’s her contribution and ability to honour excellence across all human endeavours that set Mazumdar apart and make her a remarkable leader.


ust before retiring in October 2017, Arundhati faced her most challenging test with the State Bank of India, the country’s largest lender. As chairman, she led a merger with five associate banks and the failed Bharatiya Mahalia Bank, which resulted in higher deposits but also a mountain of bad loans. These factors contributed to SBI’s loss of Rs 390 crores for the year ending March 2017. While it may not be the best farewell balance sheet, her legacy lies in the fight she led against it and her pledge to embark on a digital journey.

Considered by many as a transformative figure, Arundhati’s approach was questioned by many, but the first woman to head the public-sector bank always had the clarity and resolve to stay on course and let her results do the talking. “These times of difficulties that we have had, I think we have used them to strengthen the bank and strengthen it internally so as to ensure that going forward the bank is in a much better position to be a part of the growth story of India. And I am sure that this will also show up in the future numbers,” she said in an interview to PTI.

Bhattacharya, who started off as a probationary officer at SBI in 1977, successfully took on roles in retail, large corporate, corporate, new businesses, HR, treasury, and investment banking, among others. Arundhati’s strong leadership skills are celebrated across the world even today, as she continues to get ranked in the Most Powerful Women lists that have been formulated since. She was the 25th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes and ranked among the FP Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine in 2016. She was ranked 19th in India’s 50 Most Powerful People by India Today and named the 4th most powerful woman in Asia Pacific by Fortune in 2017. A consummate professional who left her imprint on every department of the bank, Bhattacharya now plans to do a PhD in banking and finance.



To say that Roshni Nadar is highly accomplished is an understatement. She is a trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, which runs the not-for-profit Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar College of Engineering in Chennai and the Shiv Nadar School. She founded VidyaGyan, a leadership academy which provides free education to students from underprivileged backgrounds. And she is the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of HCL Corporation.

Founded by her father Shiv Nadarin 1976, HCL was on the forefront of the personal-computing industry, and went on to become an important global IT player. He passed the baton to his only child Roshni when she joined the board of HCL Corporation in 2008, and was appointed CEO in 2009.

Today, the $7.5 billion holding firm also has a multinational IT services company called HCL Technologies Ltd. and a distribution and IT solutions arm called HCL Infosystems. In 2014, under her leadership, HCL incubated a healthcare business and launched a skills training company, HCL Talent Care, in 2015. In addition, the 35-year-old is responsible for providing strategic direction to all the other HCL Foundation initiatives, and is the Chairman of the CSR Committee for the HCL Technologies Board.

Prior to her work with HCL, Roshni worked at CNN America and Sky News UK as a news producer, and graduated from Northwestern University after majoring in communications. She went on to earn her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. Her distinctions include placing 57th on Forbes’ 2017 list of the most powerful women in the world, was featured in Business Today’s 2016 list of Most Powerful Women in India Inc., and won the NDTV Young Philanthropist – Indian of the Year award in 2014.