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"Organisations Should Bet On Women For Leadership Roles"

“It is important to understand that having a diversity of talent is good for business, and businesses need to focus on getting the right talent rather than just men or women, says Neelam Dhawan, Independent Director, ICICI Bank

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Neelam Dhawan is a respected business leader who has made significant contributions to the technology industry. She served on the NASSCOM Executive Council from 2009 to 2017 and is known for her leadership qualities, philanthropy and advocacy of gender diversity. The independent director on the board of ICICI Bank talks of the challenges women leaders face and her own personal journey

Reports say that gender parity is changing for the worse in India. What are your views and experience on this?
Yes, it is a matter of major concern as the number of women in the workforce is declining globally. The two main reasons for this decline seem to be the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of support for women in middle and senior management roles. During the pandemic, many women had to take care of their families and children, making it difficult to balance work from home. In addition, lack of support for women in bringing up their children has led many women to drop out of the workforce, especially during the 1930s and 1940s. Another surprising factor is the lack of security for women in metro towns in India, which has influenced many women to leave their jobs.

As a woman leader what challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?
One of the biggest hurdles was acceptance, as people often doubted women’s capabilities and whether they could lead a team effectively. In the 1980s, there were very few women in the workforce, which made it even more difficult. Even today, there are still managers who have no women in their team and they often give reasons such as women getting married or having children, which could result in them leaving the company. However, it's important to understand that having diversity of talent is good for business, and businesses need to focus on getting the right talent rather than just men or women. Another challenge I faced was the perception that women may not have a long-term career plan, which could result in them leaving the company after a short while. To overcome this, it's important to show that women can have a successful and fulfilling long-term career.

What is your advice to regulators, decision-makers and industry captains on enabling the women workforce to grow and to enable women to attain senior leadership positions?
The workforce has seen an increase in the number of women, but there are challenges of retaining them. As a woman, I believe the government should provide a secure environment for women to work in and encourage firms to ensure workplace safety. Improving childcare is also critical, especially in metro towns. However, the current childcare options are limited in terms of quality and accessibility. As regulators, the government needs to define gender diversity as an important issue, similar to how they require at least one woman on every board. Organisations should take bets on women and provide them with leadership opportunities. Women are motivated by an accepting and comfortable environment, and taking a bet on them is more successful than on a man.