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BW Businessworld

Corporate Daughters Find The Ride Tough

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Being born into a family of an influential business leader does not make life easier for women, who still have to trudge up the corporate ladder facing resistance and hostility as they carve out a career for themselves.

Most second and third generation business women in the corporate sector seemed to think so at a session "Fathers and Daughters in Indian Business Families" organised by the Young Ficci Ladies Organisation held in New Delhi recently.

"Most people think life is easy for women who are born into influential families. That is a misconception. Life is a struggle for us, especially if we decide to join the core part of our family business," says Sangita Reddy, executive director-operations, Apollo group of Hospitals.

The third daughter of Apollo Hospitals' founder chairman, Prathap C Reddy, Sangita says she and her three other sisters had always known they would have to pitch in to help their father manage the hospital chain and had prepared themselves for the job.

"I have heard people say 'Poor Doctor Reddy! He has four daughters'. Our task was to make people say 'Lucky Doctor Reddy! He has four daughters.' After 27 years in the business, I think I have proved those people wrong. Envy has replaced sympathy when people look at my father and us," says Sangita.

While acknowledging she was among only a hand full of women from corporate families who had made a name for themselves, Sangita, however, said that things would have been different had there been a boy in the family.

"Yes, things would have been different if we had a brother. Not having a male sibling put all the more pressure on us to live up to our father's expectations. I have heard so many stories from the corporate world about women not being allowed to enter the business or are asked to handle the softer aspects of the business," says Sangita.

Kishore Biyani, founder, Future Group which manages the Pantaloons retail chain, couldn't agree more.

"I have two daughters in my family and both are in the business. Most members of the family were taken by surprise when the girls chose to join us," he says.

"Accepting them as professionals wasn't easy in the beginning, but both of them have proved their business acumen. There are some things a woman can do which a man can't, bringing humaneness into the business for example," he says.

Juggling between personal and professional lives, ownership issues and breaking stereotypes related to women were some of the challenges the women sited as key hurdles to surmount in their careers.

"I was thrown into the business even before I knew how to swim," laughs Shradha Suri Marwah, Managing director of Subros.

"I still recall my first day at work when I had close to 3,050 men stare at me. I knew they were thinking what a woman like me would know about a sector that has been a man's domain so long.

"I knew people thought I was where I was because of my surname. But I had to prove them wrong and create a name for myself. Today I don't enter the office as one of the Suris, but as Shradha," says the daughter of Ramesh Suri who founded the auto air conditioning company.

"Increasingly we see women from corporate families graduating from Stanton and Wharton. So why should they be kept away when they are as qualified as men? Shradha, for example has brought in new ideas" quips Ramesh Suri.

Shradha dismisses the notion of marriages being an interference in a woman's career as a cliche.

"I am married and have two kids. Doesn't that speak a lot? The challenge is to seamlessly integrate your personal and professional lives."

However the women agreed that the fact still remains that a whole lot of families from the corporate world do not want their daughters to join the business or at times would compensate them monetarily than give them a stake in the firm.

"We need to continue fighting against this bias. We are in a stage of evolution which can be catalysed by the presence of more role models in the sector. There should come a time when the subject is not a debate. Yes, male ego is a fragile thing to deal with but we can. A woman's smile can make all the difference," says Ashni Biyani, Director, Future Group.