Excerpted from ‘Leadership To Last: How Great Leaders Leave Legacies Behind’, by Geoffrey Jones and Tarun Khanna, with permission from Penguin Random House.
It has been said that women hold up half the sky, but all too often their opportunities and talents are held back by social constraints. Gender inequality is an almost universal phenomenon, but India is among nations that suffer the most from this problem. The 2019 Gender Inequality Index (GII) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) measures inequalities in human development (such as reproductive health), empowerment (such as proportion of parliamentary seats) and economic status (such as labour market participation). None of India’s BRIC peers shine in this ranking: out of 189 countries, China is ranked 39, Russia is ranked 50, South Africa 93 and Brazil 95. However, India is worse than all of them, with a ranking of 123. As per the 2019 GII, Indian women contribute only 18% to the country’s GDP—one of the lowest contributions in the world—and only a quarter of India’s labour force is female. Currently, only 13.5% of members of Parliament are women. The figure is 20% both in neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, and in Saudi Arabia, which has pursued an unusually restrictive policy on women’s rights until very recently. In Norway, over 40% of people elected to parliament are women.
The selections in this chapter confirm the many challenges women have faced at all levels of society in India and elsewhere and explore strategies to improve the situation. The interviewees were among the first generation of women to break through the barriers in their professions, and those barriers were considerable. Prominent lawyer Zia Mody recounts that when she worked in New York early in her career, only about a quarter of the staff in her legal practice were women, which made her feel pressured enough, but the situation was far worse in the Indian legal system, where there were even fewer women. The psychological pressures and lack of confidence that she experienced will be familiar to many women even today.
Zia Mody is a founding and senior partner of AZB & Partners, a leading law firm in India. Inspired to go into law by her father Soli Jehangir Sorabjee, the former attorney general of India between 1989 and 1990, and again from 1998 to 2004, Mody began her career as a young lawyer in New York City at the firm of Baker McKenzie. Mody worked her way to becoming one of India’s top corporate lawyers and successfully grew AZB & Partners from a small boutique firm into a major firm with more than 400 associates across India. Fortune India ranked her number one in the list of the most powerful women entrepreneurs in both 2018 and 2019.
Interviewed by Tarun Khanna in Mumbai on Feb. 14, 2017.
Learnings from Zia Mody: Mentorship is key to advancing the professional careers of women.
Geoffrey Jones is the Isidor Straus Professor of Business History, and Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, at the Harvard Businesss School.
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