Citizen Today: women in leadership

Leadership lessons from India

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Three-time elected Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, tells us what needs to be done to enable more women to follow in her footsteps.

Dikshit is confident that India’s long-term commitment to equality will help ensure that many women will be able to participate at the top table in the years to come.

“Education has been a great enabler in the development and empowerment of women, and it is helping women to come out of their closets and take part in changing India by entering fields like civil services and the corporate sector.”

As Chief Minister she launched the “Stree Shakti” program, which entails capacity building among women. Gender Resource Centers have been set up in the city to encourage entrepreneurship among women.

The Delhi Government created the Department of Women and Child Development in 2007 and is currently running several programs that focus on women empowerment.

“To help women take positions of leadership, we have increased the proportion of women from 33% to 50% in the municipal elections,” Dikshit says.

Recent events in Delhi and elsewhere in India have shown that substantial challenges remain. But despite these problems, the Chief Minister remains optimistic and supportive of persuading more women to enter government ranks.

Sisters in service

Three sisters, who overcame intense competition to join the Indian civil service at their first attempt and rise to senior positions, share their thoughts on further empowering women across their country.

“Once we spread awareness about the importance of women’s presence and participation in policy-making, we can get more women on board and will be able to get more gender-sensitive policies and programs implemented,” says Meenakshi Anand Choudhary, the eldest sister and the first woman Chief Secretary of Haryana, a state in Northern India.

Urvashi Gulati, who has served in senior positions in various state departments, believes that a woman’s role and responsibilities in the civil service completely depend on her experience and capabilities. “To promote women’s participation in civil service, it is important to promote flexible working. Also important is providing women with the required skill set and change the mindset of men so that women are accepted in their workplace as equal and competent co-workers.”

Youngest sister Keshni Anand Arora is currently Deputy Director General for Project Aadhaar in four Indian states. This program aims to provide aims a unique identity number to all Indians. “I think that skills and knowledge are the source of emotional empowerment for women, and this underlines the importance of effective training and career guidance — not only in the civil service but in all fields,” she feels.

Boosting Indian inclusivity

Nita Chowdhury, India’s Secretary of Youth Affairs, has spent 35 years in the government. Her advice to recent IAS women graduates on how to navigate the complex environment ahead?

  • The first priority is to be open to all kinds of roles and responsibilities.
  • The second factor reflects the concern in India around the issue of women’s safety. “We need to actively take responsibility to address this issue,” she says.
  • A third key factor is deep interconnection across India’s diverse regions and states. “Women officers should regularly meet authorities to exchange ideas and learn in a group, to speed up development and broad base the successful initiatives.”
  • A combination of strength and stamina are essential. “You have to be ready to go that extra mile to change this mindset and convince people that men and women need to be placed at an equal footing.”