While most women seem resigned about the glass ceiling barrier, Poonam Barua, Founder Chairman, Forum For Women in Leadership and CEO Will Forum India, takes delight in not only bashing it, but helping other women do it.
“If I tell a woman that she can become a CEO in 12 steps, she just has to believe in me for it to happen,” says the Delhi-based business leader. It’s not an idle boast as Barua through WILL Forum India (‘will’ means the will to do), which she launched in 2007, has mentored senior women executives for leadership positions. This year in January, Barua—a Delhi School of Economics graduate—launched WILL Digital Women: Online, a two-year free initiative to mentor 10,000 women professionals from India’s inner cities.
“We need 50,000 women leaders to change the business eco-system for women as a few female leaders can make no impact. She tells the number of women on corporate boards in India is 13 per cent—lower than most countries.
Barua, now in her late 50s, says, “In my decade-long stint as Regional Director for India at The Conference Board, New York, I met a lot of CFOs, CEOs and top HR council members, but there was not a single woman at their meetings. This led me to believe that the world is led by men.”
She told Infosys Founder N R Narayanamurthy about her idea to start a forum to make women a part of leadership and innovation. “He was the first to believe in me. And WILL Forum was launched in the board room of Infosys,” says Barua, who recently launched her book Leadership by Proxy: The story of Women in Corporate India.
It wasn’t easy to start with, as corporates thought she was doing CSR. “I wrote to 200 CEOs and asked them to send their top women executives. I got 40 women. But the only thing they could talk was work-life balance. This is when Narayanamurthy suggested that I do the research,” says the Delhi-based entrepreneur.
She made 15 reports on women at workplace, which revealed that women weren’t up to speed as no one had invested in them,” she says.Since then, Will Forum has gone from strength to strength. “I believed in myself and they believed in me, the lost hope was gathered, and the change was brought,” she says.