At Diwali, with a new business year coming up, it is worth taking a pause to think about how Lakshmi pervades our lives. There are many forms of Lakshmi and we all ask her to visit us at this time of year, bringing us good fortune and wealth in the year to come. It is worth remembering that the word 'Lakshmi' is derived from the Sanskrit word "Laksya", meaning 'aim' or 'goal'. She is the symbol of both material and spiritual wealth, so in theory if you aim towards your goal, you will be rewarded with abundance in all areas of your life.
We say when girls are born, or a new daughter in law comes into our homes, ‘Ghar ki Lakshmi’ has come. So we see the importance of women here – they are the creators of lives, homes, togetherness and belonging.
In this era of technology and female emancipation, we are starting to see new Lakshmis emerging – the Lakshmi of the workplace and the Lakshmi of entrepreneurialism. Some may say that Lakshmi should stay in the home. However, Lakshmi herself has said there is a need for her outside the home as well as in the home, so she can spread wealth and fortune to others who need her too.
Let’s start with some facts. Across our 1.3bn population in India, approximately 45.7% are women. In Maharashtra, we are better than the Indian average with 48.2% women. One third of the world’s entrepreneurs are women and in Maharashtra 50% of those in small scale industrial units are owned by women entrepreneurs. With mindsets adjusting and literacy rates for women increasing to over 75%, more Lakshmis will shine and prosper in the future.
Ok, so why are women so important to be represented in the workforce? Is it really necessary to have their representation? Actually yes it is – for many industries. Take Unilever for example, one of the world’s largest FMCG organisations. Here is what they say about the participation of women in the workplace:
It is also worth reflecting on this point: according to Bloomberg research, women make 85% of purchasing decisions. This is not just an American statistic, women in India play a leading role in the purchase of many major items, be it groceries or a house purchase. This means that products and services have to appeal to women as well as men, which in turn means that it is helpful to have women involved in the production of those items, as they understand what women will be looking for in purchasing decisions.
Why do we need Lakshmi in the workplace?
Let us take a global example to illustrate how Lakshmi’s value’s may differ from what we see in a predominantly male business today: In 2007, when the financial downturn happened, there was one fund in Iceland that preserved the value of its client funds, when all the banks around it collapsed. That fund was called Audur Capital and was run by 2 women. Halla Tomasdóttir, Auður Capital's former Executive Chairperson has stated publicly that the company's primary goal was to inject ‘feminine’ values into Iceland's financial sector. She and her CEO Kristín Pétursdóttir came up with four principles and insisted that any investment that they made would adher to these four principles: risk awareness, straight talk, emotional capital, and profit with principles. Halla believed that their investors and clients should be fully informed of the risks involved in investments before engaging in them. So they refused to invest in any organisations that had complex financial products that they could not explain clearly to their investors. They also insisted on being completely straight with their clients – meaning that clients should have access to both positive and negative aspects of investments. Any updates on their investments should be presented in a way that directly reflects this. Halla and Kristín believed in emotional capital, asserting that "emotional due diligence is just as valuable as financial due diligence". Finally, Auður Capital believed in profits with principles. They looked at social and environmental decisions of the company too. It is because of their ‘feminine’ values that their investments survived and thrived during the rocky period where most companies were battered and bruised. Oh – and perhaps it is just co-incidence: What does Audur actually mean? It means Lakshmi – wealth!
What does Lakshmi bring to work and to entrepreneurship?
With all the volatility in the world, from oil prices, to Brexit, to a poor Monsoon, companies are having to react superfast, which means their employees need to be able to deal with sudden changes AND have their teams accept them too. At a global conference in Mumbai in June, the top skills needed in the workplace were being discussed. The top 8 skills were
1) Political analysis
2) Client understanding
3) Understanding of society
5) Critical thinking
6) Cognitive flexibility
8) Emotional Quotient
When I look at that list, I feel immediately that our Lakshmis have such a huge advantage. We’re queens of the first 4 points – anyone who has dealt with in-laws and complex family issues will no doubt know that successful relationships are about looking at what is in it for each party, why they think that and how to communicate effectively there. As for the next 4, if anyone has young children, you will have learnt how to keep them creatively entertained, in an educational way, whilst keeping their emotional state in mind. Cognitive flexibility is ‘the ability to spontaneously restructure one's knowledge, in many ways, in an adaptive response to radically changing situational demands.’ Well, if you have ever fed a child that does not want to eat, you will know how inventive you can become with a tablespoon of food, so we qualify pretty well here too!
Whilst the previous paragraph can be taken in as a light joke, there is truth below the surface. Many of those skills above are ones that women naturally have to deal with on a regular basis. We are used to dealing with massive change – from leaving our parents’ houses and settling in with in-laws, to giving birth to children, how many sudden changes like this do men experience in their lives? It is just that we have never thought that this is a skill that would be useful and can be transposed into the workplace. And herein lies the problem for many Lakshmi’s: we do not give ourselves enough credit for the skills that we have. Infact many times we do not even recognize that we have these skills. We do not get graded on being a good wife, mother, daughter, sister etc. So we have no idea how well we perform these roles, or develop the skills involved in dealing with those roles. If we did, we would be able to put these on our CVs and it would rival the experience of most VPs and directors!
Pune is a melting pot of industry and we have an unusually large talent of Lakshmis in both the corporate and the entrepreneurship worlds. From the MCCIA’s Hon secretary, the dazzling Rujuta Jagtap of Saj Test Plants to mother/daughter dynamic duo Anu Aga and Meher Pudumjee, Pune has many amazing talents that continue to inspire others. Lila Poonawalla has trailblazed for many years, motivating the hundreds of Lila scholars and many more who have read about her. This issue has many more stories of Lakshmis who share their experiences and hopes for the future.
The ground realities of Lakshmi rising
Yet unfortunately, we are not showing huge growth in the numbers of women who are working, or the kinds of jobs that they are doing:
It is not such a different story in the service sector. In the shiny offices of EON, Magarpatta, Hinjewadi and others around Pune, we may see many more women than ever before, but their representation at senior levels is unpalatably low.
Source: Aarti Shyamsunder, Alixandra Pollack, Dnika Travis, "India Inc: From Intention to Impact" (2015).
So there is much ground to be covered over the next couple of generations to have the workplace equal at all levels.
Lakshmi, how do we help you?
So whilst we can see that Lakshmi is needed both in the workplace and at home, it appears that she needs some encouragement to really fulfill what she is capable of doing. What can be done?
1) Get an excellent support system around you
Whether an Entrepreneur or in the corporate world, a working woman needs an army around her to ensure everything works effectively when she is not around. Whether it is a good maid or driver at home, to a good executive assistant or team at work, you need to feel that you have others around you who you can trust, if not everything goes to plan.
2) Build a network of other females
Women are great at understanding challenges and will often listen with sympathy and advice. When we support each other, we achieve great heights. Seek out women at the same level as you and above you. Don’t be afraid of asking for assistance when you need it.
3) Skill up for efficiency
Make time to read about new trends, apps, structures etc. the world is changing ever more each day. So ensure that you know what changes are coming and be prepared.
4) Use your chamber
The MCCIA has excellent committees and events that are worth joining. There are people ready to share invaluable advice, buy from you, sell to you and much more. You need to make the effort and really get involved. You will gain much in return, in the form of knowledge that you can use to do your job better or make your business grow.
5) Explain to the family and avoid the guilt
Many women say that they feel guilty as they are not there as much for their families. My mother and I have always made it a point to explain to my extended family and my children about why I work, what work I do, the ups and the downs. This way, they are also part of my journey and appreciate what I am doing too. It has also made my children more independent, as they were brought up not to rely on others, but do things for themselves.
So this Diwali, switch on the lights in your heart and mind to support the Lakshmis in your life. They are dedicated to supporting each and every one of us, in all aspects of our lives. So give thanks to them this Diwali as you do your Puja to the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. And if you are a Lakshmi, then make this Diwali a time for you to make your dreams come true too!