Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The 'Women Behind ICICI'

The 'women behind ICICI' have won this year's Economic Times award for Corporate Excellence under the category Businessman/ Businesswoman of the Year.

I have mixed feelings about this. No doubt Chanda Kochhar (executive director, retail), Kalpana Morparia (deputy MD) and Lalita Gupte (joint MD) deserve to be honoured. But, collectively?

The paper's logic: "These three I bankers complement each other and very often in tandem. Given this all-for-one and one-for-all stance, it was deemed fit to club the three into a single candidate."

If all 3 women genuinely agree with the one-for-all and all-for-one theory - great. But at some point, don't their personal identitites come into the picture?

I for one have had the experience of working at a place where I was part of such a 'team'. And it got pretty sickening. My boss referred to the two of us as 'Me 1' and 'Me 2'. Anything we did was attributed to collective effort.

Of course I was an immature 22 years old at the time and it was my first real job. Maybe with age, you achieve wisdom along with that white hair and such things cease to matter.

Smokey Signals
Speaking to ET about the decision, Harish Manwani said that recognising the Women Behind ICICI could send out a signal that they are role models. "It shows that it's not just the odd person who can make it but a group of women. Recognising their contribution makes a huge statement for all professional women."

Yes and no. It also makes the statement that maybe you can succeed at ICICI Bank, which is believed to be 'gender neutral' or 'woman friendly' - depending which sex you belong to. But if you are somewhere out there in a more hostile, traditionally male dominated company - don't count on it.

I now look forward to more such 'signals' from ET - maybe an award to 'The Men who Made it Big Even Though They Never Wore Ties'. Or 'Brothers Who Fought in Public but Still Air-kiss at Parties'!

Rules of coverage
I don't want to crib too much about it, but clearly the rules of engagement - and coverage - differ for men and women. For example, in a fluff piece ("Coffee, Croissants and Chop Talk") on what the jurors ate while deliberating on who should get the award, there's this illuminating para:

"Among the first to arrive was Kumarmangalam Birla and Sanjay Nayar, who were joined by Anu Aga, looking very elegant in her block printed white tussar sari, the black paisleys standing out against the bright orange and yellow border".

No idea why such a detailed description of the lady's sari is required. I mean paisleys and borders is taking it too too far!

A very senior female manager whom I met at a party narrated another story on this theme - she was featured by ET in an article on Women Bankers. "They interviewed me for 1.5 hours and in the end wrote more about my husband, kids and the clothes I was wearing than my work. I was really embarassed... Would they do the same for a profile on a male banker?"

Bottomline: The 3-in-1 award was the most politically correct thing to do. If it had to be ICICI there was no other way out.

Incidentally, Renuka Ramnath of ICICI Venture Fund and Shikha Sharma of ICICI Prudential were also nominees in the 'Businesswoman of the Year' category. But as those are separate companies, we didn't have a '5-in'1' situation. So those two lovely ladies can still hope to qualify for a solo award - someday!

Footnote: Two can tango
I'm not saying two or three people can't be jointly awarded - Lakshmi Narayanan and Francisco D'Souza of Cognizant Technologies receiving the award for 'Entrepreneur of the year' makes sense. It's like Larry Page and Sergey Brin @ Google - both took the risk of starting the company.

What was really impressive, however, was that Cognizant was recognised as the 'fastest growing company in the IT sector' even though Narayan Murty happened to be the jury chairman. I mean it's only what we'd expect from NRN, but still.

It takes a real sense of fairplay and 'greater common good' to acknowledge the success of others in one's own industry. There were, after all, other worthy nominees such as Capt Gopinath of Air Deccan and Kishore Biyani of Pantaloon! A lesser juror could easily have nudged a decision their way.


  1. Yes I know - it grated on my nerves too when I read about it. It does seem like the award is celebrating the fact that WOMEN have managed to display such acumen (wow!) rather than celebrating the achievement of 3 individuals. Would have felt better if it were just 'the brains behind icici' / 'the people behind icici' or some such

  2. To me it sounded like more of an award for "more women" in the business world rather that the actual recognition of the contribution of women to the business world.

    Plain words: JUST TOO FUNNY for a business award of such high prestige.

  3. totally agree with Kapil..

  4. may be its just me but arent all magazines who try to be 'seriously about'some thing loosing track... i mean mom has been reading femina for at least 22 years now... and now the damn thing is nothing but glossy toilet paper with sex tips... and produts advertised are by no standard for the middle class woman and no way is it for the single wrking woman types either... tunnel vision is what i suspect...

  5. Wow...three women completely and always agreeing with other !!! This is actually 8th wonder of the world....very much unlike all Ks serials.

  6. Bit late in commenting on this blog, but I do agree with Rashmi. 3 women of such calibre, who definitely have their own individuality, being awarded together does sound strange

  7. Bloghopped here..and stayed on to read!I liked this post and i agree that women need to be recognized as separate indivduals rather than to eb spoken of as colectively..
    put it down to limited understanding,i guess!

  8. I don't understand that in this age of equality of sexes, why there should be separate awrads for females. This is sexism at its worst.

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