The Year That Was

by Aabha Bakaya


The highs and lows and the reality that we can still count globally the milestones we make and the role models we have. Not only are there too few role models, there is a clear focus required on grooming the next generation of leaders.


2018 was a tumultuous year in so many ways.

It was a year of significant milestones. The NYSE appointed it’s first woman leader in 226 years. Stacey Cunningham, 43, was appointed as President after starting on the trading floor 24 years ago. Dhivya Suryadevara, 39, became the first woman CFO at General Motors. Her appointment makes GM one of only two Fortune 500 companies that have both a female CEO and CFO. (Hershey is the other company with the same distinction.)

Proud moment for us Indians - Gita Gopinath, 46, was named the chief economist at IMF, the first female chief at the institution. In other noted milestones she became a tenured Professor at Harvard in 2010 which makes her the third woman in the history of Harvard to be a tenured professor at its esteemed economics department and the first Indian since the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen to hold that position.

At the same time Indran Nooyi announced her retirement after 12 years at the helm of PepsiCo. As CEO, she has seen the brand through stages of evolution in a complex market. Her legacy - she grew revenue more than 80%, and $1,000 invested in PepsiCo in 2006 is worth more than two-and-a-half times that amount today. She has been one of the most vocal voices on work-life balance and women paying it forward to help more women. Her exit leaves only 23 women CEOs on the Fortune 500 list in America.


Back home, it was heartening to see almost 15 new names on the Fortune Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Business list this year including the likes of Vinita Gupta (Lupin), Priya Nair (HUL), Anupriya Acharya (Publicis), Samina Vaziralli (Cipla) and Pallavi Shroff (Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co). Significantly, it was also the year that Chanda Kochhar stepped down under a cloud of allegations. Given that she was one of the few women representing India on every global power list and platform, it was a huge blow. She was one of the few from the original coterie of women CEOs groomed under the Kamath era.

While it’s important to acknowledge the milestones and strides people have made to get to the top, we need many more leaders and role models around the world. And a key part of that journey is support, mentorship and career planning. While organisations are taking gender parity more seriously, and re-looking at policies to retain women, several constructive strategies can be initiated to help women grow. Senior leaders, both male and female, can be paired with high potential employees to streamline their growth and development. The dropout rate of female employees is still alarmingly high (watch Chart Your Career with Lina Bilkha), and India is still far behind in gender parity than its’ peers due to its’ own social and cultural factors. It’s imperative to not only employ more women but also invest in programmes so that we are able to ensure a strong pipeline for female leadership in the years to come.