“A world full of empowered women isn’t one where men are marginalized. It’s a world where everyone thrives.” ~ Purnima Mane
March 8 is annually celebrated as International Women’s Day around the world, as the global observance aims to draw attention and support to women’s equality and drive gender parity through collective efforts across the globe. Celebrated since 1911, the international day devoted to women’s causes proves an ideal occasion to acknowledge and hail women’s achievements in various spheres of life and offer global solidary and collective support to inspire women in empowering themselves and aspiring towards gender equality.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. As the United Nations released a statement recognizing the global challenge posed in advancing gender equality in the context of the climate crisis and disaster risk reduction, the statement also acknowledged the effective and powerful leadership provided by women and their immense potential to be significant change-makers in the world. India is a dominating presence on this list, as several Indian women have emerged as influential world leaders. Here are some of the most influential Indian women who have challenged stereotypes and inspired with their success stories:
Falguni Nayar – founder-CEO of Nyka
Making headlines for becoming the wealthiest self-made female Indian billionaire, Falguni Nayar is the current founder-CEO of popular Indian e-commerce company Nykaa. A graduate of Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics Mumbai and IIM Ahmedabad, Nayar’s meteoric rise as a self-made businesswoman became a globally celebrated feat as the empowering Indian businesswomen entered the beauty industry from an illustrious 20-year career in investment banking and succeeded against all odds, catapulting her company to popularity and winning multiple accolades such as Business Today’s ‘The Most Powerful Women in Business 2017’.
Nirmala Sitharaman – Finance Minister of India
The Indian economist and politician made history in 2019 by becoming the first Indian woman to hold office as a full-time finance minister in India and India’s second female finance minister after Indira Gandhi. Holding a master’s degree and M.Phil. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, Sitharaman’s political career began as spokesperson for BJP in 2014. With Indian economy reaching the mark of $3.1 Trillion under her able leadership as the Minister of Finance and Corporate affairs of India, she has won several accolades and recognitions, receiving a ranking of 34 in Forbes’ 100 most powerful women in the world 2019 and the Distinguished Alumni Award 2019 by her alma mater JNU Delhi.
Indra Nooyi – former CEO of PepsiCo
Arguably one of the most influential Indian businesswomen in the world, Indra Nooyi has dominated the business industry for over a decade as she served in powerful positions including chairperson-CEO of PepsiCo, member of Amazon boards and the ICC. A self-made business tycoon, Nooyi has held the unique distinction of consistently being ranked among the Forbes’ and Fortunes’ ‘World’s 100 most powerful women’ from 2008 through 2017. The Yale graduate has been honoured with 11 honourary degrees from prestigious institutions, a Padma Bhushan award from the President of India and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2021.
Roshni Nadar Malhotra – CEO of HCL
The first Indian woman to lead a listed IT company in the country, Roshni Nadar Malhotra is an Indian businesswoman currently serving as the chairwoman of Indian multinational IT company HCL. An alumna of Northwestern University Illinois, Nadar-Malhotra assumed her role as chairperson of HCL, succeeding her father- the billionaire industrialist-philanthropist Shiv Nadar. Among the countries richest and most successful businesswomen, Nadar-Malhotra gained the distinction of being ranked as high as 54th on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list in 2019 and was also conferred the Vogue and NDTV Philanthropist of the Year awards in 2017 and 2014 respectively.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan – Chief Scientist of WHO
The Indian paediatrician and clinical scientist has been serving as the chief scientist of the World Health Organization since March 2019. Previously serving as the Deputy Director-General of WHO and Director General of the ICMR, the AIIMS New Delhi alumna has been noted for her globally-recognised research on HIV and tuberculosis and her work as a member of the high scientific panel in the Global Health Summit. The distinguished Indian scientist has been honoured with several awards throughout her career including fellowships from eminent Indian science academies and a lifetime achievement award from the Indian Association of Applied Microbiologists.
Leena Nair – CEO of Chanel
The British-Indian business executive became the youngest and first female global CEO of French fashion house Chanel. Previously working in Hindustan Unilever, the mentee of influential Indian businesswoman Indra Nooyi also became the first female, Asian and youngest chief human resources officer of Chanel in 2016. A gold-medalist graduate of the Xavier School of Management and Walchand College of Engineering, Nair’s distinguished career has been honoured with accolades such as being featured in Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women’s List 2021, winning ‘Role Model of Year’ 2021 in the Great British Businesswoman’s Awards and the ‘Global Indian of the Year’ award in the 2020 Economic Times’ Prime Women Leadership Awards.
Karuna Nundy – Advocate in Indian Supreme Court
The eminent Indian lawyer became a source of inspiration and a voice of change in her significant role in drafting the anti-rape following the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. A graduate of St. Stephen’s Delhi, Cambridge University and Columbia University, Nundy came on record to state her personal motivations as “making a positive contribution to the world” and “remedying injustice”. The Indian lawyer’s contribution to gender justice and freedom has been acknowledged as she featured on Forbes’ list of Self Made Women 2020, also being labelled as a “Mind that Matters” by Forbes as the “Agent of Change” by Mint.
Madhabi Puri Buch – Chairperson of SEBI
Recently appointed as the new chairperson of the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on March 2, 2022, Madhabi Puri Buch became the first woman to head SEBI as well as the first former private sector top-level executive to lead the markets regulator. An alumna of St. Stephens Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad, the experienced businesswoman is noted for her prior work in ICICI, PRADAN and Idea Cellular.
Gita Gopinath – Director of IMF
Indian-American economist Gita Gopinath began serving as the International Monetary Fund IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director since January 21, 2022. Taking over the number-two leadership role of the global financial institution from her previous role as Chief Economist, the Princeton alumna also serves as co-director of the International Finance and Macroeconomics program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Gopinath was featured among the ‘25 most influential women of the year’ by Financial Times in 2021 and also appeared in Time magazine’s ‘Women who Broke Major Barriers to Become Firsts’. She is also the recipient of the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Samman’ awarded by the President of India and was named a ‘Young Global Leader’ by the World Economic Forum in 2011.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw – Chairperson of Biocon
An Indian billionaire entrepreneur, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is the founder and chairperson of the Bengaluru-based Indian biopharmaceutical company BioCoin. The former chairperson of IIM Bangalore, Mazumdar-Shaw has featured on the Financial Times’ list of top 50 women in business, ranked 68th on Forbes’s list of most powerful women and 2nd on the list of women philanthropists of 2019. The Melbourne University graduate is noted for her significant contributions to science and chemistry for which she was awarded with the Olmer Gold Medal and the Padma Shri as well as Padma Bhushan from the Indian Government in 1985 and 2005 respectively for her work in the biotech sector.Edutainment