The can-do girls
Kerala has its share of enterprising ladies who have proved themselves in the ruthless world of business. LEELA MENON who met them at the TIE (The Indus Enterprise) seminar found that gender is not an issue with them at all!
WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS are a rare species in Kerala but the few that we have exploded traditional myths, like gender discrimination, indecision and habitual inferiority complex vis-à-vis men. They have braved social taboos against female entrepreneurship; they have erased the gender divide in a challenging sector like entrepreneurship and they have proved that women can stand on their own two-nail-polished feet to carve out business empires.
Despite odds? No, there are no odds, they assert. What matters are ability, performance, confidence, faith in your product and of course body language that says _no harassment please, we are brave women. Women entrepreneurs are of the view that sexual discrimination is just a perception of the mind.
A constant whine from widows and women generally is that they cannot make decisions, that all decisions have to be male-madeIF and WHEN.
No, says Achamma, Pamela and Beena Kannan unanimously. Women are not only good at making decisions but they are quick at it too. What is so great about taking decisions? If you believe in your product, it is easy to negotiate deals, strike hard bargains and take decisions sans male help. None of the women entrepreneurs who assembled at a seminar organised by TIE believes in male escorts, they jet around alone over the globe, check into hotels alone, or travel into the rural interior of India, like Beena Kannan of Seematti and none of them have encountered any sexual harassment or sex bias. It is all in your body language, how you conduct yourself, they argue.
Obviously the increasing atrocities against women in Kerala is self-invited, if you believe them. And can be averted if women WILL it.
Achamma Joseph helms the Soft Systems, located in the Export Promotion Zone in Kakkanad, catering to the plantation industry. She is an innovator, blazing a trail in the agri-industry, and crafting a multi-crore-software company from just one computer, which she had set up in her flat way back. Her product, the ERP Solution Harvest IT, has been standardised by major MNC plantation companies like Unilever, James Finlay and CDC. Harvest IT has bagged the coveted Business Solution of the year award in the Asia Pacific Region, hosted by Microsoft for two consecutive years. It is the first Indian product to be recognised so, from over 386 entries. Harvest IT also grabbed the `Designed for Back Office logo' certification, spelling quality. Soft systems now spreads over 13 countries from Australia to Kenya.
Achamma has also won the `Special award for outstanding women entrepreneur' from the Electronics and Computer software Export Promotion Council for the last four years and the Highest Software Exporter for the year 2000-2001 from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Predictably Achamma is the personification of confidence.
So, when she says that she has never encountered gender bias while travelling all over, donning the business suit to negotiate deals even perched on a bar stool, it rings true. Achamma, however feels that men do resent taking orders from a female boss.
Pamela Anna Mathew is the MD of OEN, commanding a staff of over 1000, dealing with three trade unions, taking decisions on her own, and crafting a halo for her ability, demonstrated by heading the Chamber of Commerce and the CII, even winning an award for the best chairperson at the national level. She echoes the same opinion. As also Beena Kannan who has elevated Seematti into a brand name in the competitive textile market of Kerala and Salju Cyriac, an `original' in crafting fashion-fusion in designer wear for babies to brides.
These are women who have made their marks, erased gender distinctions in trade to emerge as female supremos. But even as they emerge as remarkable helmswomen, they do face problems common to the species of women-the home.
Jetting around the globe and working 18-hour days these women find it difficult to spend quality time with families, making them feel guilty, except Achamma, who says that quality time depends on how you manage your time. And she manages hers so well that she finds time to learn music and dancing as well as play golf. Superwoman? We also learn that guilt vis-à-vis the home is an emotion exclusive to women, not male leaders. And emotion is also an asset, if you believe Pamela. She says that if women can manage emotions, it is easy to manage trade unions.
If women are so good at entrepreneurship why are there so few women entrepreneurs? Because of lack of entrepreneurship in Kerala, which prefers to break but not bend, says Achamma, adding that women do not come forward to claim their place on the entrepreneur scenario. Besides, Kerala is not known for its entrepreneurial friendliness, even towards the male of the species. Pamela also endorses her view that there is lack of entrepreneurship with too many players in the same field and stresses the need for patience to get results instead of harbouring low frustration levels.
The women were present at a seminar organised by TIE.
In the audience were other women entrepreneurs, like the owner of Anne Sweets. She has 36outlets across Kerala, selling quality confectionary and has now ventured into catering too. "I am a housewife and Anne Sweets is my creation," she says proudly.
These women have definite messages to women don't be afraid of your innate ability, don't feel guilty as wife or mother but draw a balance between work and home and when you travel, take it as an adventure, a voyage of discovery. Be assertive while making decisions and be result oriented. Nothing can hold us back, they say unanimously.
Here is a rider; that home is the best business school for women. Here the women take decisions and run efficient homes. If she can and she does so at home, she can rule the world, including the world of entrepreneurs.
Send this article to Friends by