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Woman on a mission

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An entrepreneur producing quality medicines, Leena Gandhi Tewari, Chairperson, USV, is also a humanitarian striving towards the well being of under-privileged women in the society By Sachin Jagdale


Desmond Tutu, a South African social rights activist had once said, “If we are going to see real development in the world then our best investment is women.” Leena Gandhi-Tewari, Chairperson, USV, may well be known as a pharma entrepreneur; in line with Tutu’s thought, she has been taking keen interest in women empowerment for last many years. Today, Gandhi-Tewari is not just known for her entrepreneurial skills but also for a sense of social responsibility.

USV supports the Dr Sushila Gandhi Centre for Underprivileged Women since 2008. Young girls (from 8 – 18) are mentored through academic instruction, dance and computers. Their overall confidence, emotional needs, values and aspirations are shaped and guided. They are financially supported through college and remain with the centre until they are capable of being independent. Their mothers are also mentored in several ways to enhance the life of their daughters and the rest of their family. The centre has made a significant difference to the lives of the families it supports.

According to Gandhi-Tewari, culturally in India, we are taught to revere our ‘mother’. ‘Didi’ or ‘bhabhi’ are endearing terms men use to hail younger women. Yet, the presence of Indian women in the workplace and the respect they command is highly variable. She says, “We take for granted the capability of a female nurse, doctor, and beautician; however, as a manager, machine operator or travelling sales person she faces many a bias, and often, an impenetrable glass ceiling. Despite many measures towards the growth of women, our progress could gain further momentum. The issue of working women should be looked at in a broader perspective of societal perceptions, family limitations, corporate policies, ease and safety. A more holistic approach will result in better progress.”

Good work starts at home

Apart from her work for women empowerment in the social arena, Gandhi-Tewari has not shied away from offering top posts to deserving women candidates in her company as well. Today, USV is one of the largest and among the most successful pharma companies in India, and its women staff has played a significant role in this achievement.

“Since USV was founded in 1961 the culture has been one that respects and acknowledges the competence of women at work. With women in both manufacturing and Head office, from 1960s till today, as a policy all hiring is not gender-specific. Some of our departments are populated more by a majority of women. To mention just a few, HR, biotech research labs, analytical research labs, supply chain, accounts, domestic marketing. Some of these are not traditional careers for women,” says Gandhi-Tewari.

She adds, “The absence of a glass ceiling is evident here with women confidently occupying the following top positions, Chairperson, President, Vice President, several AGMs and numerous managers. The work environment is consciously tailored to be friendly, informal, transparent and one which encourages learning. A beautiful garden surrounds the USV office, a bright cheerful cafeteria, a spacious and calm work place are additional touches that appeal to the female psyche more than their male colleagues.”

Reservations against reservation

The idea of keeping 33 per cent seats reserved for women candidates in Loksabha also led the foundation for a debate over whether private sectors should also follow suit. Gandhi-Tewari, however, is not in favour of this idea.

She explains her point of view, “I do not believe that reservation is an optimum solution as it is forced and one-sided. Yes, corporates do need to have more focus on the development of women but primarily this change requires a change in many mindsets. As we know, changing mindsets is a longer and difficult process but it is a more sustaining and complete process. I believe the government should facilitate and provide incentives for corporate houses to have initiatives that empower women.”

Gandhi-Tewari feels that through media and initiatives it is possible to do good work in bringing about this change. “Look at how we are all aware of the need to educate the girl child, similarly we can all learn to play a role in being more supportive to women who have the desire and ambition for a career. Facilities such as creches, flexibility in work hours, safety go a long way but this is greatly enhanced by a supportive mother-in-law, an understanding husband and an admiring circle of family and friends,” she opines.

Gandhi-Tewari’s endeavours towards women empowerment is an exemplar for others. More such entrepreneurs who take women empowerment as a moral responsibility is needed to usher development among women in the country.

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