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Radha Kapoor Khanna & Aabha Bakaya: ‘Ladies Who Lead’ Women Walk That Extra Miles Ahead

Radha Kapoor Khanna, Executive Director of DICE Districts and Aabha Bakaya Founder, AB Network who together Co-Founded ‘Ladies Who Lead’ throw light on their joint initiative and how it helps inspiring women

‘Ladies Who Lead’ is a platform that aims to provide that extra support to women of today to encourage them with discussions on concurrent woman issues in the society, be it career-related or at workplaces. The platform features women who have excelled in their fields, as inspirational mentors who discuss key women issues in conversation with Aabha Bakaya, a Broadcast Journalist in a series of events, thereby helping women to make the right choices. LWL embraces professional women both at entry and mid-level who are greatly benefited from these inspiring experiences and success stories, to achieve their ambitions embarking their way up in the professional world!


Radha Kapoor Khanna, Executive Director of DICE Districts and Aabha Bakaya Founder, AB Network who together Co-Founded ‘Ladies Who Lead’ throw light on their joint initiative and how it helps inspiring women, in a conversation with Priyaankaa Mathur:


Tell us about the idea behind ‘Ladies Who Lead’, an all-women inspirational forum?

Radha Kapoor talks about the inception and inspiration behind LWL. She says, “Ladies Who Lead was a thought, an idea that germinated into creating this community for women across sectors. We wanted to create a platform where women who are both aspiring as well as established entrepreneurs and working professionals, could engage, share ideas, experiences and insights. So yes, this platform is all about ‘co-creation’ and ‘collaboration’ through different formats of engagement.”

The engagements at LWL are done through a mix of interactive sessions, exclusive networking dinners, conferences, conclaves and panel discussions as well as digital forums of discussion (both video and written content), where the topics range from feminism to gender diversity, and from financial planning and work-life balance to positive thinking.

Aabha Bakaya talks about the need for a platform where successful women could help lead others, “It started with a conversation I was having with Manisha Girotra while on a shoot with her. She suggested creating a network where women could support and encourage each other, learn from one another. While I thought that perhaps there were already enough platforms out there I soon learnt that there really aren’t many that go deep when it comes to issues surrounding working women - both professionals and entrepreneurs. We aim to inspire women to go out there and achieve by bringing them face to face with mentors, successful women they look up to and can learn from. All our sessions are intimate, interactive and also close with networking drinks where most often our members make new contacts, friends and exchange ideas.”


So what kind of women issues does LWL deal with and what drives women come together to share their experiences on this forum?

Radha said, “Every aspiring woman entrepreneur or professional needs a role model and a mentor who could inspire them and guide them. Being entrepreneurs ourselves, Aabha and I wanted to create an ecosystem where the aspirants get to interact with women leaders and engage in different ways – share their stories, talk about opportunities and challenges, and get new perspectives on career and life.”


Tell us more about your launch event and its theme ’Women-Centric Work Places’. Why did you choose this particular set of women speakers on the panel?

Radha said,“Given that this was the launch event, we didn’t want it to be just another dinner and networking session. We wanted our guests to interact and engage and have a fruitful discussion on a subject that is extremely topical. People usually talk about the policies and programs within the organization but we wanted to shed light on how we can or should create an environment which is conducive for women at their workplace – physically in terms of design and infrastructure, recreation and amenities that we can provide as well as the overall culture at work that will help retain employees. To bring different perspectives to the discussion, we decided to bring experts ranging from someone who heads a family-run enterprise to an entrepreneur who is one of the most renowned architects who led an all-women office to a working professional, all from different sectors – manufacturing, real estate, financial services. They have also been doing some interesting work towards promoting rural entrepreneurship, enabling women in smaller towns to become more independent.” 

Aabha said, “At our last event we wanted to discuss the need for more women-centric workplaces. The theme brings together a variety of topics that are trending - an increased amount of co-working spaces, a renewed focus on design and innovation, how we are moving towards the future with increased awareness and mindfulness about our employee needs, creating a more secure, safe environment. Some of our speakers work at companies that have been voted as the best places to work year after year - we explore the policies, dynamic working environment and importance of a conducive workplace in order to retain employees and inspire them to feel a part of the organisation. Our speakers came from a different background for example, Welspun has an all-woman plant and trains and educates women workers.”


What are the challenges that women face in creating their own business establishments? 

Aabha said, ”The main hurdle is taking the plunge. Most often they don’t have the right encouragement and support and so they hesitate, lacking confidence in their ability to pull it through. Time and again we’ve seen when women leaders actually put their mind to something they come out on top. You have to have that confidence in yourself and conviction in your idea.”

Radha shared, "I like to believe that there is an opportunity in every challenge, and it is up to the individual on how they seize that opportunity. Men and women both grapple with business challenges like getting a buy-in from people on your unique ideas but with hard work, determination and excellent execution, anything is possible and achievable.”


What are the initiatives being taken to balance gender diversity in your organisation?

Aabha said, “We’re a gender-neutral organisation. In fact our production team, our reporters are both male and female. It’s not a one-sided dialogue and we believe in including men, whether as speakers, audience or crew, that are supportive of women in power.”

Radha shared, “Human capital I believe is the biggest asset for any organization and getting the right talent on board is of utmost importance. Our HR team and the management make a conscious effort towards ensuring that we strike the right balance of men and women in every team. While we focus on building a pipeline, our key objective is to retain our existing employees, especially women, for which we have introduced specific policies, including special maternity benefits, work from home options, flexible work hours and creche facilities, which has been designed by our ISDI students to name a few. 

“We also have regular town halls where business heads share some quick updates and engage with other team members. We also have a skill/knowledge sharing session every month where we get our employees to share some interesting insights on technology or any other subject, showcase their talent and also interact with seniors. To unwind from work, we have created pods for yoga and meditation, and we also have a terrace where employees can take a short break to relax. We plan to introduce many more exciting initiatives and recreational activities for our employees in the next one year,” added Radha.


Many women want to take up entrepreneurship today, what would be your message to them?  

Aabha said, “I think you have to work hard. A lot of youngsters today have high aspirations but don’t want to go through the grind. Think of it as a learning ground - experience is invaluable. Education is also extremely important. When you have all the right tools, it’s then incredibly hard for anyone to stop you from achieving your goals.”

Radha said, “Be passionate and committed in whatever you do. Every single contribution counts. Think big, fail spectacularly and then reinvent. Believe in yourself. If you dream it, you can do it!”


So how important is to follow one’s passion and to think out of the box to achieve one’s goals?

Radha talks about choosing her creativity over finance and banking and her journey so far as a women entrepreneur, “As a young girl, I remember spending time at Disney World and the creative imagination that sparked within me on how learning was made creative there. The simple design mechanisms that went into creating the visually stunning entertainment paradise stirred my inner artist and I believe that my interest in arts only spiralled there onwards. I knew that I was ready to jump into the world of creativity, which is why I chose design as my career path even though it was not a conventional choice. My time at Parsons New School of Design, New York was a real eye opener, which led me to believe that design can positively impact the world and create a revolution.”


What has been the contribution of women in the field of design? How you have been combining art and brands to beautify and add meaning to commercial spaces and also creating new career opportunities in design ecosystems. 

Radha said, “Design has evolved from being a vocation dealing with form and function to a new approach of developing business models and from being a mere function of styling or aesthetics to design as a process, where design thinking is integrated into the development process. Today it has become a strategic element and an innovation-leading process.” 

“Today, trends are changing; women have been the silent revolutionaries who have changed the way we think and design things, and it is time that we recognize their contribution and encourage them to do more. We at DICE Districts aim to create an ecosystem for Design, Innovation and Creativity-led Entrepreneurship that nurtures talent with new age skills and provides implementation support for moving disruptive ideas from vision to execution” adds Radha.


Why do  we have less women in the media and entertainment industry and what should be done to improve gender diversity?

Aabha said, “Media actually is an industry where we have a lot of women in leadership positions. Long hours and high pressure do make it difficult for women to balance work with personal lives but it’s an industry where people are passionate about what they do and if they’re in an organisation that value them and supports them, they are able to manage both.”


How are you supporting underprivileged women by empowering them to lead better lives, could you put some more light on your initiatives?

Radha said, “Our aim is to empower them and make them independent. Through ISDI we not only help them to create jewellery and accessory designs but also to market the accessories. Separately, ISDI sets aside a minimum of Rs. 1 crore each year for scholarships for the underprivileged students interested in studying at ISDI.


Do you see the Me too movement to bring in the required change in the society for women?

Aabha said, “I think we need a far more fundamental shift in our thinking towards women from the grassroots level up. It needs to start from education, from government policies, from laws and accountability. Me too in India has made a strata of society more aware of what’s appropriate behaviour but it needs to go a lot deeper than that.”


The upcoming annual conference Ladies Who Lead Engage 2019 will be focusing on the theme Aspire, Motivate, Elevate. The day-long conference which coincides with International Women’s Day on 8th March will focus on how gender equality and empowerment of women are essential to economic and social development. It will also focus on the vital role of women as agents of change and development. With a clear action plan, women today are seizing the opportunities and getting out of their comfort zones to create their own success path. A mix of panels and workshops, the topics that will range from diversity to drivers of the new economy, steps towards financial planning, risks of a start-up and much more.



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