In an example of how deeply ingrained misogyny is in the Indian system, billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala asked the management of Jubilant Pharmova: “How can we be lower than the lady? We have to beat her,” in a slighting reference to well-known entrepreneur and industrialist Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and her company Syngene.
This happened during a public interaction on an analyst conference call held on 18th June when ace stock picker Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, whose 6.3% investment valued at Rs745 crore makes him one of the key shareholders in Jubilant Pharmova, was interacting with the company management.
Referring to the contract manufacturing business, which gives Jubliant Pharmova a 35% margin on its Rs 306 crore turnover, Mr Jhunjhunwala asked, “Am I right in assuming that this business is some part of what Syngene is doing…is it similar?” The management responded affirmatively.
Mr Jhunjhunwala pointed out that it was highly scalable and Syngene had a good turnover and profitability because of this.
The management explained how they are different from Syngene, to which Jhunjhunwala asked how many people are employed in that business (850 people going up to 1,000 in the coming fiscal said the management) and Mr Jhunjhunwala sought a comparison with Syngene (around 3,000 to 4,000 he was told).
It is at this point that Mr Jhunjhunwala said, “How can we be lower than the lady sir? We have to beat her.”
This was immediately followed by loud laughter on the conference call – which is largely a men’s club. Yet another of those back-slapping boys’ locker room moments in the Indian financial world.
This is not the first time Jhunjhunwala has made a sexist comment. A few months back, Mr Jhunjhunwala, who admittedly loves to gamble dished out advice to his followers in politically incorrect terms. He compared share trading to a mistress and longer-term investing to a wife, and recommended that investors should keep both happy.
A few people later on called out the misogyny; many termed it as 'lighthearted banter' or actively applauded him saying 'his comments are a class apart'. But what is dismissed as ‘banter’ is exactly at the core of gender stereotyping and is reflected in the negative, abusive comments and dismissive attitude towards women in business and finance. It is metaphorical and continues to create barriers for all women and even the successful ones who have stormed past the glass ceiling constantly have their achievements derided and coloured with suspicion and abuse. The impact is best seen on the boards of companies where there is a drought of truly independent women directors.
Of the top-100 BSE companies in India, 91 have only one woman as a director. Most often, these are drawn from a fixed pool or related to the promoter group.
The Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is no stranger to misogynous comments. Last November, in a free wheeling interview, she shared how, over the years she took on sexism head-on
and fought gender bias. She once said that women should forget all about criticism because it is always going to be there.
Last September when the parliament opened to begin the monsoon session, finance minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman became the target of Indian men’s ingrained misogyny when a member attacked her appearance while trying to take a potshot at the state of India’s economy.
While male politicians have to protect against criticism for their statements and their actions — but someone like Sitharaman has to defend their ‘domestic’ roles of ‘mother’,‘sister’ or ‘aunty’ because these are the positions India’s patriarchal society has designated for them. While the economy might be an issue, the personal barbs and venom directed at the FM were below the belt.
Another form of misogyny is ‘mansplaining’ – where men assume that women who are experts in their respective fields don’t know what they are talking about and feel the need to explain their comments.
In 2008, author Rebecca Solnit’s now famous essay
, Men Explain Things to Me
, had set off a firestorm. Countless women had their own stories to recount about how something would have been condescendingly explained to them in their own field of expertise.
Closer home, we have seen plenty of such stories and many women rant about such experiences on social media too.
Aditi Puthran summed it succinctly on Twitter, “on a deep level there is this tendency to mirror behaviours at home even in the corporate world. It sounds very primitive, but most men who haven't grown up around assertive female role models tend to be shocked by and resist women who are more qualified than them”.
Wall Street veteran Sallie Krawcheck, a former CEO of wealth management at Citibank and former CEO of Smith Barney investment advisers, also revealed that venture capitalists interested in her new financial investment venture Ellevest mansplained financial advising to her
. She admitted that she faced decades of finance mansplaining.
shows that women only speak for 25% of the time in meetings, while men speak for the remaining 75%. Men not only share ideas more, they interrupt women more often than they do other men.
Mr Jhunjhunwala’s comment in the context of a self-made, successful entrepreneur like Ms Mazumdar-Shaw, only goes on to show that the more things appear to change, the more they remain the same.