WOMEN are very much on the move – rising to roles not previously seen before and smashing glass ceilings in the process.
The GG2 Power List was unveiled on Tuesday (8) evening at Eastern Eye publisher AMG’s high-profile and glittering GG2 Leadership & Diversity Awards, where the role of highflying women of all ethnicities were recognised.
In one of the most extensive guides to power and influence in the UK and profiling 101 individuals of Asian background who have made it to the top – the list includes several women whose achievements have been recognised on a global level.
Compiled annually over the past 10 years by Eastern Eye’s sister title GG2, the publication charts the movers and shakers from the community in Britain today. It reflects the progress Asian women are making in many areas of public and corporate life.
Women comprise just about a third of the list – 32 in the 2022 edition. When the GG2 Power List was first published, there were little more than a dozen.
Two of the most powerful women on the list are politicians – Priti Patel, the home secretary and the highest-ranked woman, is in third position on the list, while attorney general Suella Braverman, the government’s chief legal officer, is in 16th place.
Rishi Sunak occupies the top spot as the most influential British Asian as chancellor of the exchequer and is widely tipped to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister, followed by health secretary Sajid Javid in the second position.
What is clearly discernible is the rise of women making it in the corporate world. Leena Nair generated worldwide headlines last year when it was announced she would become the next global CEO of Chanel – the French luxury fashion and jewellery brand.
India-born Nair cut her corporate teeth in human resources for multi-national Unilever and started out as a management trainee in India in 1992, before arriving in London in a senior leadership and executive role, which incorporated being global head of diversity and inclusion in 2013. Prior to her starting her new role with Chanel in January this year, she was chief human resources officer and a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive and served on several charity and corporate boards.
In 2016, Nair became the first female, first Asian and youngest-ever chief human resources officer for Unilever. As Chanel CEO, she will be based in London and not the corporate headquarters in Paris.
Nair studied electronics and telecommunications in her native Maharashtra state in India and then took a master’s degree locally, before working in central India for Hindustan Unilever, the Indian subsidiary of Unilever, the giant British consumer brand company responsible for many household brands, such as Dove, Hellman’s, PG Tips, and Magnum to name just a few.
Nair, a mother-of-two, joins a very elite band of global women corporate leaders with Indian heritage – she is a mentee of another India-born corporate powerhouse, Indra Nooyi, who was the global head of PepsiCo for many years till she stepped down in 2019.
Many commentators thought Nair’s appointment was significant because it represented change – a woman of colour leading an established couture brand with global revenues of $10 billion (£7.6bn).
Some think the move for a ‘person specialist’, possibly with progressive corporate values, could also pay further dividends in the growing markets of Asia.
Another pioneer and new entrant in this year’s list is dubbed ‘Polar Preet’ for her truly world-beating exploits, as the first woman of colour to mount a solo expedition to the South Pole. She made the journey well ahead of schedule and the remarkable feat of endurance – battling fierce polar winds, temperatures of -50C and carrying a 90kg backpack, and camping at night on her own, also made headlines around the world.
Better known by her Army colleagues as Captain Harpreet Chandi, the Derbyborn physio has become the poster girl for her employers – and the face of a modern outward-looking, aspirational Britain, increasingly consigning its dark imperial past to the history books.
In a moving interview for the GG2 Power List, Chandi said of her new role, going up and down the country and talking to young people at schools and colleges: “This isn’t about recruiting, this is about engagement.
“It’s just showing that I’m a person who has pushed my boundaries.
“I’m a woman who has pushed my boundaries. I’m a south Asian female pushed by boundaries. Yes, I’m also an Army officer, and if that’s something you’re interested in, fantastic, and even if it’s not, actually, there are a lot of different things you can do in the Army. But I’m there to talk about my expedition.”
Chandi also recalled meeting the Indian army while serving Britain in South Sudan.
“They invited me to their camp every week, so I can have roti and daal. They made me feel like I’m family. What I’m saying is there are differences, and it’s okay to embrace those differences, representation is super important.”
British Punjabi Chandi also said it is important to tackle prejudice wherever it occurs – especially if you feel your own community is reluctant or suspicious about your ambitions as a high-achieving woman with dreams and a desire to smash glass ceilings.
“I want to say in a calm manner, rather than anger, Guru Nanakji [the founder of Sikhism], believed in equality. How have we gotten here to this place where we believe that women are not equal?
“Look at older generations, and they say, oh, this person did everything right because they stayed at home, they’re happy doing that. But did you ask them? Did you or anybody even ask that person, if they wanted to do that, or if they wanted to go out and have a career.
“We can do so much, and people are breaking different boundaries.”
In all, in the latest GG2 Power List, there are 14 new entries with 50 per cent of them being women.
Other powerful women on the list include Dr Nikita Kanani MBE (23), seen by the side of prime minister Boris Johnson during Covid pandemic briefings at Downing Street, as NHS director of primary care and deputy for the NHS vaccine programme and a practising GP; Bina Mehta MBE (32), another corporate high-flyer and the first woman to become chair of business consultancy and accounting giant KPMG.
She is a partner in the firm and was elected by her most senior colleagues. Gaitri Issar Kumar, India’s high commissioner to the UK, lauded the achievements of the women on the GG2 Power List and pointed out that she knew two from her childhood.
She told Eastern Eye, “It is very appropriate that the GG2 Power List is being unveiled on International Women’s Day– in recognition of the many outstanding women achievers that have been included therein.
“I am especially delighted to see the list features many friends that I have made during my tour of duty in London and two from my childhood! The personal example of each distinguished individual on the list of 101 is sure to inspire many.”
Dr Kanani told Eastern Eye, “It’s an honour to be a part of this list recognising the increasing influence that British south Asian women have in society, and as we come out of one of the toughest periods in NHS history, it’s more important than ever that the diversity throughout our communities is reflected in our health service.
“Around three quarters of NHS employees are women, including some of those who have spearheaded the largest and fastest vaccination programme in NHS history, and I’m proud to provide visibility for them as well as people of south Asian heritage.”
Shailesh Solanki, executive editor of the Asian Media Group (AMG) which publishes Eastern Eye and Garavi Gujarat news weeklies and hosts the GG2 Leadership & Diversity Awards, said: “It’s a fantastic testament to these amazing women that many have come so far and sometimes from very humble and modest backgrounds and against all the odds have risen to the top.
“We are seeing more and more women leading the corporate world from low levels of representation at very senior levels – we would like to see more, especially more British-born Asian women break into boardrooms and become CEOs.
“There is no excuse really – the talent is clearly out there – as the GG2 Power List so powerfully demonstrates.”
There will be coverage of the GG2 Leadership Awards in Eastern Eye’s edition of March 18.
The top 20
1. Rishi Sunak MP: Chancellor of the exchequer, cabinet
2. Sajid Javid MP: Health and social care secretary, cabinet
3. Priti Patel MP: Home secretary, cabinet
4. Sadiq Khan: London mayor, Labour party
5. Dr Chaand Nagpaul: Council chair, British Medical Association
6. Lord Karan Bilimoria: Chairman, Cobra Beer Partnership, and CBI president
7. Neil Basu: Assistant commissioner for specialist operations, Metropolitan Police
8. Riz Ahmed: Actor
9. CS Venkatakrishnan: CEO, Barclays
10. Lord Kamlesh Patel: Chair and director, Yorkshire Country Cricket club
11. Sir Rabinder Singh: Court of Appeal judge, Investigatory Powers Tribunal
12. The Hindujas: Chairmen, Hinduja Group
13. Lakshmi Niwas Mittal: CEO, ArcelorMittal
14. Alok Sharma MP: Head of climate change, cabinet
15. Adar Poonawalla: CEO, Serum Institute of India (SII)
16. Suella Braverman MP: Attorney general
17. Captain Harpreet Chandi: Medical officer, British Army
18. Leena Nair: CEO, Chanel
19. Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Former president, Royal Society
20. Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta: Professor, University of Cambridge
To get a copy of the publication, contact Saurin Shah by emailing saurin.[email protected] or calling 020 7928 1234.