Nita Ambani Appointed Chairperson Of 8.5 Billion USD Media Company; A HUGE Milestone For Working Women In India

The soon-to-be largest media conglomerate in India will be headed by a woman; Nita Ambani will chair the new company’s board of directors.

On February 28 2024, Reliance Industries Limited, Viacom 18 Media Private Limited, and The Walt Disney Company announced a joint venture (JV) to combine the businesses of Viacom18 and Star India and create a media juggernaut in India. Valued at around $8.5 billion, the JV will combine ~120 TV channels across different content genres and bring iconic media assets like Colors, StarPlus, Disney HotStar and Jio Cinema under one umbrella. With a viewership of more than 750 million and combined revenues of more than INR 25000 crore, the entity will be the largest media company in India.

The magnitude of the numbers is undeniable, but hidden within the fine print is another significant revelation, a not insignificant development that has been overshadowed by the deal economics.

The soon-to-be largest media conglomerate in India will be headed by a woman; Nita Ambani will chair the new company’s board of directors.

As we approach International Women’s Day, this decision holds significant implications for working women across India. With women still underrepresented in leadership roles across various industries, Ambani’s appointment at the helm is a milestone in the ongoing journey towards gender equality and empowerment in the Indian workforce.

Cracking the glass ceiling

Women occupying top positions in conglomerates remain a rare sight in India. Nita Ambani’s appointment represents a breakthrough in the landscape, challenging entrenched gender norms and making a little crack in that proverbial glass ceiling.

Low labour force participation of women in India is a well-known fact, and the numbers drastically decreases as one progressively moves from the top from the entry-level to the board level. While women represent 27 per cent of the overall labour force, a mere 10 per cent of executive directors on the top 200 listed companies are women, despite growing efforts by corporate India to increase diversity in the workforce.

Seen against this background, Nita Ambani’s journey and this leadership role in a large Indian company sets a precedent for other working women, sending a powerful message that gender is no longer a barrier to one’s ascent to leadership positions in for-profit roles. It serves as a beacon of hope for countless aspiring female leaders, inspiring them to pursue their professional ambitions unabashedly and assert their rightful place in the upper echelons of corporate India.

Nita Ambani’s professional journey shows the rewards of hard work

The appointment is noteworthy because of Nita Ambani’s professional trajectory.

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A school teacher before she married the current chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, Nita Ambani’s diverse array of leadership experiences spans philanthropy and community development (Reliance Foundation), sports management (Mumbai Indians), education (Dhirubhai Ambani International School) and cultural outreach (Nita Mukesh Ambani cultural centre).

While her previous roles have made her a visible figure in India’s landscape – beyond being the wife of the head and mother of the scions of India’s largest company by market capitalisation – her appointment as chairperson of the merged entity marks her first foray into hardcore corporate leadership. This transition from philanthropy to corporate stewardship embodies the ethos of resilience, adaptability and perseverance. It also reinforces the notion of hard work getting rewarded, sooner or later, inspiring confidence and ambition in those who aspire to follow in her footsteps.

Yes, there’s the question of Nita Ambani’s ‘privilege’, but there’s also an opportunity for meaningful change

One might raise a question regarding Nita Ambani’s appointment: how much of her success can be attributed to her ‘privilege’ as the wife of one of the wealthiest individuals in the country, and how much to merit?

There are multiple perspectives on any situation. While Ambani’s connection to her husband – one of the richest men in the world – is undeniable, it’s also crucial to appreciate the broader context. Most of the corporate leaders in India are married, and despite that, few wives find themselves in comparable leadership positions within boardrooms, in equal positions as their husbands. In Ambani’s case too, she got the charge of a for-profit entity after several years of overseeing RIL’s corporate social responsibility and non-corporate pursuits.

It is essential to separate the issues of family connections and gender diversity. While Ambani’s appointment may raise questions about the former, it also highlights the opportunity for meaningful change in the latter. There’s a silver lining when a woman, especially a married woman with high-profile family responsibilities, gets a prominent leadership role at the inception of a significant corporate entity – an example that challenges conventional norms and opens doors for future generations of women, especially in the top levels of leadership.

Paving the way for greater diversity and inclusivity

In traditionally male-dominated workplaces, pervasive stereotypes about women’s capabilities persist despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Nita Ambani’s appointment represents a subtle shift in this narrative. By assuming a leadership role in one of India’s most prominent conglomerates, Ambani reinforces that women are equally suited for positions of power and influence, thereby paving the way for greater gender diversity and inclusivity in the corporate world.

As women continue to ascend to leadership positions across various sectors, the narrative surrounding women in the workplace evolves from one of limitation to that of boundless potential.

Ambani’s visible leadership role provides a powerful counter-narrative to prevailing stereotypes, inspiring countless women to pursue their professional aspirations while balancing their family commitments with courage and conviction.

Role model for working women aspiring to reach the top

The prominent leadership role serves as a powerful source of inspiration for working women across India, offering a tangible example of what is possible when talent, determination and opportunity converge.

Ambani’s visibility in the public eye amplifies her impact as a role model, providing young women with a relatable figure to emulate and aspire towards. By showcasing the possibilities for women in leadership, Ambani empowers a new generation of female professionals to break free from the constraints of societal expectations and pursue their dreams with unwavering resolve.

Positive trickle-down effect when leaders lead by example

The appointment also has the potential to catalyse a trickle-down effect across India’s corporate landscape. Ambani’s leadership role in a new and large organisation undergoing a significant transition in the aftermath of the JV formation sends a clear signal to other organisations about the value of gender diversity and inclusivity in driving success.

By breaking through barriers and assuming a position of authority, Ambani paves the way for other women to follow suit, challenging traditional notions of leadership and reshaping the corporate paradigm.

Furthermore, Ambani’s role delivers a compelling message for organisations seeking to enhance their diversity initiatives and create more inclusive workplaces – diversity and inclusion start from the top. The DE&I initiatives at companies will succeed when leaders lead by example.

As companies recognise the tangible benefits of gender-balanced leadership teams, they may be inspired to prioritise the advancement of women into executive roles, fostering a culture of equality and opportunity at all levels of the organisational hierarchy.

Companies need to address the pipeline problem for more such success stories

Nita Ambani’s appointment to the new role doesn’t deviate from the broader need of India Inc. and policymakers to address the pipeline problem facing women professionals in India.

Despite significant progress in recent years, women continue encountering systemic barriers to career advancement, including limited access to mentorship, leadership development programs, and networking opportunities. To cultivate a robust pipeline of women leaders, organisations must invest in initiatives to nurture female talent and provide them with the support and resources needed to thrive in the workplace.

Implementation of mentorship programs pairing aspiring female professionals with seasoned industry veterans, establishing leadership development programs specifically designed for women to equip them with the tools and knowledge necessary to excel in senior management positions, and creating supportive environments that value diversity and inclusion are essential for retaining and advancing women in the workforce.

By fostering a culture of respect, equity, and opportunity, workplaces can attract and retain top female talent, ensuring that women thrive and succeed.

While there are visible cracks in the glass ceiling, more needs to be done to shatter it

Nita Ambani’s appointment as chairperson of the merged Viacom-Disney Star entity represents a significant milestone in the journey towards gender equality and empowerment in India, especially at the top level. Her ascension to a leadership role in a sizeable for-profit entity serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for working women aspiring to be leaders in their sphere of work, demonstrating that the glass ceiling is not insurmountable.

Ambani’s appointment also underscores the importance of creating opportunities for women to succeed in corporate leadership roles and the need to address the systemic barriers that hinder their advancement. By walking the talk on gender diversity and inclusivity at the top level, organisations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and drive sustainable business growth.

As India continues on its path towards economic development and progress, empowering women to lead and succeed will be essential for building a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

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Smita Das Jain

Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...

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