Think big -- or go home.
That was the message of Gurinder Chadha OBE, world-class film director at the recent Women Empowered (WE) event, in London. Chadha is just the kind of voice you can respect giving such a message, for she didn't let anything hold her back. Whilst her school teachers advised her to pursue secretarial studies, she ignored them and chose to study development at university. Then, whilst all the other students in her class went to work for charities, she decided to spend a year in Amritsar, India. This period goes on to inform her films, like her current project about Indian Partition and Independence.
"Consider where you will make the biggest impact," advised Chadha to a young audience member who was confused about which profession to follow. Chadha decided upon media after seeing the headline, 'The Future of Britain' with a picture of a Rastafarian with a petrol bomb on the front page of The Sun. She recalled thinking: "Wow, look at the power of that image!"
She went on to depict her own understanding of modern Britain through worldwide hit films like 'Bhaji on the Beach' (1993), 'Bend It Like Beckham' (2002), and 'Bride and Prejudice' (2004) and was awarded an OBE for her service.
"I stand by the line that underlines every email I send," Chadha said. "Forge your own path and let others follow your trail."
Ahlya Rafique Fateh was brilliantly candid about all the times she felt fear and then brainstormed and problem-solved as if the fear did not exist. "Why are you going to do languages at university -- Russian and French -- is it because you want to leave us? Is it to hurt me?'" her mother cried when Fateh veered off the family path of law to follow her passion. That same mother also pushed her in the way only Asian mothers can: "If you want to apply to Vogue, just do it -- but don't come crying to me later!"
So Fateh wrote a letter to her most adored magazine, rather than continue in the audit department for Price Waterhouse, and landed the job. She went on to become the managing editor of the iconic British fashion magazine, Tatler from 2001 to 2010. Later she was brought into Tata Naka as managing director, turning the brand around and increasing sales by 25 percent season on season.
"To my 10-year-old self, or to any other girl for that matter, I would say: 'Whatever you are dreaming is going to come true -- just don't take NO for an answer, ever, and drop the fear.'"
The third, but by no means the least speaker of the evening was Rishi Rich -- songwriter, talent manager, and arguably the most successful Asian music producer of our generation.
Through the Rishi Rich Project, he was responsible for launching British Asian talents who would later gain mainstream success, such as Juggy D and Jay Sean (who prestigiously topped the US Hot 100 in 2009). His talent was found at the age of 12 because he had the courage to pursue what he loved. He recorded a tape of his fusion beats and dropped it at his local record studio.
He signed his first record deal at the age of 14 and has since propelled the fusion of R&B, ragga and Bhangra into the mainstream, with chart topping hits across the world.
Rich has created remixes with international artists such as Britney Spears, Craig David, Mary J Blige, Ricky Martin, Westlife, Estelle and Liberty X.
"None of this would have been possible had it not been for my mother's belief in me," said Rich. "She was a single mother and we lived in a council flat in London, Harrow.
"Her mantra to me always remained the same, 'Do what you love.' And her support for me never wavered despite the fact that I lived at home and barely earned a penny until I was 26!"
There are few who still see the need to promote the empowerment of women in the West. We think it's only needed in developing countries, and this was also my belief until motherhood sent me into a tailspin. How do you do justice to this responsibility and honor of being a mother, whilst doing a full-time job? Without support from your employer to shorten working hours, you're likely to struggle. Worse -- you might even find yourself effectively working for free, after paying UK childcare with your post-tax income, noted Fateh.
Before the event, I had arranged a play date for our toddlers with our neighbors' children. Their mothers, Sarah and Rakhee, are both Oxbridge graduates. Sarah, having studied Law at the University of Cambridge is now a solicitor in the City and Rakhee, an Oxford graduate, is a TV Producer.
I had just finished my MBA with London Business School and Harvard Business School when I fell pregnant. So why were all three of us meeting up during the day with our babies? Easy. It is hard to pursue our careers on a part-time basis.
This is exactly why WE was set up by its two founders, Reena Ranger and Mona Remtulla. They too have experienced the lack of options post children. Plus, it's hard to emerge from baby-dom with your self-esteem and confidence still intact, and to put yourself in a space where you can fulfil' your potential.
We young mothers who wish to raise our children well and forge ahead in our chosen careers often find we have to make uncompromising sacrifices. So, as Chadha reminds us, we have to forge our own trails and, to do so, WE fulfills the vital role of providing the platform to share such experiences and thus the opportunity to find individually tailored solutions.
I, for one, know the need for support, mentoring and inspiration that empowers women to get everything they want out of life, and I'm very glad this need is being addressed here in my own hometown of London.