Pinky Lilani CBE DL CMgr CCMI is an internationally acclaimed champion for women. She is the force behind the Women of the Future Programme, a portfolio of global events, projects and networks that support women and celebrate their talent and success. The Women of the Future Programme events include; the Women of the Future Awards, Summit and 50 Rising Stars in ESG; the Asian Women of Achievement Awards and the Southeast Asia Awards.
Over the last 25 years, Pinky has done an incredible amount to move the needle on gender equality and also to agitate change and progress on the diversity and inclusion agenda. In 2018, she launched the 50 Leading Lights campaign, highlighting the value of kindness in business. The campaign has been a great success, shifting perceptions of ‘strong’ leadership and, in 2019 it launched in the Asia Pacific region. Pinky has won several awards for her work and was listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. She was also featured on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Pinky is a Fellow of the GSA; a member of the board of Global Diversity Practice and the Character Project, University of Oxford as well as being an Associate Fellow of Saïd Business School; Patron of DIL, the Westminster Society and Frank Water.
She is an Ambassador for the Tiffany Circle of the Red Cross. In 2007, Pinky was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to charity and as Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2015 for services to women in business.
What woman (real or fiction) inspires you?
I am so fortunate to be inspired every single day by the extraordinary women who are part of our Women of the Future programme. Their stories are full of energy, resilience, innovation and hope, something we need in huge measure in today's world. My mother was my ultimate inspiration – she was kind, tenacious and non-judgemental but also what stood out was that till she died at the age of 92 I had never heard her raise her voice! Anger was not in her nature and she was one of the most content people I know. They say if you are content, you are a king already.
The other woman who inspires me is Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist who 67 years ago refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery Alabama. Her defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and launched the nationwide efforts to end racial segregation of public facilities. What I admire is that she did it knowing it would make her life difficult. In her own words “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Studies have shown that 80% of women do not feel comfortable discussing finances with family and friends, is this true in your experience?
This is so true, and I am definitely not comfortable discussing finance, only because my knowledge of finance is very basic. I did not work in the early years of my marriage hence I did not feel the need to know much about finance. Now that I run my own business, I have very old school theory which is not to borrow and spend what we can afford. However, the younger women I meet are much more savvy with their finances. Additionally, there is so much more information available now and I think it is a topic that constantly makes the headlines.
What is the biggest risk you have taken?
Marrying my husband three weeks after meeting him and moving to the UK never having been out of India prior to this.
Setting up the Women of the Future Limited independently of the company which had help me organised the programme for 14 years.
Self-publishing my first cookery book with not a clue as to how I would market it.
Have you ever felt imposter syndrome?
I always feel we all bring something to the table and “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. So much of this is about perception, if you perceive others to be more accomplished and are intimidated by that, then you are more likely to feel an imposter being there…. The first time I was invited to give the Global Leaders lecture at the Judge Business school, Cambridge and to speak at the Oxford Union I was really taken aback, I thought, 'have I really been invited by these august institutions?' But, very quickly I was planning my talk and any sense of 'wow I am joining some luminaries' evaporated in all of 5 minutes! The best way to beat imposter syndrome is to shift your focus to the work!
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am so proud of my sons and how they reflect the virtues that I think are paramount in life – kindness, integrity, humility and compassion. I also am so delighted that I can bring my whole self to what I do – to talk about kindness and leadership and combine it with cooking spicy Bombay potatoes in diverse settings, from Radio 4 Women’s hour to the Bank of England!
What is a cause you are passionate about?
Women & Food
Giving women opportunities, making them believe in themselves, helping them shine and break stereotypes.
Making sure people eat well. I get so frustrated when people tell me they never cook and get take-aways. Cooking fresh food is simple and healthy and should be a firm part of all our lives. I am evangelical about this.
What is the advice you give to your 12-year-old self?
Be courageous, be curious, follow your heart and always be kind.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Publication of our new Global Listing 50 Rising stars in ESG, we have the most truly extraordinary women who are changing the planet – they give me such hope.