The Blog

What Makes a Woman of the Future?

For me, the stand-out qualities of a 'Woman of the Future' are much more personal than just a list of achievements and career highlights. It is qualities such as kindness, warmth, integrity and ethics that really helps set candidates apart.

With the awards ceremony for the 2013 Women of the Future Awards in association with Shell, fast on the approach, founder and champion of women Pinky Lilani OBE, discusses the many qualities that make her nominees the cream of the crop when it comes to the UK's most talented and high flying women.

When I arrived in the UK from Calcutta in 1978, I was a fresh-faced newly-wed, ready to embark on a life of wedded bliss. However, it quickly dawned on me that I was missing one vital skill that would prevent me from becoming the good Indian wife I aspired to be: I couldn't cook.

I mean, I really couldn't cook, I couldn't even boil an egg! So naturally, there was only one thing for it, I would learn.

Copious amounts of onions, coriander and mustard seeds later, the recipe requests coming in from my dinner guests made it clear that not only had I mastered the basic cookery fundamentals, but that actually, I was rather good at it.

From there I started experimenting with more and more ingredients, developing new recipes and modernising traditional dishes. And that was when it hit me, why should a good Indian woman - or any woman for that matter - remain tucked away in the kitchen chopping onions? I had mastered a skill and I was going to take that skill and turn it into a legacy, showing other women that anything is achievable providing you have the passion and commitment to drive it.

With encouragement from my husband and family, I started to put all of my musings, anecdotes and recipes on paper, which would eventually form my first book Spice Magic. After that, to my surprise, it wasn't long before I was sharing Indian cooking techniques with manufacturers of supermarket meals, hosting corporate team building days and giving lectures and cookery demonstrations at leading universities.

I was no longer just a wife or a chef, I had become an 'entrepreneur'. That aspirational word that seems to have several meanings and cover a multitude of skills and professions.

There is something about cookery that reaches out to women - whether it appeals to our instincts as homemakers and mothers, or provides us with an outlet for creativity and experimentation - and so as my new-found career as an 'entrepreneur' started gathering momentum, I began meeting many people, and in particular women, from all walks of life and was touched when they told me that they found my story inspiring. Yet many of the women I met were just as much of an inspiration to me as I was to them.

I wanted to share their stories and achievements and create a national network that would allow them to become beacons of encouragement for the next generation of ambitious individuals. With that in mind, I launched my two award programmes: The Asian Women of Achievement Awards and The Women of The Future Awards, the latter of which is currently in full swing for 2013.

With categories in each awards programme ranging from business services and the professions, to sport, the arts, media and culture, we have championed hundreds of outstanding role models over the past 14 years. Accolades have been presented to women who have gone on to have a considerable influence across all areas of our country - from Thea Green the founder of Nails Inc to television presenter and journalist, Dawn Porter.

With the awards ceremony for this year's Women of the Future Awards less than a month away, one of the questions I get asked time and time again is, how do we pick our winners? When stood in a room full of ambitious, strong, determined women, all of whom have achieved extraordinary things, how do we decide which one is more deserving of the title?

Well, thankfully, that decision isn't one that lies with me; I rely on many of my successful friends and business associates to act as judges. But as the shortlists get stronger and stronger each year, and each category becomes harder and harder to call, there has to be some criteria that candidates have to meet.

For me, the stand-out qualities of a 'Woman of the Future' are much more personal than just a list of achievements and career highlights. It is qualities such as kindness, warmth, integrity and ethics that really helps set candidates apart.

Promoting professional accomplishments is an important way to capture the attention of the young women of tomorrow, but promoting personal attributes is equally important. These are the qualities that create truly strong foundations for our society, and if we can teach others their value, I have no doubt that we will be creating more and more 'Women of the Future' in years to come.

And what happens when all of our nominees possess these qualities? Well, I'll leave it up to the judges to decide that one...

The Women of the Future Awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.