Making the industry more gender-inclusive: Women leaders show us the way
Women leaders share tips on making the industry more gender-inclusive, to ensure we see more women leaders in the future
Women leaders tell us some ways of ensuring we have more women leaders in the future

Making the industry more gender-inclusive: Women leaders show us the way

Women leaders tell us some ways of ensuring we have more women leaders in the future
  • While the ad industry has a lot of womentoday, many drop out by the time they reach mid-management levels, primarily due to the lack of flexible hours, or the flexibility to work from home.
  • The women leaders we spoke to believe organizations need to prioritize training more women, to prepare them for leadership roles, and this should be a part of the company’s culture.
  • There is also a need to relook at the way employee’s performances are evaluated, coming up with newer ways of assessing talent in a time where the way of doing business has seen a complete overhaul.

In late 2019, a report by Credit Suisse stated that women’s representation in boardrooms in India increased only by 4.3% between 2014 and 2019. The report further stated that the current female representation on boards is only 15.2% which invariably led to dialogues around the conspicuous lack of women leaders in the upper rungs of the corporate world.

Having said that, the world of advertising, marketing and media is one industry that has seen a lot of women in roles of leadership. While we are still far from an equal man-woman ratio in the industry, it is heartening to see more and more women take the top spots.

Conversations with most women leaders from the industry led us to believe that this is an industry that welcomes women to be a part of the workforce. However, it is during their mid-career levels that a lot of women drop out of the workforce, leading to a dip in women who take up higher positions.

We reached out to some of the most influential women in the industry currently, to gauge what are the reasons for these drop-outs, and what needs to be done, as an industry as well at individual organizational levels, to ensure that women are retained, and even if they drop-out, are encouraged to rejoin the workforce.

We received an overwhelming response to our queries from across the sector from women who made some really compelling points. These women who feel passionately about the subject laid their hearts bare, telling us ways they think the industry can evolve, to become more inclusive.

Here are some of the most prominent voices.

Building a culture of inclusivity

It is often noticed that while a lot of women are joining the workforce, many of them take the decision of quitting once they decide to get married or decide to have children. Many find it difficult to come back, due to the lack of flexible working hours at their workplaces, or even due to a certain amount of judgment where people look at them a little differently after they come back from a long break.

Most of the women leaders we spoke to believe that the work culture needs to evolve a little, to make way for such women, giving them the flexibility that many of them need, once they start a family.

Srija Chatterjee, Managing Director, Publicis Worldwide, India shared that while a few corporates have started giving some assistance to women, the ad industry hasn’t yet started doing that actively. “As an industry, we have woken up to women leaders and we are trying to make things happen for women, to make sure that they don't jump off from the workforce. However, there's still a long way to go. The biggest reason women stop working is when they get into that life stage of having children. A lot of corporates are today providing strong support, through office crèches or flexi-timing options. That has not yet happened in our industry. From a business perspective, the size of our agencies might not be that big, which makes implementing this a bit of a challenge. But the more and more we get into a group structure, and offices become more centralized, it will enable organizations to look at shared resources to help women pursue their passion. This is something that could be done, but has not been done yet.”

A lot of times, there is also a lot of judgement involved when women come back to work after a long break. Delving deeper into the need for a change in attitude, Pallavi Chakravarti, Executive Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu said, “You’ve been out of the scene way too long - you can’t expect the salary that you do after the kind of leave you’ve taken - but won’t your attention be divided now?” These are just some of the things women hear when they are seeking to make their way back into the workforce, post a long gap. Of course, this is not a blanket statement - times are changing, mindsets are changing, as are corporate policies. But if companies truly want to be gender-neutral then statements and questions like the ones I’ve cited above would never be heard again. Additionally, flexible working hours, working from home, working on time-bound projects are all steps that more and more organisations can adopt to ensure equal opportunities. And when I say equal, I mean that these options should be made available to both men and women.

Shedding some light on how OLX is working on retaining some of its women, Sapna Arora, Chief Marketing Officer, OLX India said, “Setting the right example of favourable work culture much suited to women, not just in terms of facilities and infrastructure, but also in terms of broadening our thinking within an organization across various levels, is the key to inspire women working population to join the workforce and perform better. OLX, as an organization, is working on taking baby steps in creating empowering workplace for women. A couple of years ago, we at OLX embarked on a journey to evaluate the gender diversity ratio and actively worked to encourage more women in roles such as data scientists, engineers, front line sales and more. This is a conscious choice we have made under our global diversity and inclusion programme which seeks to improve the gender ratio across STEM and leadership roles.”

Talking about the need to prioritize diversity in leadership, Emrana Sheikh, Enterprise HR Head for India and South Asia – Johnson & Johnson said, “Today, companies are increasingly equating their C-suite diversity to competitive advantage for their businesses – and rightly so, it leads to robust dialogue, richer decisions and the empathy to design good, and human-centered solutions. For organizations looking for a paradigm shift in their work cultures, C-suite diversity sets an example for the rest of the team. At the basic level, it can be a source of inspiration that resonates down to the front-line staff. This is only possible when diversity in the leadership is prioritized and its long-term implementation is ensured at all levels through intentionality and focused talent management. Internal platforms such as Diversity & Inclusion Council and Employee Resource Groups further drive culture strategies from a variety of lenses, championing inclusivity as a collective goal across levels. An inclusive culture transcends barriers, bias and bureaucracy, and makes the employees truly feel that they belong. All around, women are a critical mass of consumers, influencers, stakeholders and communities. Hence, reflection of the same in organizations is a business imperative.”

Sharing a similar sentiment, Neena Dasgupta, CEO and Director, Zirca Digital Solutions added, “Organizations need to ensure that women in the workplace are respected and recognized.For women to thrive in the workplace, organizations need to ensure an environment that is rooted in equal opportunity and a culture that is geared to assist women achieve their goals.”

Sharing some tips on a few things that can be done at the organization level to help women continue to be a part of an organization, Ayesha Ghosh, General Manager, Taproot Dentsu added, “Younger women need to see older women in positions of influence. Flexible working hours and working from home might be a challenge in an industry that’s made a virtue of unreasonable working hours but we ought to be non-negotiable about starting early, cutting idle chatter, short lunch breaks and everything else that helps finish work early so that parents (and everyone else, really!) get to spend some time with their families. Ingraining fundamental values will go a much longer way than making token gestures. Enforcing paternity leave, for instance, so that the onus of child-rearing is not on the mother alone. When a parent, regardless of gender is expected to manage time such that they are responsible for their work as well as for their families, everyone will automatically spend less time on idle chatter and work a lot more efficiently.”

An organization's culture also needs to have empathy at its foundation, shared Oindrila Roy, Head of Strategy, India, Essence, to make a difference. "As with any type of workforce integration, empathy should be the edifice on which workplaces are designed to integrate and retain both women and men more seamlessly. For women, it starts with stepping into her shoes, evaluating challenges from her point of view and arriving at solutions which are conducive. For example, an online survey conducted by JobsForHer found that 38% of women do not return to the workforce after giving birth, due to the lack of good day care for children. If that is the challenge, companies need to think of solving this problem innovatively - can the organisation collaborate with a nanny service provider to avail reliable childcare options to its employees? Reassured and empowered parents are likely to stay in the workforce longer."

Modifying existing performance benchmarks

Rubeena Singh, CEO, iProspect India believes that there is a need to relook at the performance benchmarks on which employees are evaluated. “In the middle years, I often see that we are trying to evaluate people on certain benchmarks. The criteria for these performance indicators have been put in place years ago when it was a largely male-dominated workforce. Things like 8 hours of work, or work in office, or if you want a senior position, you should have worked in different geographies etc. But sometimes, for women, it becomes very difficult to be mobile and move to different parts of the country, especially once they get married. As an industry, we really need to re-evaluate the criteria. We should look for quality now, if people are curious, if they are team-players, how innovative and out-of-the-box can they think. If these changes are brought about, a lot of women will find it easier to catch up from where they left, even if they are coming back after a long break.”

Treating both men and women as equals at the workplace

A lot of women leaders feel that there is an immediate need to start looking at both men and women as equals in the workspace and not differentiate on the basis of gender.

Lara Balsara Wajifdar, Executive Director at Madison World said, “We need to look at women leaders as leaders first and not as women leaders. Don’t differentiate us on the basis of our gender, but differentiate us on the basis of our work! Our industry is always hungry for good talent and if the talent is good, the agency will always accommodate personal requests as long as the work is not affected.”

Many also feel the starting point is to start a conversation, where both the genders are treated as equal participants. “Gender equality is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue – that extends to all realms, including the workplace. To encourage equality across all lines of command in the workplace and have more women leaders, we need more men to be equal participants in the conversation around gender equality. Having the male workforce as partners can bring empowerment and equal respect among all genders. Global change-making initiatives like the UN’s ‘He for She’ Movement, of which I am a strong advocate, have been setting strong examples for people of all genders to take bold steps in solidarity and are working towards a gender-equal world,” said Nadia Chauhan, JMD & CMO, Parle Agro.

Pointing out to some things that need to be done at an organizational level, Rishika Lulla Singh, CEO Eros Digital at Eros International said, “There needs to be a cultural shift and change at workplaces to eradicate gender inequality and retain women employees. It is about time that companies consider deserving women for higher level positions and evaluate their performance sans bias. If there are more women leaders out there at the top positions, it gives a sense of confidence to the global sisterhood with strong role models. It is essential that companies organize mentorship programs to break the stereotype of what a man and a woman can or should do. There are several ways to retain a woman employee at work, but we also need to encourage more women to join the workforce. Equal pay, ensuring all voices are heard and feeling valued, creating safe work environment, etc. are all the least we can do.”

Pooja Jauhari, CEO, The Glitch put it rather succinctly in her three-point recommendation on how to retain women. She said, “Firstly, treat your entire talent base with gender blindness. Best person for the job. Without over-thinking their family, marital, ‘emotional’ status. Just get the right person for the job. Secondly, allow your talent to align personal and professional goals and build a support system for them to come back to the same position at work after a break (marriage| child birth) and lastly, stop saying a certain gender matters more, prove by example by showing gender balance across functions.”

Training young employees to think of themselves as leaders

There is also a need for seniors to build an environment of motivating young women while also making them aware of their potential as future managers, shared Sujata Dwibedy, Group Trading Director, Ampilifi India. She said, “This question is asked to mostly senior women but ideally, both senior men, women and the entire team should be equally responsible to motivate the young, efficient women. The entire organisation gains if they can train and then retain competent women leading up to a management role. It is critical to show them advancement opportunities and their growth path. Policies might have to be tweaked but if it benefits all, it should not matter. Building an inclusive workplace, an organisational environment that values diversity not just for the sake of appearances but for the competitive edge that comes with access to multiple perspectives would make a difference.”

There are a lot of internal barriers that women have to cross and training them to believe in themselves could help in ensuring they make it to the top. Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director, Landor Associates said, “Even before thinking of getting more women leaders, we have to think of how we can create a better working place holistically. Secondly, you have to ensure that women at the top, doing good work get the visibility. It starts with the leadership, company philosophy and culture. You’ve got to find them and put them on the top because deserving women do exist. You can’t give us an excuse that there aren’t any women relevant for the top positions. A lot of training has to be done with women themselves; there are a few external barriers such as company policies, work environment, how other people behave towards you, and there are internal factors, which we women have set up through the years. It is the lack of self-confidence, self-doubt and imposter syndrome. We women have to be trained to be leaders. It should be different from the overall management chain because it is decades of social conditioning that companies have to break when women join them. “

Anita Kotwani, Senior Vice President, New Business, Mindshare added, “The industry needs to first acknowledge that Woman leaders can deliver as well as their male counterparts for senior-level roles. The grooming required should be done for the role and not the gender. If that happens you will see the necessary shift with more woman leaders leading the mantle.”

Sharing her optimism about the future where she envisions more and more women to be on the top, Kranti Gada, COO Shemaroo Entertainment said, “A few years ago, I participated in a program called ‘Tanmatra’ organized by IIM Bangalore, to help develop and groom fellow women counterparts for about 9 months and the stories I heard about the differences in opportunities shocked me a little. I was happy to be at Shemaroo, where we have seen women in key roles leading from the front and managing the core business with ease and expertise. While the ratio of women is a little skewed in the industry, the gender gap is narrowing, and we will see more women taking charge in future in every field.”