Women in leadership across media, brands and advertising on improving gender representation and retaining women in the workforce
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In the work-from-home era, the responsibility of unpaid domestic work and raising kids has fallen on Indian women more ...

Women in leadership across media, brands and advertising on improving gender representation and retaining women in the workforce

In the work-from-home era, the responsibility of unpaid domestic work and raising kids has fallen on Indian women more ...
  • Many research studies conducted across the world show that women are more stressed and discouraged since the pandemic began as they take on an increasing amount of responsibility at home and in their careers.
  • The ad, media and marketing industry has a lot more women today than a decade ago. However, many drop out by the time they reach mid-management levels, primarily due to the lack of flexible hours and ever-increasing workload.
  • So this Women’s Day, we decided to speak to women in leadership positions about how we can make women feel welcome at workplaces. They told us how employers can support women and create a more high-trust, inclusive environment for the future.
  • 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.
In the work-from-home era, the responsibility of unpaid domestic work and raising kids has fallen on Indian women more than men. This has affected their ambitions and careers, widening the gender gap at the workplace. A McKinsey report found that women around the world have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has heightened the large and small inequalities—both at work and at home—that women face daily. One in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers versus one in five men.

Women only form less than a third of the workforce in marketing, sales and less than a fifth in data analysis, and artificial intelligence, revealed a World Economic Forum’s 2020 study. Another survey by Deloitte found that 51% of women are less optimistic about their career prospects than they were before the pandemic.

A lot of women who have chosen to stick to their jobs have missed out on a fair promotion or raise. A LinkedIn report shows that 85% of women in India have missed out on a raise, promotion because of their gender. Women’s careers are observed to have been more adversely affected despite increasing flexibility at work, as 68% of women and 74% of working mothers in India say it is difficult to balance career and familial responsibilities today. More than 7 in 10 women and working mothers in India also say that household responsibilities often come in their way of their career progression.

As you move up in the hierarchy of the corporate world, there’s also a lack of women leaders in the upper rungs. As per Egon Zehnder Global Diversity Report 2020, women in India occupy 5% of executive chairs and 10% of non-executive chairs. The report indicates that only 11% of committee chairs are held by women, while the number stands at 27.3% globally.

Having said that, the world of advertising, marketing and media has seen a lot of women in leadership roles. 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.

On the other hand, advertising and media are industries that hold a lot of power in shifting perceptions and mending beliefs. The advertising industry was infamous for perpetuating gender stereotypes -- from a sacrificing mother to a man being the bread-earner, the portrayal of women has remained very shallow for years. How brands depict women and their role in society has evolved today, she is independent, she has a voice and is slowly learning to care less about society’s judgement, but we haven’t taken a big leap yet. She is still a woman who is ‘aesthetically pleasing,’ fair-skinned, doesn’t come from a minority community and is a little far from real. There’s almost no progress towards including transwomen in women’s day ads or communication throughout the year.

Once we achieve an equal number of gender representation inside Indian advertising agencies, media organisations and the marketing world, there will be diverse opinions in a brainstorming session, leading to better B2C communication.

So this women’s day, we decided to speak to women in leadership positions about how we can make women feel welcome at workplaces. They told us how employers can support women and create a more high-trust, inclusive environment during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s what they had to say about improving equality at work:

Meghana Dave - Head Marketing & PR, Lamborghini India:
Power v/s Purpose, women inherently are purpose-driven. The changing environment requires leadership that is driven by adaptability, agility and ambition. Today, companies need these traits to outperform competition which has to deliver in the known and unknown environment. To bring balance and speed with positivity, we need more women in the leadership role. Look at what Falguni Nayyar has done with Nykaa or Anjali Sudd has done with Vimeo. In the 21st century companies will need purpose, innovation and balance to achieve the top position, and the right time to bring women to lead the next generation of business growth. To encourage more women to join these industries by encouraging new formats of working culture or environment. Covid has challenged the traditional approach, and today work from home has become the new normal. Secondly, by promoting diversity and opening leadership positions for women and third, we can improve the pay scale and inculcate mentorship for potential women leaders.

Rachna Kanwar, Chief Operating Officer, Digital Media, Radio City and Mid-Day:
Women in Corporate India have taken a heavy toll during Covid 19 lockdowns. Organisations, however, rarely recognise the double effort that women have to put into their regular day, which during the pandemic, ravaged their mental and physical health. Having said that, women emerged stronger, seldom seeking ‘preferential treatment.’ Companies need to address and recognise this effort as women continue to remain underrepresented at all levels. Thankfully, in the Media industry, with the inclusion of advertising & marketing, there have been plenty of examples of women super achievers acting as role models for younger women which has led to greater gender parity, but women leaders still need to play a major role in supporting and seeing to it that more leaders emerge from the shadows of doubt and stereotypes to claim their rightful places. It is heartening to see more and more women leaders at Radio City and Midday and all of us here are committed to diversity and excellence.

Building a positive mindset for diversity at all levels in an organisation goes a long way in ensuring an equal workplace. Strong women leaders in the organisation act as role models for women aspiring to reach the top. They also help in providing a more empathetic environment which is required at certain delicate stages of a woman employee’s career. And lastly, they provide the much needed confidence both for the women employees and the organisation by being a case study in excellence. At Radio City, a large number of leadership positions are held by women which motivates and inspires the mid-level and entry-level women employees to dream big. Diversity has many virtues and numerous reports time and again have proved that a diverse organisation is a better organisation. Radio City was amongst ‘India’s Best Workplaces for Women in 2019.’ Additionally, in 2020, Radio City ranked 4th in ‘Best Large Workplaces in Asia’, according to the GPTW survey.

Jyotsna Uttamchandani, Executive Director, Syska Group:
I think what is happening is we are definitely attracting more women, but are unable to retain them. The industry also needs to take steps to stop showcasing and representing women in stereotypical ways. The truth is women need to start taking credit for their work, brag and self-promote. What men need to understand is with diversity creativity and innovation only booms. I personally feel advertising, media and marketing industries are more unstructured, and there is no one to help you climb that ladder. You will have to do it yourself. More so we need more women, to help support and mentor other women.

I think to be a safe and inclusive environment, we really need to listen to our employees. I have always said that my employees are my first customers. Goals and expectations need to be set mutually, team members need to appreciate each other and there has to be a certain level of trust within the team.

Megha Agarwal, CXO-Growth, Meesho:
In my last 12 years of working, I have seen many smart women entering the workforce but also taking a step back and stepping out, especially at two pivotal points – marriage and motherhood. The societal maxim is such that it places higher expectations on women, compelling them to juggle many roles – wife, mother, primary caregiver among others. What is imperative is to create support structures that empower them to strike the perfect balance between personal and professional commitments. An example on this front could be Meesho’s recent boundaryless workplace model, enabling people to work from home/ anywhere so that it gives flexibility to facilitate adjustments.

Additionally, we, as employers, also need to make a perception shift towards sabbaticals taken by women to rear children. These vital steps could be further bolstered by initiatives aimed to ease their comeback into the workforce again. The responsibility lies with us to act as change agents to create the change we aspire to see.

Pragya Misra, Public Affairs Director at Truecaller:
I have always believed that empathy, freedom to be authentic and listening are critical to building a work environment that promotes equality. This begins with introducing diversity in the leadership so that the perspectives and related challenges of different employee profiles can be properly understood and addressed. Finally, implementing flexible policies, promoting healthy and non-late work hours, having industry standard pay scale and having actionable punishments (and transparency) in place for any intolerant offenses are some of the other measures that can be put into place to ensure a safe and equal work environment.

At Truecaller, being respectful, celebrating diversity and equality in the workplace is deeply set in our values as a company. We continue to make communication safer through our spam blocking, scam and fraud alerts, this principle of safety reflects in our workplace through our employee policies.

The inability to feel safe in both offline and online spaces adversely impacts women’s confidence and hinders their ability to grow and thrive. This year we are urging people to #CallitOut and report harassment to the authorities when you see or experience it. We are bringing together all the key stakeholders like government, law enforcement, civil society, mental health experts, lawyers and survivors to work collaboratively to improve the safety of women and continue our 5 year long effort to minimise harassment. This year, we want to create an environment that allows women to feel safe in society, their workplace and in their online communication.

Kanika Mittal, Large Customer Solutions, Lead at Twitter India:
I strongly believe that a leader is only as good as his/her team & therefore our path starts with building a team that looks like the amazing people of all backgrounds and abilities who use our service every day. At Twitter, we're on a journey to become the world's most inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible tech company — it's key to serving the public conversation. For Inclusion & Diversity strategies to have an impact, leaders along with companies need to ensure that they are tackling systemic challenges and also impacting and nurturing inclusive behavior amongst the team. This requires adapting a new way of thinking and making the right decisions such as becoming more distributed, empowering women employees to share and leverage their unique perspectives and experiences for growth and opportunities. Collectively we’ve got work to do to build a truly inclusive culture across the industry. We’ve made steady progress, and as industry our work doesn’t end #UntilWeAllBelong.

Anika Wadhera, Head of Digital Marketing, Sirona:
A supportive work environment is one in which each and every employee can discuss job-related difficulties in confidence and without fear of backlash. Actively showing appreciation to the staff, and encouraging them to exhibit appreciation for each other, is an easy and gratifying way to establish a great working atmosphere. Employees, both male and female, should be taught about ethical behavior and how to create a culture that supports everyone's safety. Although enforcing policies and holding instructional sessions are beneficial, a process or system that promotes power equality in the business can be implemented, reducing the number of unpleasant experiences.

My advice to all wonderful women around me will be to ’Take a stand for yourself & be vocal. The world is your oyster.’ We as 21st-century women should focus on creating a network; it may be one of the most powerful factors in our career at any level, whether one is a fresher or a senior leader, just network, network & network.

Shradha Agarwal, COO & Strategy Head, Grapes:
Women at leadership roles play a very crucial role in the comprehensive growth and development of any organization. They are the true manifestation of sustainable growth. A woman inherently is nurturing and being in a leadership position helps her in cultivating an inclusive work culture with diversity at the core of the organizational structure. This diversity is the precursor of diverse ideas that stimulates creativity and champions for more quality in business operations. Women have a warm and welcoming disposition which enables the organization to develop a much stronger bond and connect with their customers.

In any workforce, the major loophole at the very base level is the lack of proper guidance to define the roles and duties to be fulfilled by a person. In order to help them realize their true potential, it is important to first connect with the people. By putting themselves in other’s shoes it becomes easier to understand the situation better and provide a relatable solution. As developing a connection and affinity for people comes naturally to women, in leadership positions they are better able to relate with and understand the pain of their teammates.

To get women to join the advertising and marketing industry the mantra is very simple, just make them feel they are making ads for themselves. As women are better listeners and good storytellers, one needs to harness these qualities of women to motivate them to pursue a career in this field. They are better adept at giving a diverse perspective and drawing holistic pictures to a narration. Advertising and marketing is not about selling products, it goes way beyond and is about telling the right story. It is about connecting with the brand rather than the product as the products can be replaced but the brand remains constant. And women love and enjoy such jobs, it is just that we need to tap on this quality of women.

Sowmya Iyer, Founder and CEO of DVio Digital:
Women have faced more significant economic hardships through the pandemic - disproportionately losing jobs and income. A recent report by LinkedIn shows how Covid-19 has impacted women’s careers. About 85% of women in India have missed out on a promotion because of their gender. Despite the increase in flexibility at work, women’s careers are observed to have been more adversely affected. So, it is safe to say that we are far away from building an inclusive environment for employees of all gender spectrum. Company policies will have to be redefined and relooked at to give women space to work, grow, and balance their careers and Homes.

DViO Digital, is an equal opportunity provider. We work towards hiring and promoting our employees based on their merit and not just gender. Our current workforce has a fair divide of 55:45 women to men ratio; a similar trend can be seen in our leadership team, which has a 60:40 ratio (60% women and 40% men), which is not by design but by default. Hence it is safe to say that women are naturally inclined towards the advertising and marketing industry.

Tanya Bami - Series Head, Netflix India:
The representation of women in entertainment has been increasing with the times and we couldn’t be happier! At Netflix, we are focussed on entertaining the world with authentic stories that are a true reflection of our times and society. Be it Delhi Crime, Aranyak, Masaba Masaba, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, or our latest series The Fame Game, the characters can be determined, driven, fabulous or flawed.”

•Since the beginning of 2020, we have collaborated with over 2400 women creators, talent, and crew on and off screen in India.

•Half (15) of our original films and series in 2021 had a woman as the central character. • Netflix has 15+ female forward titles already announced for 2022. Apart from the already released Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, Looop Lapeta and The Fame Game, the upcoming titles include Mai, Monica, O My Darling, Masaba Masaba Season 2, Mismatched Season 2, She Season 2, Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives Season 2, The Fame Game, Qala, Plan A Plan B, Khufiya, among others.

•In 2021 Netflix worked with nearly 50 women producers, directors or writers (25 women producers and directors + 23 women writers - 2X the women writers in 2020.
•In addition, Netflix has worked with incredible women standup comics- Rytasha Rathore, Urooj Ashfaq, Prashasti Singh, Prajakta Koli, Sumukhi Suresh, Mallika Dua, Kaneez Surka and Sumaira Shaikh.
•Inclusivity also extends internally to all of us at Netflix as women make up 51.7% of our global workforce, up from 48.7% in 2020. This includes 6.9% growth of women directors and above, totalling 51.1%.

Aditi Shrivastava, CEO & Co-Founder, Pocket Aces:
It all starts from the top. If there is equality in the mind, it will automatically trickle down to every level within the organization. A few key base rules I always keep in mind:
● Think in terms of equity (not stock options in this case, but what is required to get people to the same level) rather than equality (i.e. providing the exact opportunities to each person)

● Be a true meritocracy

● Even in the most equal households, women are often expected to be the primary caretaker of children or parents, so keep that in mind

● Don’t forget to groom young female talent in the company right from the go by increasing their confidence levels and encouraging them to not be ambivalent about their ambitions and dreams

● Discourage even mildly offensive loose talk / jokes at the workplace ● Have a strong POSH committee in place

● Encourage older male employees / leaders to unlearn from previous “male club” workplaces and see the value their female counterparts can add

Overall, be conscious about gender diversity and equity. It won’t happen by chance.