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“The entire aspect of how to manage a crisis has been ingrained in a woman’s DNA”

We, at Adgully, have always saluted and honoured women managers and leaders across diverse fields. Last year, we launched our unique and distinct program, called WOMEN DISRUPTORS, which drew a lot of attention and was highly appreciated by the industry. W-Suite is a special initiative from Adgully that has been turning the spotlight on some of the most remarkable women achievers in M&E, Advertising & Marketing, PR & Communication industry. In the refurbished series, we will find out how women leaders have been managing their teams and work as well as how they have been navigating through the toughest and most challenging times brought about by the global pandemic.

In this interaction with Adgully, Leena Lele Dutta, Business Head, Sony Pictures Networks India, Kids’ Genre, speaks about how she managed her professional and personal life during the time of pandemic, tackling the various challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 and lockdown situations, what makes women the best in crisis management, and much more.  

How do you think the role and scope of women leaders has widened in the post-pandemic world?

I’d like to believe that the pandemic, in some cases, has been a boon for women. Especially those, who’ve got families and children at home as well as the ones who’re single. The work-from-home scenario that we find ourselves in has made us multi-task more than we used to, along with making us more self-aware. It laid the foundation for women to rediscover themselves as well as take up a host of diverse things. Back then, I had so much time at home to spend with my kids, which was something I thought I would never have! It gave me a complete new outlook towards balancing life at home and at work. The change has been for the better as we all are a lot more sensitive towards the things that we used to take for granted pre-pandemic. We all have transformed to be more humane and compassionate to people around us and who we work with. 

The rapid transition to digital, an uncertain economic landscape, charting unknown waters, working from home with no modes of the usual contacts. How have you been navigating during the COVID-19 times? What were the challenges that you faced and how did you tackle them?

Last year, when the pandemic hit us in the first quarter, all of us were left wondering how things would pan out and the toll it would take on each one of us. We were at the cusp of our summer vacations, a time where kids enjoy their holidays and we launch our new shows owing to the rise in viewership during this tenure. With kids not being present at malls, schools, playgrounds, etc., we had to rethink and redevise our outreach strategies and plans. This was coupled with the fact that advertising had come to a complete halt, with only skeletal advertising taking place at that time.

As a brand we reinvented and refurbished our entire fabric and programming strategy to overcome the unprecedented times. We introduced a model that witnessed a lot more variety and kept kids engaged. From a time where we were at a low, we’ve now re-claimed our numbers at pre-COVID-19 levels, a truly encouraging feat. This is a fitting testament to our resilient approach and strategy that saw us revamp the content offerings and bounce right back up in terms of our leadership position. 

How challenging has it been for you to maintain a balance between managing the team & office work on the one hand and family responsibilities on the other as boundaries blurred while working from home? What is your mantra to maintain that balance?

There hasn’t been any mantra that has helped me maintain/ strike a balance. It was trial and error every single day. We had our backs to the wall at the beginning of lockdown since the technology wasn’t aligned to suit and meet our needs. Once our IT and internal infrastructure got us up and running, everything worked out gradually. That’s when we realised that this is a working model that we could incorporate/ implement for the long run. At that time, figuring out our business priorities in an environment which was so fast-changing was more important. Take for example, the fact that most of our episodes were incomplete and couldn’t go on air as we couldn’t dub with the paucity of studios and voiceover artists.

Each of these challenges, however small, when looked at collectively seemed huge for us at that time. I had to take into account my personal life as well. I had two boys at home, wanting to be entertained because they’d exhausted every mode of engagement. What worked for me was setting a sense of order and discipline into the madness. My days during the lockdown, which saw me help my kids study, work, cook, and take care of the house, started at 6 in the morning and ended at 11 at night. I had to constantly stay on my toes/ feet with there being zero scope for a 10-minute power nap in the afternoon. These moments teach you the value of discipline, which is extremely crucial. Otherwise, you can continue to live in the madness and not achieve anything. The entire last year has been an eye-opener on many fronts and been a good one for me as I have come out of it positively on a personal and professional front. 

Multiple studies have shown how women leaders performed better during the COVID-19 crisis. According to you, what makes women the best in crisis management?

I think the entire aspect of how to manage a crisis has been ingrained in a woman’s DNA. Be it as a mother, sister, parent, caregiver, professional, CEO, no matter what kind of hat you make us wear; we as women are very strong and resilient. I don’t know whether it is something cultural or passed down generations, but somewhere down the line, we still see our social fabric reek of a bias towards women. This exists even in a corporate set-up. We are very privileged to have to live in proper homes and have the necessities that we think we deserve, but hats off to all the people who struggled and made their way through it. It is when we have our backs to the wall when we react most strongly and assertively. We do realise when we are going down the black hole and as women, we have an innate sense of confidence that helps us to pull ourselves out of it just at the right time before things get too late. Plus, studies have revealed that women bounce back much faster and in a more productive way in a time of crisis. That is exactly what happened during the pandemic.

I think for me, it was a matter of there being no choice. We had to address a business issue and that made all of us come together and work in a very agile manner, which we went ahead with. We collectively believed in a strategy that has worked. And here we are, after one year, back on our feet all set to take the next big leap in the months to come and go upwards in terms of our ratings and revenue. 

What are the five most effective lessons that you have learned as a woman leader?

There are five most effective lessons which have stayed with me throughout my professional career. I have learnt that you should always voice your opinion, make yourself heard and be clear when you ask for what you want. That’s a lesson I picked up rather late in my career, but it is one that I still keep with me forever. The other lesson that I’ve grasped is that as leaders, especially as women leaders, we should never lose sight of our goals and aspirations. We should always appreciate what we have on our plate. You shouldn’t lose perspective of who you are and what you bring to the table. This goes not just for women, but people in general. What I have seen is that we need people by our side and we need to take them along to progress in our careers. I firmly believe in being a people’s leader. 

Other than that, I believe that if a woman has the financial stability and independence, it makes her even more confident. Financial independence is as important as emotional and social independence. That’s pretty much it in terms of the lessons that I have learnt over the years.

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