The time is now ripe to drop the idea of a ‘glass ceiling’: Anindita Gupta

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 conversation with Adgully, Anindita Gupta, Co-Founder, Scenic Communication, has a lot to share about how women leaders have been proving their mettle against all odds time and again. At the same time, she also hits out at the so-called hostile environment that fails to acknowledge and accept women professionals in certain male-dominated sectors.

How would you define today’s woman leader?

Being a woman and an entrepreneur myself, I have been inspired by several women leaders and I have come to observe and understand that women today are professionally more focussed, more ambitious and seek to re-invent and identify themselves through their professional roles, as against the social roles that defined them a few decades ago. And as women representation and success in the corporate field grew, so did their confidence, and eventually, they were able to unapologetically bring their natural leadership skills to the corporate world. The women leader of today is not only driven by vision, clarity, and goals but is also a team player, an empathetic colleague and one that leads from the front, by facing challenges head on.

What are the foremost attributes that women leaders in today’s business ecosystem must possess?

I think not just women leaders, but any leader in an organisation or running the organisation, needs to be someone who can have a clear vision of where she wants to lead the team/ company, have the ability to share that vision with the team, and motivate them to work towards achieving this success, together. Having said that, as a millennial women entrepreneur and a leader myself, I think the women leaders of today have to shoulder an additional responsibility of nurturing and mentoring women employees for leadership roles in the future, and work towards creating a better, gender inclusive and merit based professional environment, for the future generations! It is only a holistic approach like this that will help us to ultimately erase the gender parity that exists not only in the professional world but also in the society at large.

Despite the qualifications, aptitude and experience, why do you think we don’t see the expected number of women business leaders, especially when it comes to boardroom decision-making?

Although the general parity in gender representation in leadership roles is already out there for everyone to see, I would like to point out that different sectors have a different ratio. For fields like media and communication, social entrepreneurship, fashion and luxury, etc., women have been equal, if not dominant, in their representation. On the other hand, sectors like IT and ITES, BFSI, Manufacturing, Engineering, etc., have witnessed a lesser representation. Now the problem here is not of the qualifications, aptitude, or experience of women in the male dominated sectors… it is the prejudice of the system and a so-called hostile environment that fails to acknowledge and accept women professionals. This, in turn, has resulted in lack of motivation, eventually forcing several women to quit.

However, several other women who were determined to prove themselves, have succeeded and made their presence felt in these areas, after braving years of hostility and gender biases in the workplace, on a daily basis. So, the underlying factor of the lack of women representation in leadership roles in these sectors comes from deep rooted gender conditioning, inability to break out of gender stereotypes, lack of share of voice and share of opportunity for the small number of women professionals in the field and a huge gap in mentoring and grooming for these women, to take over leadership roles.

What more do Indian corporates need to do to encourage and groom women leaders?

I think the answer to this is not limited to a set of HR and Training policy changes, but is more deep rooted. Currently, apart from the gender based pay gap, biases like preferential project allocations to men vs women due to bias presumptions, women employees who are on maternity leave being considered as a liability, lack of exposure and thus lack of opportunities to grow and learn, etc., are issue that pose major hurdles for women aiming to make a mark for themselves. To begin with, a change in attitude and approach to work is important.

In the 21st century, where we are already talking about gender inclusive and gender neutral approach to corporate workplaces, it is important to replace the traditional biases with a more professional, merit and talent based approach towards building leaders. I think instead of focusing on grooming women for customised leadership programs, organisations need to focus on a more inclusive approach by creating workplaces where every employee, irrespective of gender, receives equal opportunity to grow, to learn, to prove themselves, to aspire and work towards achieving their full professional potential and to excel in their fields.

According to you, what are the Do’s and Don’ts for today’s women to break through the glass ceiling?

Women have been fiercely breaking the glass ceiling across sectors for the past decade and the time is now ripe to drop the idea of a ‘glass ceiling’. There is none! Not anymore! Because women have already proven that there are no limitations to their growth, their ability to fight back and take a stand and to make their presence felt, across roles, sectors, and geographies. Secondly, in order to continue growing and fiercely taking over their rightful place in an equal world, women need to just be able to drop the toxic conditioning that tell them what they can and cannot achieve, and unapologetically pursue their dreams! Women need to continue to believe in themselves and explore their natural strengths, be it as a leader, a doctor, an entrepreneur, a communicator, a creative genius, a team player, a visionary with the ability to inspire people, a social entrepreneur, a teacher, an astronaut or even an urban farmer and an eco-warrior! Sky is the limit now and no glass ceilings can exist anymore for those who have already dreamt of flying!

How acute is the gender pay gap issue in India today? What needs to be done to address this in an effective manner?

Honestly, I haven’t faced any gender pay gap issues per se, as PR is a women dominated industry. Having said that, I do acknowledge that gender based pay gap exists, across sectors, across the world, and is a serious reflection of the social conditionings and exploitative corporate practices. The pay gap arises from various factors, including lack of representation in the leadership roles, lack of equal share of voice and an overall a preferential, gender based treatment of employees instead of a more inclusive and gender neutral one. I think authentically, things can only start changing once there is a considerable representation of women, who have equal share of voice and when organisations are finally able to drop all gender based differences and embrace a holistic and inclusive approach in their HR policies.  

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

Being a woman entrepreneur, every day is a learning experience! And the recent challenges thrown at all of us by the global pandemic have been a major learning experience on multiple levels! But if I were to list down 5 effective lessons, I would say the first one is the importance of rising up to become the leader your team can trust and respect. This is a task one needs to do on a daily bases! Because every decision, every choice and every step I take, every day, can strengthen or weaken the team, the organisation and their trust in me as a leader, more so in the face a crisis! The second most important lesson is to never lose sight of the greater vision and the ultimate goal, irrespective of smaller, short term challenges. The third would be to always work towards solutions and make choices keeping in mind the collective benefit/ overall good of the larger set of people involved, instead of focusing on individual gains/ benefits. The fourth would have to be the responsibility of offering, motivating and ensuring the growth of those who have aligned themselves to my vision and to ensure their individual potential and strengths are nurtured and well guided. And lastly, the most important of all lessons that I learnt as a leader, is the ability to collaborate, seek solutions and be agile in the face of challenges and hurdles. While COVID brought the world economies to its knees, it also taught us that the key to survive this disruption is to collaborate, innovate, and transition to the digital platform, if we needed to remain relevant. As an entrepreneur in the service industry, it has been a major challenge to prove my worth to my clients and not appear as a liability, for which I needed to push my team to outperform themselves, bring additional value to my service offerings, and make every penny we earned, count. And this taught me that as leaders, there are times when a crisis can make us feel cornered or lost and at times like this, it is important to not let misjudgement or overconfidence guide you to make a wrong decision. Instead one needs to be able to simple accept the problem and seek out help and find a solution which could mean retracting from an earlier policy or changing strategy to compromise and achieve success. Being agile and open to disruptive ideas and innovations is the key to solving challenges and keep growing.

How challenging has it been for you to maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? What is your mantra to maintain that balance?

I have been fortunate to have a very supportive family and enjoy a progressive, equal partnership with my life partner. Having said this, as a woman entrepreneur with clear goals and ambitions, I think it is important to be able to clearly set expectations and delegate and approach every task – personal or professional, with equal responsibility and practicality. I think it is important for every leader, be it a man or a woman, to be able to achieve a positive work life balance and be equally present for their families, as they are for their profession. And the key factor here is to be able to clearly identify what one can or cannot do/ take up or cannot take up on their plate.

Accordingly, chalking out key responsibility areas and equally dividing them, works best to ensure both mutual respect, support, admiration and smooth execution of day to lives – a statement that holds true for both personal and professional partnerships! Once this is achieved, the question of ‘balance’ per se doesn’t exist because there is no more an ‘unequal’ distribution of responsibilities. And I think this is the ideal state everyone needs to achieve, to be able to peruse and enjoy holistic success in personal and professional spheres of life.

How prevalent are the instances of Sexual Harassment in workplaces in India? What should the industry collectively do to tackle such a serious issue?

According to me, sexual harassment in the work place is more of a power dynamic and exploitation issue than a gender based one. And because women generally tend to be subordinates while men happen to be in the leadership position, in a majority of cases, this is largely come to be seen as women’s issue. Having said this, a stringent, no nonsense policy against sexual exploitation and harassment of any kind, needs to be drafted and implemented actively, in an organisation, if it wishes to continue to grow and remain relevant for its employees.

As a leader, ensuring a safe and secure work environment for every individual in my organisation, is the basic responsibility of every leader. Apart from ensuring the right rules and policies, organisations today need to also have a task force/ team where any employee, irrespective of their gender or designation, can approach to report and seek assistance against harassment at work, with the trust that their complaints will be adequately investigated. And it is also important to highlight here that as we move towards including members from the LGBTQ community, who are much more vulnerable to sexual and psychological exploitation, it is become even more imperative that organisations take this matter seriously and create an independent bench/ team to look into such cases.


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