The W-Suite | ‘Women are equally responsible for the choices they make’

With a rapidly evolving business and economic landscape there is a dire requirement of fresh thinking, new skill sets, greater flexibility & adaptability, more collaboration as well as the ability to think on one’s feet. 

Gone are the days when the thinking was more on the lines of ‘get a man to do this job’. Diversity in the workforce has become a necessity today, and more so in the leadership positions. It can’t be denied that women bring a high level of creativity and empathy while solving problems and handling crises. Women leaders bring to the table a different level of dexterity. 

AdGully’s ‘The W-Suite’ series features interactions with influential women leaders in India, who share some deep insights on what being a woman leader means in India’s business landscape, the mantras to succeed, achieving work-life balance, pay parity and much more. 

A dynamic and disruptive entrepreneur, Priyanka Bhatt, Founder & CEO, Equations PR, has handled media relations & communications for various top business houses in India in the course of her career, which includes Tata Communications, Tata Global Beverages, Research In Motion (RIM), IIT Roorkee, Cisco, Lupin Pharmaceuticals, Serco Global, Walt Disney, NXP Semiconductors, Gartner, Bates 141, Promart Retail, and Marc Cain, among others. 

Bhatt set up Equations PR in December 2014 and today has clients across an array of sectors, including Education, IT and Technology, Retail and FMCG, E-Commerce and start-ups, fashion and lifestyle, real estate and corporate. Her expertise lies in creative writing, strong media relations & strategising and planning brand campaigns. 

What defines a woman leader in today’s ecosystem?
Women leaders today have reached the top in board-room discussions, start-up women entrepreneurs are also successfully leading their own ventures and scions of the family business are also seen taking the legacy forward. It is commendable to see that women today are no longer seen as the weaker sex, but are more powerful, confident, bold, positive and fearless. Women today are seen as leaving behind their own theoretical leadership style and re-defining their leadership in various walks of life in their own ways. 

Why do you think a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions?
Many would blame the evident gender bias, but we need to look beyond that as women are equally responsible for the choices that they make. Owing to the prevalent social pressures, many women seek out jobs that allow them to maintain a fine balance between their work and family life; whereas, the C-suite jobs are extremely demanding in terms of both time and energy. Surely, this creates a shortage of female successors in the pipeline. 

Even the few ambitious women who do succeed in juggling these roles and manage to bag the top ranks are faced with lack of trust. Women are looked upon as poor decision makers. Though the mindset is changing, it is a snail-slow process, which can only be fuelled by constant perseverance and conviction on the part of women. But I definitely think women are better at multi-tasking, are more competent, can juggle roles and responsibilities much better than the male counterparts. 

Do you think women leaders are still scrutinised as much for style as for substance?
Absolutely. Women are scrutinised for practically everything; right from their physical appearance to their leadership abilities. In a society that is governed by highly charged patriarchy, taking this scrutiny with a pinch of salt is the only option that a woman has. Men, too, are subject to this, but the imbalance in the ratio is a concern. 

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
It depends on the yardstick that you are using to measure effectiveness. Talking about intelligence and technical skills, they can’t be viewed via the sexism lens. Intelligence is gender neutral. But considering emotional intelligence, women tend to be more empathetic, sensitive, are not so scale-oriented and are focussed more on a wholesome decision that affects the least people (colleagues, employees, stakeholders and so on). Though there are a lot of studies showing that organisations led by female CEOs have performed well on the profit front, there is no thumb rule stating women are better than men. It would all depend on the hard work and constant reinvention that individuals put in. Having said that, the traits and qualities about women leaders are that they are more compassionate, they are role models for other women entrepreneurs and they believe in collaborative leadership. 

Women leaders in the 80’s and 90’s and women leaders today – what are the key differences? And what are the things that haven’t changed much?
Initially, women started from stereotypical jobs. However, that was enough to break the ice. We can’t even imagine the hardships faced by some remarkable women of that period to have chosen to take the leadership route, while others were still struggling to leave their homes for a 9-5 job. 

In today’s time, however, with the fight for equal rights and the feminist wave, it has become a lot easier for women to make choices independent of their gender. In fact, gender is no longer considered an excuse to not having achieved what their male counterparts have. The focus is more on competence. 

But there is still a need to change the traditional, patriarchal mindset whose preys as well as perpetrators are men and women alike. With the advent of digital media, including social media, it is really difficult to break this vicious cycle of stereotypes and gender equality. There is a huge media industry along with big corporates that thrive on these inequalities. 

How do you maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? How frequently do you have to sacrifice one for the other?
Sacrificing personal life just to succeed on the professional front is what most entrepreneurs go through. I have had to do the same. There have been times where I have been in a dilemma, where a choice between family and work had to be made. I didn’t think twice before making the obvious choice of career. This is what I am passionate about and luckily, family support has been in abundance for me. It is a constant tug-of-war of priorities and usually in my case, one weighs down the other. Having said that, I try and maintain a good work-life balance and maintaining close family ties with my near and dear ones is also another reason for my success and makes life meaningful for me. 

Do you think pay parity exists in our corporates today across levels? What about pay parity at the leadership levels?
It is very evident that discrepancies in pay are at all levels and every kind of profession. It exists even at the leadership level, but compared to the other positions, it is much less. The women leaders are more and better empowered to know their worth, and raise a voice at the hint of any inequality. But again, that is only possible if there is transparency and thorough knowledge of the industry that they are a part of. 

What would be your advice to women aiming for the C-suite?
If you can dream it, you can achieve it. The only thing that can bind you is your own mind and its limitations. Apart from that, women need to be willing to make sacrifices that are uniquely inherent to them. You need to be courageous enough to take that leap of faith. 

What, according to you, are the 3 important lessons new women leaders need to learn?
Given the interesting dynamics of women leaders and their challenges, I consider the following as extremely important lessons that women leaders can learn from to achieve the pinnacle of success in reach up the corporate ladder: 

  1. Risk-taking appetite: It is the ultimate formula if you are considering trailing the leadership path. Nobody is sure about what lies beyond the fog, but a few who do take a risk of passing through end up on clear roads. After reaching a certain peak, many leaders feel that there is nothing beyond that to achieve. As rightly said, sky is the limit. Hence, one should never stop dreaming. 
  2. Conviction: You cannot expect the people to believe you if you yourself are half-convinced. Whatever you need to do, make sure it is with full conviction. Success will be inevitable if you know how to tread along, even if it means walking alone. 
  3. Authenticity: Females as leaders have very peculiar traits. This makes them stand out from the cluster of male dominated C-suite circles. As leaders, women should retain their originality and aim at enhancing it. This is not a final list. But this is potion enough to create the magic that one aspires for.

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