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The W-Suite | “Work place bias is a structural impediment for women”

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. 

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. 

Priyanka Shah, Director – Mobile, Isobar India, joined the agency in January 2016. Prior to that, she was with Ogilvy & Mather, where she was Mobility Head (Mumbai) and was heading the mobile business across brands for Mumbai region. Prior to this, she was with PHD, where she was handling mobile strategy and planning for HUL (all brands). 

An engineer by qualification, Shah has over eight years of professional experience in Telecom, MVAS Marketing and Mobile Marketing, with a focus in business/ functional analysis and product management. She has been successful in devising mobile first strategies for brands across categories like FMCG, Healthcare, Automobile, F&B, etc. 

Being an engineer always made her extremely driven towards technology and its innumerable possibilities. Shah brings to the table a unique combination of marrying brands with technology to get the most impactful solution out of it and loves to call herself a ‘Mobile Architect’. 

The biggest high in her career was being featured as “Top 25 Mobile Women to Watch 2017 Globally “ in Mobile Marketer edition by Boston Consulting. 

What defines a woman leader in today’s ecosystem?
‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a Leader’, as quoted by John Quincy Adams, and to my mind this holds true for women and men. And in the future, I hope there will be no female or male leaders, only LEADERS. 

Why do you think a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions?
Women have to be tougher, putting double the effort and perform twice as well to be considered half as good. The ‘Glass ceiling’ is a barrier so subtle that it is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women from moving up the corporate hierarchy.

Work place bias is a structural impediment for women since the business world as a whole is still run by men, many of whom make unwarranted assumptions based on stereotypical notions about how women do or should behave. Different standards are applied for the evaluation of women and men – in hiring, work assignments, compensation, and promotions. Men and women are judged by different criteria, they are expected to perform differently, and they are rewarded differently for the same.
Women are also more likely than men to voluntarily step off the career ladder, unable to overcome the guilt and stress of balancing their workplace and home, sacrificing their positions if their family responsibilities so demand. The timing of taking breaks from work can have a negative effect on career trajectories and stop women from following traditional routes to senior roles. 

Do you think women leaders are still scrutinised as much for style as for substance?
I believe style and substance both go hand in hand, more so in today’s digital era. Your Charisma or Style is a measure of your confidence, whereas substance is a measure of your mettle, what you are made of. This holds true for both men and women. Style is important because your personality isn’t the first thing people see, so “If you have it, flaunt it”, and let your work and actions take care of the rest.

Style can also indicate your mind-set...Teresa May wore bold, leopard-patterned shoes when she entered 10 Downing Street for the first time. Did she put those on thinking that she was signalling something: “I mean business?” 

Dozens of countries around the world have had women at the helm, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Norway, Denmark, Liberia and Canada. But female leaders are still scrutinised as much for style as for substance, and invariably compared to one another – a sign that they are considered exceptions, rather than the rule. 

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
Women are as ambitious, educated and prepared as their male peers and more emotional too. I believe that being emotional is not an emotion one should hide, but an asset that one should share. The ‘feeling’ side of the brain is as important to leadership as the ‘logical thinking’ side of the brain, since it makes them leaders one can connect to, relate to. Also, women are more solution-oriented and deft at multitasking. 

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?
The rules have changed. Society’s idea of what represents a legitimate and appropriate career for women has moved on. Women have always worked, but I think it’s just accepted now that women have a career.

In the early 90’s, there was no such reality: women worked at work and worked at home. Work-life balance was once seen exclusively as a “woman’s problem”, specifically, one faced by mothers. These days, men also talk the talk, accept household responsibilities and believe in equal division of labour at home.

Workplaces, too, have become more supportive when it comes to catering to the needs of working parents. From onsite crèches, discounted child care services, to day care centres for toddlers, to perks such as increased paid maternity leave, options to take a year’s sabbatical, and work from home options. 

How do you maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? How frequently do you have to sacrifice one for the other?
Working women inevitably have to make hard choices at times between family responsibilities and career. But keeping in mind that my family also benefits from my working, and since I have the ability to switch on and switch off from professional life to personal life and vice versa, I am able to make things work out satisfactorily. Also, I enjoy tremendous support from my partner and family, which definitely goes a long way in keeping me focused and sane. 

Do you think pay parity exists in our corporates today across levels? What about pay parity at the leadership levels?
Significant gender differences are evident – with women much more likely than men to say that the two genders are not treated equally. 

Women are united in their views across generations: Millennial women, who are starting their careers on a fairly equal footing with their male counterparts, are just as likely as older generations to believe that women face an uphill climb in terms of being treated alike. 

I believe pay parity is a critical issue. However there are some organisations like Isobar or Dentsu Aegis Network, who have taken efforts to bridge the gap and support women working in their organisations in every possible way to achieve what they deserve and set examples for others to follow. 

Optimism aside though, it is still up to us women to fight for what we deserve. In this case, we deserve equal pay, which means an end to gender discrimination and hopefully, a more transparent system able to eradicate these parities in the future. 

What would be your advice to women aiming for the C-suite?
Remember the words of Margaret Thatcher: “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country”. 

Be the kind of woman that makes other women want to be you. 

What, according to you, are the 3 important lessons new women leaders need to learn?
Learn by example: Find role models who can help them visualise where they could be at different points in the future. Take inspiration from those who’ve gone before them, and learn how to better navigate their own careers from the experiences of these role models – their successes and their failures.

Use your voice: When it comes to standing up for what you believe in or voicing your opinions on things, never fail to make use of your voice. Make use of what God has given you and say what you think, say what you believe in, and argue against what you don’t.

Stay grounded: You need your support system with you always. 

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