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The W Suite | Shivani Gupta: Women must ignore attempts to mould their behaviour

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. 

Shivani Gupta, News Editor and Anchor with Republic TV, has been in the TV news space for over a decade after a successful stint in print journalism. She has been with Republic TV since the launch of the channel in May 2017. Gupta takes on the biggest issues of the day in the 8 pm show, ‘Burning Question’, on the channel.

Apart from being a journalist, Gupta is also the co-author of the autobiography of India’s leading tennis player Sania Mirza – ‘Ace Against Odds’, which was released two years ago. 

How would you define today’s woman leader?
Fearless and less mindful, restricted by her gender. The most important woman leader today is the one who neither worries about being feminine nor imitates manly behaviour. 

Despite the qualifications, aptitude and experience, why do you think we don’t see the expected number of women on field after a point of time?
There is considerable attrition of women from the media industry after a certain age or time in life because the harsh reality of journalism, especially TV journalism, is that it leaves barely any time for family planning and life at home. Especially for field reporters there are no shifts. It is a 24x7 cycle. So, some women in their early thirties have chosen to forego family life, while many others have chosen to cut down on field reporting or change industries. It is a hard decision, but women have to take it, which is why I feel the TV news industry must focus more on doing its best to retain experienced women. 

Also Read: The W Suite | Empathic and authentic leadership is important: Yash Samat

News always has been a male bastion. As a women in charge what would be your goals in taking forward the group?
Firstly, I don’t agree that news is a male bastion. There are more women in newsrooms than in boardrooms and in all positions – from a producer, reporter, graphics artist to anchor, editor and more. So, not having enough women is not an issue. And like I said earlier, for me to lead, I can’t think on the lines of what I should do as a woman. I want to do what needs to be done and what feels right to do. The choice becomes easier and simpler when you approach it like that.  

How acute is the gender pay gap issue in India today? What needs to be done to address this in an effective manner? 
In the news industry, gender pay gap is less acute because there are just more women. But overall, the problem exists in all industries. As more and more women are seen as bread winners for their families, and not just women who work because they can or add to the main income, the gap will become lower. And women, too, have to exert themselves more if they feel they are being short-changed.  

What are the foremost attributes that women leaders in today’s business ecosystem must possess?
The ability to be themselves. Over the years, watching around and working myself, I feel there is pressure of acting in a certain way. But you can’t lead if you are always looking over your shoulder and worrying too much about what others think of you. Women have this pressure more than men. So for me, added to all things one has to do to be successful and taken seriously, women must also ignore attempts to mould their behaviour. For example, women in offices are for some reason expected to ‘smile more’. I wish I had a rupee every time I was told this – that ‘you come across as too fierce’. No man is ever told this. Let people talk. Smile at them and ignore them and do you own thing. If that is being soft spoken, then don’t change that either. 

Any message for aspiring women leaders out there who want to make a difference in their careers? 
I can only share the lessons I have learnt, which are:

  • Be fearless
  • Don’t doubt, act
  • Play by your own rules, never do anything just because others do
  • Never succumb to doing anything you are not comfortable with under pressure
  • Be generous and invest in young people, give them the freedom you would have wanted 

Are women reporters dissuaded from doing hard line or dangerous terrain stories because they are women?
Absolutely not. It depends on the reporter herself or himself. Conflict reporting is not for everyone. 

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
No such thing. Women are not better than men just as men are not better than women. Every leader is different. 

Also Read: The W Suite | Leadership is gender neutral: Manashi Kumar, BARC India

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?
As I mentioned earlier, this industry is tough. You have to be fully devoted every day. The news cycle gets to you and it is addictive too. Through my twenties I did barely anything else. I have learnt to switch off now and it is something you have to train yourself to do. I devote my time to important projects and try to de-clutter my mind. Do less, but more impactful stuff and realise that you can’t do everything. In my thirties now, I, of course, feel the pressure to plan for my family and future life and want to give more time to my parents. What works for me is to work when I am working and chill when I am chilling. Put a high price on your free time.  

How proactive have our corporates been when it comes to addressing a serious issue like sexual harassment at workplace?
Sexual harassment at workplace, which comes in all shapes and forms, continues to be a major challenge. I don’t think leaders still are quite clear on how to deal with it. Both men and women seem uncomfortable with what is right and wrong and how to tackle it. It is still a relatively new concept in India. And while companies may say they have zero tolerance, it is unclear how they want to achieve it. First, of course, the top hierarchy has to lead by example. Even simple stuff like sexist wisecracks have to be not laughed at. When the small stuff is taken seriously, I feel the harassment part will be too. At workplaces, people tend to imitate others. But of course, it remains as crucial as ever to ensure that women feel confident to complain about offences and I don’t think women are. Having more women in offices will certainly help in breaking the ‘water cooler culture’ men have too.

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