“Women are more collaborative in their approach to managing people and work”

We, at Adgully, have always saluted and honoured women managers and leaders across diverse fields. 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 seek to 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.

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Dr Meenakshi Aggarwal Gupta is Co Founder and Chief Operating Officer, 4AM Worldwide. She spent the first 15 years of her life teaching in various business schools like Indian Institute of Management Indore and KJ Somaiya Institute of Management. Along with her teaching, training and consulting, she is a prolific researcher and has published papers and cases in various national and international journals and magazines.

During her academic stint, she has consulted with and trained thousands of managers of various companies, including many Fortune 500 companies. Her training and consulting experience gave her the impetus to take the plunge into entrepreneurship and help set up 4AM Worldwide.

In conversation with Adgully, Dr Meenakshi Aggarwal Gupta, Co Founder and Chief Operating Officer, 4AM Worldwide, speaks about leadership skills in the post-pandemic world, maintaining work-life balance in today’s times, lessons she learnt as a woman leader, gender sensitivity in today’s workplace, and more.

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

The pandemic brought in various changes to the workplace and contradictions have become a new normal. People want to work from home but also want the vibrancy of office life. There has been less mentoring and on the job training but the need for training and upskilling is higher than ever before. Business fluctuations are no longer spaced out and coping with them requires one to be constantly aware and agile. Work norms and work behaviour are being redefined, but the newer definitions have still not been formulated.

While the role of a leader has not changed, the emphasis on certain activities has definitely gone up. There is a greater need to reach out and connect with people - be it employees or customers. Leaders need to identify what will work for their organisation and then communicate the new norms to everyone. Women leaders with their ability to engage with employees can help define the new normal that is more equitable and inclusive for all. Communication has always been a key success factor but it can be used as a force multiplier by the women leaders. The more leaders communicate, the more they will help people make sense of their environment and respond to it.

With their ability to be collaborative and agile, women will need to take on more leadership roles and responsibilities to help define the new normal for their organisations. In addition to that, they may need to act as role models and champions for the women who are struggling with various challenges brought in by the pandemic. While everyone recognizes that most of the caregiving responsibilities and additional work related to home and family has fallen on women, organisations and especially women leaders will need to ensure that these women managers are provided with the required support.

The rapid transition to digital, an uncertain economic landscape, charting unknown waters, working from home – how have you been navigating during the COVID-19 times? How are you maintaining work-life balance in the new normal?

Optimism, perseverance, and experimentation have helped me navigate through the last couple of years. There was constant communication between my co-founders and I which helped all of us keep energised and on track. Also, as an organisation that supports and backs women in leadership and managerial roles, we have been able to create structures that ensure that women don’t drop out because of challenges on the personal front.

For me, work-life balance does not mean that these two parts of life have to work in tandem. I prioritise what requires more attention and effort and get that done. There will be times when work takes priority over personal time and vice versa. But it balances out in the long run. Having said that, work-life balance requires us to value our time. It requires a focused approach and pursuing tasks to their completion. We are surrounded by distractions and constant interruptions may appear normal. But they reduce our productivity and make it difficult to manage any aspect of our lives - be it work or personal life. Relentless prioritisation is the only way to help get more out of each day.

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?

Women are more collaborative in their approach to managing people and work. They are more likely to take initiative and invest in the development of others. As one study showed, women scored higher than men on 17 of the 19 leadership competencies. Employees tend to be more engaged when led by women leaders. Competence combined with commitment to work, and people shows that whether in the field of business or politics, countries and companies led by women or where women have a greater representation at the senior levels tend to outperform entities that are male dominated.

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

I am not sure I would be able to segregate my learning to gendered experiences. However, here are my effectiveness lessons learnt as a leader:

  1. Make the time to listen and to speak to people - People want to be heard and they want to be inspired. They want to see the bigger picture and want to feel confident and excited about what they are doing. The more time you invest in people, the more they will invest back in you.
  2. Network - Get connected to people outside of your organisation and home environment. You will know what’s happening, you will see patterns and movements in the environment that will help you plan and preempt the changes that occur around you.
  3. Invest before you delegate - Delegation does not mean offloading your work. When you delegate your work to people, ensure that you work with them to achieve a successful outcome. Invest in training, handholding and challenging them so that each project becomes a learning experience for them.
  4. Be willing to take tough decisions - Forging a growth path will require you to take tough decisions. Be willing to take them.
  5. Be curious and learn - There are hundreds of emergent phenomena around you. You may not get to learn about everything but be curious. Ask questions and listen to answers, read, and explore. And then share where possible.

Gender sensitivity and inclusion in the new normal – how can organisations effectively encourage and groom women leaders in challenging times?

Men and women approach decisions differently. Let me share an example. Countless studies have shown that women will avoid venturing into something unless they are confident that they can deliver. They are likely to underestimate their competence levels while men are likely to overestimate them. And this difference in confidence levels is starker in younger women.

While organisations can and should put in systems and processes to support people while they manage the new normal and increased responsibilities on the home front, the key differentiator is going to be the confidence they can give to women employees. This may come from actively countering biases and stereotypes that can hold women back, providing networking and mentoring opportunities to give them the required confidence and providing them with challenging roles that can help build their confidence and capabilities.


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