Anita Kotwani, CEO, Carat India.
Let me start by telling you that I do not come from this industry. For a person who graduated in Law, this industry was a completely new playground. However, when you have friends, coaches and mentors that invest in you, the journey is invigorating and fulfilling. Introducing me to this wonderful industry was my brother’s very close friend Sundeep Nagpal, one of the top media consultants back then. I was petrified and unsure whether I would live up to his expectations, but the sheer effort and commitment that he showed to groom talent, myself included, was amazing. I, to date, credit him for introducing me to this industry, training me on the media fundamentals that come in handy for me even now. Once I grew under his guidance as a professional, I never looked back.
From there I moved on and had the pleasure of working with the Dainik Bhaskar Group. I worked closely with Suresh Nimbalkar and the owner of the group, Girishji, who then helmed the media business for the DB Corp Group. This was a stint on the other side where I honed my skills to learn how to launch a publication in the market. I also had the privilege and joy of launching their Chandigarh and Haryana editions.
Thereupon came a call from the top media agency Lintas, and an opportunity to work on the HUL business, which I grabbed with both hands. It was a pleasure working closely with Helen Anchan, a stalwart of the industry at that time, who shaped and groomed me further as a media professional. After a wonderful stint with Lintas and Initiative, where I had the opportunity to work with Lynn, Ashish and Yesu, I moved on to the WPP group.
At that time, the WPP group had recently won the HSBC global mandate and were looking at someone to lead the business. I was called for an interview with Ashutosh and Shuba. They were keen to have me on board, and I decided to take on the HSBC account and the next progression of my career trajectory.
This is where I have spent the maximum time of my career, a place where I gave 16 years of my working life, a place that will always be fondly etched in my life. Here is where I worked with the best of bosses, had the most awesome team and together we grew the business to the scale it is currently in Mindshare. So, kudos to all those awesome bosses, Vikram, Srini, Hiren, Gman, Ravi, Prasanth Kumar, Amin and Parthasarathy who ensured that meritocracy was rewarded and over the years I got the elevation and role I deserved. Also, kudos to the wonderful team that made me shine and bask in the glory that we jointly drove as a team.
However, I do feel in one’s journey there comes a time when you want to stop being complacent and you want to get “uncomfortable”. With the changing eco-system and the way, the agency model today is evolving; I wanted to shake myself up. I wanted to see how well I can perform and shape an agency model that works for today’s time. And that led me to join dentsu.
I have immense respect for the dentsu network. I firmly believe that their offerings are superior especially in this new age changing eco-system.
So that’s where I am today and have the pleasure to work closely with Ashish, Anand, Kartik, Divya, and the larger dentsu family.
Their rich offering in the creative, media and CXM line of business is superlative, my learning curve has spiralled within nine months of my stint here. Working closely with the Carat global and India team has been enriching. it’s just the start, lots to get done and I am charged up with the new mandate to drive a prestigious brand like Carat.
I am a strong believer in this quote ‘’Strategy without execution is hallucination’’ and I am grateful to my brother who gifted me the book “4 Disciplines of Execution”. This re-shaped me as a professional and brought in a discipline in the way I work.
It’s like a mantra in my head
1) What is the wildly important goal that you want to achieve?
2) Do you have a lag and lead measure for its success?
3) Are you keeping a scorecard to see its progress?
4) Are you driving cadence of accountability starting with yourself first?
So, to all the women co-workers all I would like to say is that the mantra “Strategy without execution is hallucination” works for both your personal and professional life. Do try it, bring discipline into your life to achieve your wildly important goals whether its time with family that you want to focus on or the weight management plan you want to get into or the targets that you want to achieve for your business. It Works!
All you need is Discipline.
I would like to really twist this question to how do you empower your team in the workplace? I would like to be gender agnostic here.
- Have a process driven by meritocracy.
- Reward performance based on delivery.
- Empower and stand up for all your team members who you feel deserve the next elevation or the next senior management position.
Sujata Dwibedy, Group Trading Director, Amplifi India, dentsu
I started my career in the advertising industry and have worked on all facets of media. Even with more than two decades of experience in media as well as business acquisitions, I still learn something new each day, because I am an eternal learner.
My journey so far has been of navigation through right-wrong decisions and managing people. An important aspect is risk-taking. I started as a Media Planner, moved into being a Media Planner/Buyer- an integrated role, then got into Media Research and later moved to Buying/Strategy. Further, moved to a Business P&L role. Now, I am leading Buying & Trading at dentsu international, India. Feels great to have worked extensively on accounts across FMCG, BFSI, Telecom, Hospitality & Airlines, F&B & Lifestyle.
I started my career in Delhi but soon moved to Mumbai after just a couple of years. It’s been 20 years in Mumbai now. Personally, from being a fresher to a mom of an adolescent, the journey has been both hectic and enriching. A consistent balancing act between family and work. For me, there is no clear demarcation between office work and household work because both hold equal importance in my life. Sometimes one takes priority over the other due to circumstances, but the key is to maintain the balance in the long run.
I always wished to get into advertising. Though I wanted to join Client Servicing, the initial opportunity was in Media services, so I took it up. Once in media, I enjoyed it so much that there was no way I’d move away to Client servicing.
Media & advertising has the culmination of both creativity and rational thinking, a rare combination – the nuances of which I soaked in as an arty mathematics graduate. Add to it, the variety of industries and the daily interaction with so many stakeholders across spheres. The resultant work profile is addictive to me and inspires me to bring out the best in me.
I have worked with stalwarts of the industry who have encouraged me, supported me and pushed me to give my best to reach my potential. Their belief and guidance have inspired me all along. The relationships built over the years are also strong. Striving to be the best at whatever you pursue, pushing oneself on despite difficult situations is the key. Being fearless and embracing change smoothly is also critical.
As you grow in your roles, many will try to pull you down, what is important is that the attention should be on the result – not the journey or the commotions. Recognise your strengths, speak up for yourself and speak up for what is right. Most importantly, accomplishments can be really boosting if you can manage both, family and job well.
We need to be open to learning, be open to making mistakes. We need to build and value relationships with old/ new colleagues, industry stakeholders, clients, et al. We need to dream big and stay committed to what we love to do.
Instead of just focusing on self-progress, we should also see how we can help other women and bring them along the journey. We need to create an environment where people want to work in a team to engage with each other and strive jointly to achieve a common goal. A little pep talk here and there from a senior co-worker can go a long way. To tell them what the macro outlook is. It is very important to motivate, appreciate and encourage them.
They should pursue and own their goals. It is not always easy but once one sees the larger picture, they would themselves develop the means to overcome the difficulties. It is not bad at all to be ambitious. Once one embraces it, abilities are unlocked. Also, one should never back away from learning new skills while also constantly challenging their own skills.
Mentorship and coaching to support career growth, encouraging women employees to identify their developmental areas. Choosing mentors and sponsorship, are also excellent ways to jumpstart empowerment in women.
Policies designed around flexible working hours, women safety & protection, etc. Mandated Gender-sensitisation certifications for all including male supervisors around forward-thinking topics like unconscious bias, leadership & mentoring, diversity & inclusion, etc.
Inspire women to showcase their leadership by giving them high-visibility initiatives. Conscious efforts to bring in gender diversity at the top-level management.
Anupama Ramaswamy, Managing Partner and National Creative Director, dentsu Impact.
Fresh out after my graduation in Botany and while waiting to start my Masters in Agriculture, I was bored. In the laid back city of Kolkata, one morning I happen to see a small ad for an advertising course. My mum, pushed me to go check it out. And that’s it. There was no looking back. While being a trainee at Mudra Kolkata, eating every lunch from Azad Hind Dhaba was the high point. Then I moved to the big city of New Delhi. And when I set foot into an ad agency like FCB (then known as ULKA), as a Junior Art Director, it was the formal entry into the world of advertising. From that nascent beginning, fast-forward 21 years, to now being the Managing Partner and National Creative Director at dentsu Impact the journey has been a lovely roller coaster. If someone would have told me back then that one day I’d be an NCD, I’d have never believed it! During my early years, I never worked with any woman boss, till I met three of my most favourite boss women – AnujaChauhan, PritiKapur and Swati Bhattacharya. Each one of them taught me different things. From the forthright behaviour of Anuja to the fantastic logical presentations of Priti to the most romantic presenter I know – Swati, each one of them is masters in their craft. I also realised women really need to be there for other women in advertising. Not because they need any support but somewhere I still do believe it’s a boys club out there and it takes a while to find your ground as a woman. So just being there for each other help. However, every one of us has to find our own comfortable way of doing so. For me, it has always been about work. The work which makes you wake up in the middle of the night and look for a pencil, or work that evokes this sweet sense of jealousy when you see someone else’s work and you think ‘why you didn’t think of this. Judging both national and international shows teaches you a lot. It also helps you see work from various viewpoints.
But comings back home; you still hear the term work-life balance a bit much. Honestly, I’m still figuring the meaning of the term. Because while it is not complicated to figure it but at the same time it is also not easy to achieve. But life has a way to figure things out for us. One quality that I believe has got me here is – tenacity. Not giving up is the one thing I would tell every woman..and the second is the ability to learn at any age. I remember when I was younger and managing my job and evening MBA classes most people would tell me to give up. But studying while working has taught me work-life balance and that we can learn at any age. I just finished a course in design thinking and insights for innovation from IDEOU and it opened up my mind in a completely new way. So my two-bit to all the women out there, GO, GIRL. You can and will figure it out.
Aksha Sachdev, Associate Director, Fractal Ink-Linked by Isobar.
It was 2008; I was 22, full of energy and thrilled to have scored a job in advertising. Very soon I knew I wasn’t committing to a job, I was in fact embracing a new lifestyle. My first role was in the Direct Marketing division of Lowe Lintas, it was an interesting time to be pursuing Direct Marketing since the function itself was going through an identity transformation. With the influx of Digital, its highly targeted nature and the possibilities that the new data promised; the function of Direct Marketing was evolving and I used this opportunity to ride the wave. I kept embracing knowledge and that took me into areas such as Data-Driven Marketing, even a bit of Main Line advertising and a lot of Digital Marketing, thanks to really great workplaces like DDB Mudra and Isobar that offered me these opportunities and groomed me into a true problem solver. The more I broadened my purview, the more I found myself being completely media agnostic, and my constant aim was to go where the customer went and to communicate with them in a format they best understood. In 2016, I took a pause to rethink my future course and that’s when I went to Hyper Island for a Masters in Digital Product Management. I adopted a new problem-solving tool, Design Thinking and diverted my energies to tech product design and strategy. And my current role – User Experience Strategist & Associate Director at Fractal Ink, truly allows me to help my clients plan a roadmap for their products and build a human-centred customer experience for their end-users.
Don’t apologise for being good at prioritising and balancing. Our industry has an unaddressed problem of equating time spent at a desk, with success in the job. Being effective is a lesson one can hope to learn in due course or you can make amends to achieve it today. I truly believe it’s an acquired skill and has strings attached to your relationship with co-workers, their perception of you and your work and lastly your desire to own your time. Sometime halfway through my journey, I had started to notice a difference between late-night prone individuals and effective individuals and I aspired to be the latter. Key things I learnt were, the value of your time is equally proportionate to the value you add to the process. And you will add the most value when you plan ahead, communicate precisely what is required and trust the system of shared accountability.
Firstly, by not treating them differently. This I can say with utmost confidence, it is in the cultural DNA of Fractal Ink. We believe in offering equal opportunity, constructive feedback and gradual exposure to complexity, to all, this helps not only their career growth but also allows them to appreciate their own skill. A big play of empowering a co-worker is to recognise when they are ready for the next level of challenge and to offer them that. And this is no different for men or women.
Pragati Rana, General Manager Strategy & Operations, dentsu mcgarrybowen India
My journey has been ‘normal’. Normal equals boring in any other context but for a woman at work, normal is great. Normal is what you want. No harassment, no microaggression and no bias.
My tryst with advertising started when I arrived at Leo from MICA and joined a team led by a sharp female boss. In my Leo stint, I reported to two female bosses and one guy. When I moved to the client-side in GSK, it was the opposite. In my time there, I reported to two male bosses and one female boss. Both the equations taught me things. I soon realised that agency life was my calling so came back to advertising and joined the dentsu network. Even though I didn’t have a female manager here, I got a culture that very strongly saw only talent and capability and not my gender. So, I’m grateful that my advertising journey has been ‘normal’.
However, thanks to my friends and acquaintances who have faced some very complicated situations at their workplaces, I’m humbly aware of the power of ‘normal’ life in advertising.
Strong role models, the right to speak your mind without flinching, the freedom to experiment and the space to learn from failures, the right people who can see not just what you are but what you can be…everything that inspires an ambitiously healthy person at work.
When it comes to women at work, there’s a tricky balance that you need to work towards. You need to forget all about gender on one hand but at the same time, go the extra mile to make women feel safe and equal. The ideal state is when gender becomes invisible.
I think the work done by a generation of women sets the tone for the next generation. All the things we take for granted today were once challenges faced by women and solved by them. The right to be treated as equal, the right to go a maternity leave, the right to raise a voice against abuse disguised as ask from a boss were hand-me-downs from generations of leaders before us.
Even when they weren’t fighting and while they were just doing their jobs’, knowingly or unknowingly, they were inspiring many, many more women to take up more ambitious roles. Their presence in the hierarchy was normalising the view from below and their presence in the room was disrupting the monotony of power. This is what I urge all women to do. To do their jobs in their own unique ways and show the generations to come, newer paths to follow, in light and in darkness. It is the passing of the baton. The last generation did a wonderful job. Now, it’s our turn.
Apart from the much talked about things like bridging the gender pay gap, providing infrastructural support to women like office cabs for late-night work, sanitary pads dispensers at work, I would like to touch on some finer collective behaviours that can be groomed in a workplace.
Meritocracy over ‘gender-o-cracy’
Let there be conversations about merit, opportunities, capabilities and not let gender be part of that conversation. The culture should be focused on capabilities and positivity. There should be no room for any gender-based bias in there.
Sensitisation over trivialisation
While we need to keep the gender lens aside, we need to be sensitive to issues faced by women, even if it’s the only handful of them. Even if as women, we have never faced any such issues ourselves, personally.
Often, the problems of women get trivialised behind their backs.
“She’s not really having period cramps, she just wanted a day off.”
“She’s complaining about that guy because she couldn’t say no to him and now we have to do it.”
“He’s a really good person. He must be just joking. I’m sure that she’s overreacting.”
Whatever the case may be, we need to stop acting like Gods and ‘know-it-all’s. We can’t have a blanket rule but we can have an open mind. We need to be sensitive and stop the corridor trivialisation that goes on. Instead, focus on solving the problem and making women feel safe to come to us with their problems.
Work on positive assumptions
“This is too effort-consuming for her.”
“She might not be able to handle the stress of this role”
“She won’t be able to manage late-night work because of her baby”
Women love power, responsibility, opportunities for growth just as much as men…as much as any ambitious human being would. So discussions should replace assumptions. We need to check with her before we assume that she won’t be able to do it because sometimes, protecting her and making the decisions for her might lead to stunting her growth.
Using gender-neutral vocab
This was a suggestion that actually came from a male colleague at work of ditching gender-biased words like ‘mankind’ and using neutral words like ‘humankind’ instead, wherever possible.
The importance of this cannot be emphasised enough.
When your organisation is built on equality, you don’t need to say it but people need to see it. Nothing motivates women (subconsciously) more than role models. When you see a woman in power, a woman in charge, you want to be her. That is the proof of the pudding, the embodiment of your beliefs, an absolute must.
When the world sees Wendy Clark, they see the Global CEO of dentsu international. When a woman sees Wendy Clark, she sees paths and possibilities.