This Women’s day Medianews4u.com is acknowledging some women leaders of the Media, Marketing, and Advertising fraternity who have given more than expected.
Presenting to you Women Leaders from Wunderman Thompson, who share their experiences of breaking the gender stereotypes and how they continue to inspire many other women who are true leaders in the making.
Ritu Nakra – WPP Client Lead, PepsiCo Foods India
I joined HTA almost two decades ago. I was trained by iconic leaders of the industry and I got the chance to work on the biggest and most prestigious clients of the organization from GSK to PepsiCo. Early on I learned that relationships anchor long-lasting partnerships, which is what WT is famous for, and so I have always invested in being a solid partner to my clients.
In my professional journey there came a point when I took a 4-year break to have and be with my baby and i was encouraged and supported by my leaders to come back to work when i was ready. As women, we often feel we need to quit and believe we cannot do both roles but i have seen that with the support of your team and leaders; you don’t have to give up on your dreams. I am now a WPP Stella Mentor and today I feel proud to pass on all that I have learned at this university of advertising to fellow colleagues.
As the fourth daughter of a mom who rebuilt her life post-partition; the one big life lesson that was embedded in me was the importance of Resilience and Perseverance to get ahead in life. I don’t give up and i don’t stay down. And this is what I always tell my female colleagues. Don’t give up on the situation or on yourself. There is always a way to make things better. Ask for help; seek support from your team and leaders. And always remember, just the act of showing up every day is a victory in itself.
I believe in encouraging and supporting women to develop the courage to speak up and to share their ideas and inputs freely and fearlessly. Many times women hold themselves back by limiting self-beliefs. Creating an environment at work that allows for women to push past their fears is what I actively strive to create. A gentle nudge and a kind word go a long way. When self-doubt is replaced with self-confidence, women are limitless.
Roopa Badrinath, Chief Talent Officer-South Asia, Wunderman Thompson
I grew up in a small town in the south of the Vindhyas sandwiched between two brothers. Girls had an undue advantage over boys in my family as my folks operated on a very simple premise that girls have to be cherished. No diversity agenda; no ulterior motive; no debate over weak vs strong; it just came straight from the heart. I grew up hearing my father dinning into my two brothers that if the women in their lives shed a tear because of them, then they had failed as men. I sometimes wonder if it put a lot of pressure on my brothers. It was only much later I realized the depth of that sagely advice especially after I spent inordinate hours counseling women to walk out of their abusive marriages or relationships.
Growing up in a small town has its own advantages with inclusion becoming a part of your life without you even realizing it. We had Anglo-Indian friends where some were like us and some looked as if they had walked out of a Jane Austen novel. We had friends from across every religion and socio-economic background and partook in all the festivities with equal gusto. We welcomed and embraced these differences. Yes, we did not know at that time that such commonplace inclusivity would become an international debate.
At home, I was surrounded by women who were homemakers but at the same time were well-read (books are oxygen to my family); had a decisive POV; had influencing skills; yet retained their femininity effortlessly. For me, it was never ever one at the cost of the other. You could be a woman and yet be all that you wanted to be. That confidence is what we need to build up in all the women and girls around us. You can be what you want to be; unapologetically.
Over the years I have come to realize how privileged I have been as a woman and as a person to have had this background. Maybe that is what makes me who I am. And it makes me more determined to be the voice of the women who are not as privileged as I am.
I never allowed any social conditioning to come in the way I wanted to turn out as a professional. Only my own mind had the ability to decide who I wanted to be or what I wanted to achieve. And I had to be my own ally and my own cheerleader for all the decisions that I took – for better or worse. I entered the corporate world at a time when one had to be mindful of what was possible and not possible for a woman; and what kind of jobs were respectable and not. And of course, the well-meaning warning about the ubiquitous glass ceiling that one would encounter. I just refused to acknowledge them and just focused on building my skills and capabilities and learn from all the things that worked for me and did not work for me. When I decided to take a break to humor my maternal instincts, I refused to listen to advice on how difficult it would be for me to get back into the corporate world. I had confidence in my ability to add value and I am here back in the corporate world to tell my story to whoever is willing to listen.
I have always been inspired by change-makers who have an unwavering belief in their ability to make a difference – however small it is. I have always been driven by a sense of purpose in whatever I do. Maybe having parents who very philanthropic sensibilities had shaped my attitude on this front. However, clichéd it may sound, life in general and people around me have always been my sources of inspiration. You need to develop the skill to pause, acknowledge, appreciate, and internalize. The trick is to pick and choose what inspires you and own it as if it were yours! I resonated with Austin Kleon’s book Steal like an artist several years later!
My message to all younger women out there is – learn to challenge all the social stereotypes that have been created for you (they did not ask you before creating them did they?); have belief in your own capabilities – never waver on that front; invest time in building up your professional skills not because you are a woman but because you are a serious committed professional; look for inspiring people around you (there are many if we look hard enough!); do not compromise on your authenticity and who you are – do not try to be somebody that you are not as the world expects you to do so as the façade will not be sustainable; never allow anybody to make you believe that you are a victim because of your gender – wear your gender proudly on your sleeve! And if you are a mother, do not beat yourself up with guilt or doubts about whether you are being a good enough mother and a professional at the same time. Do what you can and what you will as a responsible parent and as a professional. Self-doubt leads to lower self-esteem which shows up in your body language leading to unwarranted doubts about your capabilities. Never think you are invisible, unseen, and unheard – the universe manifests what you think! Be confident that the world needs more of all that you bring to the table (more than ever now!) – empathy, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, inter-personal skills, nurturing skills. Lastly, slay all the demons in your own mind about what you can and cannot do to ensure that you are not coming in the way of your growth!
I have always believed that people must be allowed to be themselves irrespective of their gender. I have never discriminated on assignments to my team members based on their gender. I may show more empathy to a young mother who is balancing her professional responsibilities and the instinctive call of being a mother. Considering my long experience in the corporate world, I keep getting requests even though my social channels to mentor women. And I try to do the best I can by balancing my professional and personal priorities. I am a strong believer in Mentoring Moments and Coaching Moments. You do not have to set aside a specific time to mentor or coach women (especially if you are hard-pressed for time!). You need to exhibit behaviors that serve as multiple bite-sized moments of mentoring or coaching to the women who are watching and internalizing your behaviors.
At Wunderman Thompson, we have a structured mentoring program for women. In addition, we have a leadership program for women called Pass It On. We make it a point to nominate our women for impactful programs run by our vendor partners like Fast Forward by Facebook; #IAmRemarkable by Google. We have a very clearly articulated diversity agenda for the country which is dovetailed with the agenda of our parent network and the APAC office. At the moment we are auditing all our Job Descriptions in the company to ensure that we do not have inadvertent gendered terms in them. We are very mindful of the fact that an inclusive culture precedes diversity and the culture at the workplace must be welcoming and create a sense of belonging for women. There are multiple bite-sized programs like Conscious Terminology, Psychological Safety, Microaggressions, Breaking Masculine Stereotypes, Inclusion, and Diversity nudges, removing biases from the hiring process that we are currently curating to ensure that inclusion becomes the cornerstone for all-out efforts on gender diversity in the organization.
Rohini Saldanha Director – Corporate Communications, Wunderman Thompson South Asia
I come from an armed forces background and I learned to adapt and be resilient from an early age as I had to change school every 2 years with different curriculums, had to learn new languages which were mandatory in some places and adjust to new cultures and people. I credit my mother with always being able to make the best of any situation. She taught me and my elder sister to always strive and work hard, so as to never have regrets. I have followed that advice my whole life and have been disciplined and diligent throughout. Right from being the class topper through school including winning the rolling shield for academic excellence in my 9th grade, to securing a distinction as a graduate and postgraduate, I have always believed in #inittowinit.
When I graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, I had just turned 20. With age on my side, I decided to try something different before I pursued higher studies or decide which profession I wanted to make a career out of. For a lark, I joined Kingfisher Airlines as cabin crew and enjoyed every bit of it. Looking back, I’m so glad I made that decision to join the airlines. Right from grooming tips to deportment to people skills, the training I received, and the job per se, gave that much-needed boost to my self-esteem. A year into the job and I wanted to become a pilot and enrolled in a training school in Serbia. Luckily for air passenger’s on the whole, my pilot dreams didn’t materialize and I quickly course-corrected by pursuing higher studies abroad.
Pursuing a career in communications was the wisest decision I have made as I love to talk. Jokes aside, I knew I had certain skills and capabilities such as creativity, strategic thinking, storytelling, being persuasive, and persistence, to make a success of this career. I look back at my career with pride, love, and happiness. I didn’t have a godfather in the industry nor did I have a family business to fall back on. In a career that has so far spanned public relations, marketing communications, and advertising, a few high points of my career have been winning new business, handling tough clients, and speaking at FICCI Frames early on in my career, and of course my current job at Wunderman Thompson.
While I’m proud to call myself a Thompsonite, I’m even prouder to call myself a Xaverite. As I say, it’s not a college but an institution. The highest point of my career was when I was recently invited by St. Xavier’s College to engage with the TYBMM students to share my insights, learnings about brands, marketing, and communications.
My mother who is a homemaker inspires me. I have much respect for the precision with which she goes about her daily chores and sticks to her routine. The lesson I have learned from her is that some days you may feel like it and other days you may not, but being disciplined is important and allows one to power through. Many management books have been written on the power of habit and throughout my life, I have seen my mother live it.
Besides my mother, I inspire myself. Instead of looking around, I look within and look back at how I circumnavigated problems in the past to realize I can get through anything in life if I choose to. What it all finally boils down to is the human mind. When we improve the way we think, nothing is impossible to achieve. Many people talk about mentors and make much ado about mentorship. Frankly speaking, happiness and the answers to most problems in life come from within and not from around. So when things don’t go our way, we blame our circumstances and people around us, but if we just took responsibility for our own choices, we will realize that we can course-correct and improve the quality of our lives. Our lives are a series of choices we make. Period.
My message of inspiration to women would be – Cut out the noise and the voices in your head. We can be our own worst critics and worrying too much about perceptions and opinions can be demotivating and derail you in the long run. Focus on what you know and believe to be true. We women are blessed with a strong gut instinct otherwise also called ‘intuition’ and this should be the guiding light that can help propel us forward.
Most important, as I told my fellow Xaverites during a session, no one has it all figured out. Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. So relax and don’t beat yourself up too much. Just trust the process, believe in yourself, and work immensely hard. Work with integrity and give every assignment or job your 100% and you will reap the rewards.
I strongly believe in building people and mentoring whenever the opportunity has presented itself. Good leaders know that by sharing information and empowering people, you create an ecosystem of continuous learning and build a culture of trust.
While it is great to be a part of well-structured programs or initiatives to support women, I feel unofficial and simple things make a huge difference too. For example, being a sounding board for your women colleagues, being kind, sensitive, and empathetic when it comes to flexible working /time off from work to better balance their work and personal lives, recommending their names for training workshops and, guiding and encouraging them to be fearless to unlock their potential.
It is vital that women learn to be better allies to their fellow women colleagues. We should introspect of how we treat our fellow women counterparts. Instead of always berating men and talking about mansplaining, the buck needs to start and end with us. We, women, need to walk the talk of empowering and enabling women to be their confident best. Only then can a revolution be underway.