September 9, 2016

The W-Suite | Leadership is not about gender: Prema Sagar

It was the trio of India’s betiyaan – PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar – who kept the country’s spirits high at the Rio Olympics. At the recent event to launch Reliance Jio, the spotlight was also on the next generation of business leaders – Akash and Isha Ambani, who looks after branding and consumer initiatives. As the old guards change – be it in any sphere – the forward march of women can no longer be stemmed or ignored.

It has now become imperative for companies to reinvent and change their old ways of functioning as the business and economic landscape evolves. Today’s market realities require new skill sets, greater flexibility, more collaboration and the ability to think and adapt on one’s feet.

Gone are the days when the thinking was more on the lines of ‘get a man to do this job’. 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.

And yet, the perception about the ability of women leaders to get things done remain not too encouraging. Women continue to be scrutinised as much for style as for substance. Hence, a hundred per cent gender equality in leadership positions is yet o be achieved.

But there are way too many trend-setters and convention-breakers. And we don’t have to look far, as there are several inspiring women leaders in the Indian advertising and media industry, who have achieved much and paved the way for many to follow.

AdGully proudly presents ‘The W-Suite’ (taken from the C-Suite), our feature series wherein we will be featuring 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. The initial plan was to have one comprehensive report, however, the response has been so overwhelming that we have decided to create a series out of this, wherein we will feature one woman leader at a time over the next few weeks.

We are starting off this feature series with Prema Sagar, Vice Chair, Burson-Marsteller, Asia Pacific & Principal/Founder, Genesis Burson-Marsteller.

Prema Sagar founded Genesis PR in November 1992 when the public relations industry was at a nascent stage. Over the last two decades, the company, which was acquired by Burson-Marsteller in 2005-06, has mirrored the journey of India’s public relations and public affairs landscape. She has led the company through this entire formative period, with the backdrop of a rapidly changing business environment. Today, Genesis Burson-Marsteller is a full-service integrated communications firm, delivering innovative and integrated solutions across multiple geographies and practices. Prema is also Vice Chair for Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific as well as a member of the BM’s Global Leadership Team.

Adgully: What defines a woman leader in today’s ecosystem?
Prema Sagar (PS): Leadership is not about gender – it is about displaying qualities and skills that are unique to you as a person and a leader and using these effectively at the workplace. As a business leader, you have a vision for your company and there are a lot of people who believe in your vision. In order to grow individually and collectively as an organisation, a leader’s key responsibility should be to drive that shared vision while achieving long-term business success.

Adgully: Why do a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions?
PS: There are many reasons why women leave the drive to succeed. They either take a career break to start a family or to look after aged parents. Also, lack of learning and growth opportunities at the work place may contribute in making women leave their career mid-way. But often, it is their own inhibitions that come in the way of them seeking their rightful place at the top of the ladder. And of course, the working world need to recognise the specific challenges that women face and work to level the playing field.

Adgully: Are women leaders are still scrutinized as much for style as for substance?
PS: There is definitely much more scrutiny that women leaders face, especially in male-dominated industries. But then, there are enough and more examples of women who have demonstrated that leadership is not about gender.

Adgully: Is the leadership effectiveness of women higher than men?

PS: I agree because women are naturally prone to multi-tasking and managing multiple priorities. Also, we are emotional beings, which makes us more compassionate as compared to men. Women leaders no longer view emotions as a weakness but use it to strike the right cord with co-workers.

Adgully: 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?
PS: The main difference is that there is greater acceptance of women who are now seen as individuals rather than just wives, sisters and mothers. While responsibilities at home haven’t really changed, women today have the freedom to try out new ideas and are independent enough to balance their life and work better. The larger environment, including husbands and families, are also far more supportive.

Adgully: On maintaining a balance between career goals and family responsibilities
PS: Flexibility and prioritizing tasks is the key to striking a balance. You can succeed as a business leader only if you combine work and home thereby keeping the communication open both ways. As a leader, it is very important to sort out one’s priorities both at work and in your personal space.

Adgully: On pay parity in our corporates across levels
PS: It is certainly there in our organisation. The fact is, that this is still a concern in many industries. But the good thing is that there are conversations happening around it.

We have seen increased demand from clients for communications strategies that promote the value of gender balance in the workplace so I think companies are realising how getting gender balance right can build them a competitive advantage. Our new global offering, Burson-Marsteller Advantage Women builds on the insights about the benefits of gender equality and its importance for company performance and reputation. We are helping clients do everything they can to realize the benefits of closing the gender gap and create leadership opportunities for women.

Adgully: Advice to women aiming for the C-suite
PS: My advice to them would be to get a mentor who can guide them in various stages of their journey and to enjoy what they do without forgetting who they are.

Adgully: The 3 important lessons new women leaders need to learn
PS: My suggestions to them are: Be fearless, don’t be afraid to stand for what you believe in, don’t be afraid to try new things but if they don’t work, do not look back and complain and most importantly, always accept change.

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