March 20, 2017

Women inhibit themselves from dreaming big and going the extra mile to take what is rightfully theirs: Prema Sagar, Genesis Burson-Marsteller

Come March 8 and conversations about women and gender equality gather momentum. It’s the time a lot of research reports also come out around women in the workplace. It doesn’t take a survey to figure out that India has a long journey ahead on the road to equality for women. The pay gap, the glass ceiling, the biases—they are all there, firmly in place. You just have to look around you.

If you do want a statistic, however, here’s one: women in India earn 25% less than men according to the Monster Salary Index (MSI) on gender for 2016. Another one: India has among the lowest number of women in leadership positions in world, according to a report by LinkedIn India. The report also says, though, that we are making huge strides in changing that dynamic.

The report goes on to laud the education and non-profit sectors as the industries doing the most to bridge the gender parity gap. Ironically, the industry that doesn’t get talked about so much, but is actually a front-runner in employing women and developing them into leaders is the public relations and communications industry.

It is no secret that a PR and communications agency usually has 75% women employees. And there are several reasons for it. Women are, famously, natural communicators and collaborators. They are also engaging and emotive, which makes storytelling more impactful—and storytelling is at the core of everything we do in PR and communications.

The natural progression of this is that agencies also tend to have a high percentage of women in their leadership. In my own organisation, of the 7-member India management team (IMT), just two are men. It’s the same story across the industry. If we look at our clients, there too, the corporate communications lead is usually a woman.

Having said that, the biggest churn one sees among women employees is in the transition from middle to senior management positions. That is when most women plan to have children and often tend to take a break because they believe that the organisation wouldn’t be able to support their changed circumstance. In fact, that is when they need the most support from their organisation. Counselling, mentoring, flexible working hours and child care, and in the case of returning mothers, the possibility of retraining, can go a long way in making sure that women take that leap from the middle to senior management.

I firmly believe that women inhibit themselves from dreaming big and going the extra mile to take what is rightfully theirs. In the PR and communications industry, women see others who have lived the journey, so they can learn from them. In the other industries, a lot more needs to be done to give women a level playing field.

Women leaders bring with them a unique combination of empathy, efficiency, competence and resilience. And in an increasingly complex world of business, these are the very skills that set leaders apart.

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