The power of women in Indian PR

Most people are not consciously aware of the contribution made by two communication industries to the cause of women at work in India. Both television journalism and public relations employ a large number of women. This has helped to push the agenda forward for including more female professionals.

As Shefali Khanna, Director -Marketing at Penn Schoen Berland, who has spent nearly 15 years in the PR business, puts it: “This profession unlike any other, is dominated by highly successful women professionals. I believe ‘we come into our own’, the most in communications.”

Women in PR

As International Women’s Day rolls by, we talked to women in the PR business – senior marketing professionals at PR agencies, women entrepreneurs in PR, senior in house communicators and young agency professionals about how they feel about their role in PR.

Shravani Dang, Vice President and Global Group Head of Corporate Communications at Avantha Group and Advisory Board member of Women in Leadership Forum  has spent over 22 years in PR. She feels that: “PR calls for empathy in understanding situations, multitasking and creativity – these are skills that are inherent in women – and using these skills help deliver best results."

Vasundhara Mudgil, Associate Partner at Genesis Burson-Marsteller, Mumbai, says with tongue firmly in cheek that it’s all about filtered gossip! On a more serious note, Vasundhra says that: “Every pitch, press release and communication is about telling a story. Women are well equipped to narrate stories in their daily lives, and PR complements this quality fairly well. And we are smart enough to filter the information.”

According to Stutin Jalan, Founder & Managing Director, Crosshair Communication, and part of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Program and Dell Women Entrepreneurship Network: “It’s an exciting time to be in the PR industry. International luxury, retail and fashion brands opened up in India a couple of years back and woman are a natural choice for these marquee brands. Women can multi task and are creative and innovative with their strategies.”

Social Media and women in PR

Has the rise of social media impacted how women in PR have developed? According to Shravani: “Women are better writers and are more sociable, as well as being great at multi-tasking – this means that women have an edge over men. They think and deliver faster across platforms and have taken very well to the era of social media."

According to Vasundhara social media has made gender equations more natural at the PR workplace. She says: “Typically, men are cautious about how they approach women at the workplace; and women don’t want to be seen as being extremely outgoing for the fear of becoming the topic of gossip among peers. Social media has helped break this barrier because everyone knows someone we know, which is a great thing. Women are more confident about connecting with journalists, potential clients and colleagues in the social media space. As a reverse trend, relationships start in the cyber space, and culminate in personal meetings that often prove to be fruitful from a networking perspective.”

Vasundhara adds: “Most women would get intimidated if they have to defend a cause in a room full of men, but social media has given us the opportunity to express our opinion more openly, and gauge the online sentiment without feeling harassed or cornered. I feel that over time, this equips us for better debates and discussions offline with the client and other stakeholders.”

Shefali says: “Women always thrived on their social network and now that network has gone online!”

What skills are needed for women in PR?

Vasundhara says that being assertive is important given the relatively quick growth opportunities and responsibilities in the PR industry. “People around you may feel that you can be easily bullied into negotiating contracts or campaign deliverables because you are a woman. But more often than not, I’ve seen women push back as smoothly and almost always make sure that their own terms and conditions are met. Assertive does not necessarily mean aggressive, but some of us are happy to unleash that weapon too!”

Vasundhara admits that women bosses are dreaded by other women. “But if we know how to have fun, and keep the team on its toes with some wit and humour, more than half the battle is won. The rest, of course, depends on the leadership qualities and professional expertise we bring to the table.”

Vasundhara also advises women PR professionals to keep calm in the face of the eternal tussle between work and personal life. She admits that “women are usually caught in this web. There’s a reason why PR has been rated as one of the most stressful professions in the world – so many stakeholder expectations to manage at workplace, and at home. If you’ve proved yourself at a firm, chances are that they are going to support you in managing your work-life balance. Don’t panic, and don’t make sporadic decisions.”

Worst part about being a woman in PR

Stutin points out that: "Sometimes one may face prejudices or may not be taken seriously in certain sectors.”

Shefali says that although she has enjoyed every minute of being a woman in PR, she would love to have: “People outside the profession see us as professionals with substance.”

Vasundhara also loves being a woman in this industry. She however adds that: “When you join the industry, women may get somewhat scared off by people and their eccentricities. I did; however, it doesn’t take too long to break past these oddities – either you accept those people, or learn to tackle them at a distance. And these people could be your bosses, journalists or even clients. In the 7 years that I’ve been in this industry, and at GBM, I’ve faced challenges, had arguments, and made blunders, but it’s all a part of the learning process, and I firmly believe that the communication industry instinctively belongs to women.”

Battle of the Sexes

Shravani feels that the presence of women is actually helping to bring about healthy male-female equations. She feels that the: “PR industry worldwide is attracting more women, and we are seeing a healthy gender diversity in the PR business in India. Today the Indian PR sector is not just about male bosses and women subordinates but often the reverse is also true. This itself is changing behaviour for the better.”

Vasundhara says it more bluntly: “The PR industry is definitely dominated by our species, so I think women decide how men in this profession should be treated. Maybe you should ask the guys how they’d like us to treat them!”

Stutin says that: “My team has mostly women and I have noticed that men executives are very helpful to women colleagues. The ones who are not, don't last in the system!”

Shefali puts it more succinctly: “Clearly women in communications are first amongst equals.”

Enough said!

Written by Paarul Chand

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