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WICCI- PRmoment #WomensDay Survey: Microaggressions, Missing Leadership Training Hinder Women in Communications

Microaggressions, biased hiring practices and lack of leadership training programmes are some of the key barriers faced by women working in the Indian communications industry.

These insights are based on a survey run by WICCI Public Relations and Digital Marketing Council and PRmoment India in February-March 2024 ahead of International Women's Day.

100 responses were received, mainly from Delhi, Bengaluru and Gurgaon. 47% of the respondents worked in corporate communications, and 38% in PR agencies. Another 8% were from digital agencies. 35% of the respondents were in leadership roles with over 15 years of experience in communications. 24% of the respondents had 10 to 15 years of experience and another 24% had 5 to 10 years of experience.

Pratishtha Kaura, AVP, Edelman, stated, "The insights gathered in the survey will contribute towards developing a white paper and we aim to share with the senior leaders of PR consultancies and corporate communications. It aims to emphasize the importance of not just women's representation but also the necessity for enhanced growth and leadership opportunities for women in communications. I hope to get more and more voices heard and there can be some steps taken in the future to really make the profession more diverse as well as inclusive.

Maybe it's time to create proper gender-based KPIs for their organizations as well as mentoring programs for emerging leaders instead of thank you cards and flowers on topical moments such as International Women’s Day."

Major Challenges: Microaggressions, Gender pay gap 

Inspite of a large number of women working in communications for nearly two decades, microaggressions and unconscious bias are the biggest issues faced by women in comms. 61% of the respondents said they faced this issue due to gender.

Sulakshana Mehrotra, senior director, of Dentsu Creative PR, agrees pointing out, "When women demonstrate qualities associated with leadership, like confidence, assertiveness or taking initiative, it is often discomforting for others. Women who deviate from gender-typical behaviour standards often get labelled as being abrasive, aggressive, or overbearing."

The next key challenge faced by women is difficulty achieving work-life balance and unequal pay or promotions as compared to men ( 38%). Lack of proper mentoring is also a challenge.

While talking about the reasons why women drop out of careers, the top 3 reasons are lack of visible role models, biased hiring practices and lack of family-friendly policies.

Interestingly, when it comes to board positions, 50% of women feel that the situation has improved post-COVID-19. However, a whopping 37% still feel that it's difficult to assess if there has been any improvement, with 13% saying there has been no improvement in women's representation in leadership roles.

One of the survey respondents commented bluntly, "Leadership positions are dominated by men in general. They create a closed gang that bonds over smoke, sports and money discussions. There is a sense that women are not ready to discuss org finances, PNL and other difficult topics."

Others cited a lack of opportunities for accessing leadership roles and women having limited time to network, "The perennial problem is women balancing two full-time jobs; one at the office and one at home/with children. Men can work late hours, socialize, and network whenever they want. Women are hard-pressed for time and have to quickly finish work and get back home to their other full-time jobs.

Organisations still prefer men in the head of communication roles, as they are physically more available than women, and hence propel towards leadership positions faster.

A handful of women leaders at the top can elaborate on the challenges they faced personally to make it to the top! The mindset needs change; to begin organizations need to make child care facility mandatorily available, and make it a gender-neutral thing!", said a respondent.

The survey results also reflect this, showing that respondents are keen to access leadership programmes designed with women in mind, flexible working hours and WFH is another approach that would help develop women's leadership.

Arti Ahuja, CoreComm

Arti Ahuja, writer|editor at CoreComm shares how WFH enables her work journey, "The switch from a highly demanding teaching and training job to a work-from-home setup was life-altering. The pace and requirements of a work-from-home job were different. There was greater freedom to choose my working hours. The luxury of working from the comfort of home at my convenience was another advantage. While looking after ageing parents, I needed flexible timelines and workload. It gave me a greater bandwidth to balance work and personal responsibilities. At 62, I still look forward to new challenges"

Do KPIs for better gender inclusion work?

78% of the respondents felt that when KPIs for diversity and inclusion are defined for leadership, it results in better representation. 

Valerie Pinto, Weber Shandwick

Valerie Pinto, CEO, of Weber Shandwick in India shared the KPIs the global PR firm adheres to, "We are committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, feels valued and respected in our workplace.To ensure we're living up to this commitment, we keep a close eye on key performance indicators (KPIs) related to gender inclusion. This includes tracking the gender composition of our staff from the moment they join us and throughout their journey with us. 

We also prioritize pay parity across all levels, diligently monitor cases of workplace misconduct, and maintain a strong POSH (Prevention Of Sexual Harassment) model in the organization to maintain a safe and supportive environment for all."

Sulakshana Mehrotra, Denstsu Creative PR

Sulakshana Mehrotra, senior director, of Dentsu Creative, shares the inclusion priorities at her organisation, "At Dentsu, we have a stated aspirational goal of 45% women in our leadership by the year 2030, and we have achieved 37.2% representation thus far. We strongly believe in our collective responsibility to create a culture where our women at Dentsu can truly thrive.

As part of our efforts to work to dismantle inequities for women, both within and outside the workplace, we have undertaken various initiatives and partnerships. 

 Our association with Google’s 'Am Remarkable' to Meta’s 'Pass Her The Mic' as well as our various internal leadership development programmes like Eigyo, Path of Tabei and Game-Changing Talent, we work to reduce gender disparities and build a sustainable, enviable female talent pipeline in the industry."

Akshaara Lalwani, founder & CEO, of Communicate India, shared, "Promoting gender inclusion is a top priority for us, and we use key performance indicators (KPIs) to track our progress. Our primary KPI ensures gender representation at all levels, with over 90% of our leaders being women. We’ve implemented targeted programs to support women returning from sabbaticals, emphasising a smooth transition."

Upasna Dash, Jajabor

Upasna Dash, founder & CEO, of Jajabor Brand Consultancy has a different view on the efficacy of gender-based KPIs, "At Jajabor Brand Consultancy, we don't use traditional gender-based KPIs for inclusion. We believe in evaluating individuals based solely on their talent and contributions, regardless of gender. In our opinion, this is the most empowering and equitable approach."

Nidhi Gulati

Nidhi Gulati, director, of communications for Springer Nature Group in India, "We have put together a harmonised set of Key Performance Indicators to monitor and maintain gender equilibrium. While we have always had more than 50% women colleagues in the company, over the years we have been working to increase the representation of women in leadership roles and across all levels. Today, out of the 3 entities in India, the largest one has a woman managing director and several women leaders are leading their respective businesses and functions. Our goal is to have at least 50% women in leadership roles in the next 3 years."

Ritu Bararia, WICCI

The WICCI view: Mentoring and Leadership targeted at women matters Ritu Bararia, national president, of WICCI PR and Digital Marketing Council, "Women are increasingly leading the way in business, and their voices deserve to be heard. WICCI champions two critical issues for women's professional growth: leadership training and work-from-home opportunities.

Investing in leadership development programs specifically designed for women empowers them to hone their skills and reach their full potential. This not only benefits individual employees but also strengthens the organization as a whole."

Dash agrees saying, "While industries boast an increasing number of female founders, the lack of established female leaders creates a mentorship gap for young women. This absence of role models, especially in leadership positions, can discourage and limit the aspirations of the younger generation. To break this cycle, established women entrepreneurs have a crucial role to play in fostering mentorship opportunities and inspiring the next generation of female leaders."

Shikha Moudgill, founder & CEO, of CoreComm Consultants which has an all-women workforce adds, "Over the years, many super talented women from different fields have joined me at CoreComm –All of these women were looking for the same thing I was when I set up the business – a chance to put their professional skills to work while balancing family responsibilities. We were a work-from-home, flexi-hour business a decade before the pandemic made it fashionable."

Ayushi Arora Gulyani, Media Corridors

Ayushi Arora Gulyani, founder & CEO, of Media Corridors whose firm has detailed KPIs for gender inclusion, including in client-facing and business roles says, "Women in communications may encounter challenges in accessing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities that are crucial for career advancement. Without mentors and sponsors who can provide guidance, advocacy, and opportunities for visibility and growth, women may struggle to
navigate organisational politics, build networks, and access leadership roles.

Women and their experiences with leadership

Sulakshana Mehrotra, Denstu Creative PR
shares her experience as a leader, "I have learnt one very important thing; people matter the most and need to be valued. It is your team that works hard, and unless you lead them setting the right examples and leading from the front, understanding their vagaries and constraints, and working together with them, it will be just another motivation-less work environment."

Valerie Pinto, Weber Shandwick has this to say about her leadership journey, "I've been fortunate to have some stellar mentors and coaches who've nudged me in the right direction. I am a firm believer of leading by example, I prefer to roll up my sleeves and dive into the trenches with my team.  Recognizing and leveraging the unique strengths of individuals, while also guiding them in addressing areas of improvement, has been pivotal in my leadership journey.

I place great emphasis on giving credit where it's due; every member of the team deserves their moment in the spotlight. These are the principles that have been instrumental in shaping me into a leader."

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