Will women lead the next wave of public relations in India?

Unlike many other business sectors in India, public relations in India has always enjoyed a strong presence of women professionals- and often in leadership positions. From the 1990’s, PR along with TV journalism is a profession that has done much for encouraging large-scale entry of women in the workforce.

But is this early start enough to ensure that women can tackle the next wave of PR and perhaps even lead it? PR today has changed much beyond media relations to a role that requires digital expertise and the ability to deliver business impact.

Paroma Roy Chowdhury, vice president, public affairs –SoftBank firmly believes that women can certainly lead the next wave of PR due to their “ naturally collaborative skills”; a skill set which is much in demand in the new business environment. She also points out that above gender, the most important thing is to be, “a credible professional, to be intelligent. People will then value you without you having to ask. The onus is on you, the way you are treated, a lot of times depends on you.”

Roy Chowdhury also debunks the theory that women are not as good at hardcore business conversations and strategy as men. She says, “ It’s not a gender thing- it’s a people thing. While it is true that women can be conditioned to believe this, it’s nonsense. I know of many men who are not good at negotiation and women who are.”

Deepa Sapatnekar, head of communications for India & Hong Kong, LinkedIn also feels that women PR leaders can take on business roles. She gives the example of Shannon Stubo who is both senior VP corporate communications and CMO at LinkedIn.

Sapatnekar believes that, “Great communicators will continue to don different hats - a collaborator (work together with multiple stakeholders), a producer (leverage social and influencers to tell stories and build brands), a numerati (comfortable with using insights to inform decision-making) and a thought leader (deliver fresh and insightful thinking that challenges status quo). In my opinion, women are great at managing multiple priorities and so are well placed to wear these hats. “

What challenges hold back women in PR?

Minal D’Rozario, who set up Ideosphere while she was in her early thirties bluntly says that one of the challenges women face is the fact that, “We are our own enemies. The PR industry is dominated by women, and rightly so, as we have the right acumen and skill set. The competitive attitude is taken to a different level altogether, this created the wrong impression about us as a community in PR.”

Sapatnekar says the challenges in PR are largely the same for women and men, but admits that one of key challenges she experienced was the tendency to “self censor”. “While in my early years I would hold back on putting forth my point of view, I eventually recognized that diversity of opinions is a great thing, which eventually results in decisions that are more informed. So, let your opinions be heard.”

The LinkedIn's What Women Want @Work survey revealed that women professionals around the world are looking for greater flexibility when it comes to managing their careers. Indian women in particular, also cited the lack of investment in professional development as the number one challenge that affects their career.

Sapatnekar says, “These two insights really resonated with me. But at the end of the day, you need to be clear about what you want as you are in charge of your own career. The point I am making is - don’t hold yourself back. If you want professional development opportunities, raise your hand to ask for it. There are also many avenues to hone specific skills, either on-the-job or through online or in-person training.”

Deepa Sapatnekar says, “Seek out women mentors: Learn from other’s career trajectory, get inspired by the steps they took to be successful and learn from their mistakes. “

Advice for women professionals’

Prema Sagar, principal & founder, Genesis Burson-Marsteller, a pioneering leader of the PR business in India has very clear advise for women PR professionals in India. She say, “This is something that is applicable to every professional—stay on the right side of ethics. We can’t win our clients’ trust unless we demonstrate consistent commitment to ethics.”

Sagar adds that her second piece of advice which is specific to women, is to take risks.” Risks in terms of your capabilities, in terms of your career, in terms of your commitment to yourself. There is a lot you can achieve, if you give yourself a chance.”

Prema Sagar says, “Build a mentoring culture in your organisation Also, be open to reverse mentoring. This is the bedrock of a strong team.”

Sagar is also concerned about the safety women at work. She says, “This isn’t directly related to PR, but I feel strongly about the growing lack of safety of women.

PR is a hectic business and there are long hours. The safety of women is paramount so that they can achieve to their potential. However, the rise of crime against women is something we must all be concerned about and do something about as well. “

Conducting yourself at work

Roy Chowdhury has a useful set of suggestions for handling business environment. She says, “ I have worked in very different organisations. GE was a very aggressive organisation –man or woman you would have to learn to deal with the aggression and not to take it personally. Airtel was very stakeholder driven and Google had a global culture and outlook.”

Roy Chowdhury also advises against being over-emotional at work, “ I would say that for heavens sake don’t cry. This is a professional place. You will get a bad review, bad raise. Your career is not a sprint it’s a marathon. Resilience is a very important, develop a thicker skin. Don’t except a concession and expect to be treated equally.

Roy Chowdhury also touched upon pushing back at work with both journalists and bosses. She strongly believes that, “Wining and dining PR is an absolute no no. If you are in a tough spot with a boss just leave. Don’t tolerate any nonsense-take advantage of the checks and balances in the system. Sometimes the system does not checks and balances; in such a situation do not wallow in this toxic environment. Do remember that pushback skills will only happen when you have credibility – so do show good work.”

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