Women in Indian PR business want to ‘ lean in’ but need family support to do so

Come February and the bombardment for profiling women in various organisational roles begin. Is token acknowledgement on ‘International Women’s Day’ enough? In the wake of the powerful #MeToo and #Time’sUp campaigns, stronger action by PR companies  is required in India on how to truly empower women. The question is not just being a working woman, but leading organisations themselves.

Family is the working women’s make or break ecosystem

Inspite of women making up the clear majority of the PR business in India, and globally; women leaders do not reflect this majority. At large international PR firms, I can count on one hand the number of women heads of firms. The only exception to this is PR entrepreneurs. Start-up PR firms in India tend to have a more representative selection of women heads’ of companies.

Says Pooja Pathak, one such co-founder at Media Mantra, “For any woman, the biological clock and the career clock work is in completely different time zones and to be able to sync both at an individual level, is often the most demanding requirement. Being a mompreneur, one has to constantly overcome many guilt trips associated with "kids time", "office time", and "me time”. There are days when you are unable to manage and balance it all and feel the need to quit work and be a stay-at-home mom. This decision is indeed very tough and is impossible to execute considering the company is also a baby for me. Earlier, I used to have frequent anxiety attacks but after giving it some mindful thought, I have realised to make my mind think that "this too is a phase and shall pass by soon". The moment you play on with this thought, one gets the strength to deal with it in a better manner.”

What is essential for women in India is family support.  A recent chat with a women PR professional who is on the verge of starting her own firm is revealing. This young lady, who has quit  a regular PR job at a firm, is facing considerable challenge convincing her husband on her need to own her own work space through starting up.

Shreya Sawant, associate manager - HRM & OD, Dentsu Aegis Network (Perfect Relations Pvt. Ltd.), agrees that in India family is THE ecosystem that decides how far a woman goes in her career.

Says Sawant, “Most women filter themselves from reaching the top due to family commitments. Build a robust support system that allows you to keep family and work at the same pedestal. Your professional growth is as important as your personal growth, if not more. Talk to your family and let them know about your ambitions, provide the necessary support that the family needs and at the same time ensure that you maintain a work-life balance.”

Reby Abraham, Koinex, provides a male perspective on the issue adding another layer to what hold women back at work. He says quite honestly that, “ As the woman in the team you might be the one who is expected to just support the idea or stay with the majority. But you can be like  Rani Mehra from Queen who stand up for what she feels is right.”

This is easier said than done. Organisations, with their well entrenched boys’ clubs are quick to label women who speak up.

Prakruti Patil, a PR and corporate communications student at Mumbai's  ‘Xavier Institute of communications' feels that, “The biggest support is equal opportunity and that is not in a gigantic gesture but in everyday things like listening to ideas, like empathy and understanding that as a woman my body will go through some changes like during  pregnancy that will need a different work setup, not lenient but different.”

In order to lean in, the second important factor influencing women’s career paths after family and mindset is resources. Without adequate resources, ‘Lean In’ remains a utopian dream.

Hardly any PR firms in India have a creche or a maternity rooms and I'm not sure if most Indian corporate entities have one either.  However In India, it is compulsory as of 2017, for organisations,  to give women 26 weeks of paid maternity leave if you have at least 10 employees.

What is important is how the new mother will move back into the mainstream after she returns from the maternity leave. And that is as much about mind set as it is about rules and regulations says Ashraf Engineer, senior brand consultant with Pitchfork Partners.

Is a Gender Agnostic PR business  possible?

Anuja Chaudhary, CEO and founder, Wizspk Communications says, “As communication advisors and PR professionals –  our clients  and brands expect us to have solutions for everything under the sun and rightly so — we are expected to build brands, manage reputations. I think, it is not about men or women, if the individual has the vision – nothing can stop them from being a part of the leadership team.”

Company culture decides gender mindsets

Ultimately, it is the company’s culture, often derived from the same attitudinal pool as a working woman’s family, that can help women Lean In. While, many would argue this is not a right but has to be earned, the ability to embrace your career path without inhibition is something that requires a company culture that enables it.

My own experience as a woman professional has been very gender agnostic. As a TV news reporter, I was fortunate enough to have a great company culture at TV 18, now Network 18, where I got to cover hard news from naxalite killings in Andhra Pradesh to mainstream political news. This was largely due to the approach taken by TV news channel owners of the 1990s, at TV 18 and NDTV, mostly young and resource poor. In print journalism, a woman reporter may not have got a chance to cover hard news for years, it was a male bastion.

The precedent exists, PR firms can also truly 'Lean In' for their women employees.

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