Ads have changed for good when it comes to gender representation: Manasi Narasimhan

Narasimhan, VP & Head-Marketing & Communications, South Asia, Mastercard, shares her thoughts on the role of men in creating a gender-equal society, the portrayal of women in advertising & more

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Published: Mar 11, 2022 8:46 AM  | 6 min read
Manasi Narsimhan

Manasi Narasimhan, VP & Head of Marketing & Communications for South Asia at Mastercard, feels passionate about gender equality and related concerns. A marketing professional with close to two decades of experience spanning fintech, FMCG, media and multi-category corporate brands, Narasimhan is also keen to mentor other women looking to succeed at work while balancing the many conflicting demands of life, her LinkedIn profile hints.

In today’s edition of the Women’s Day special series, she shares with us her thoughts on gender equality and the role of men in promoting the same, along with sharing some valuable pieces of advice for young women professionals.

Read the edited excerpts here: 

What are your thoughts on this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’? 

This topic is very relevant but my only concern is why it took so long for people to realise that promoting diversity, of all kinds, is absolutely essential in the long run. Women make up about 50% of the world’s population and make around two-thirds of the purchase decisions. They are still the primary caregivers. Then what is it that is taking too long for the companies to take notice of these obvious factors and involve them in the decision-making processes? 

Gender equality is a must in all workplaces and companies need to do a lot more to ensure that. Right now, I would say, that the issue is not getting more women in the workplace. That has already started happening. The real challenge is retaining them in the crucial years when they are about to get to higher positions. How do you navigate that challenge, is something that all businesses must be looking into. 

What is your idea of a gender-just workplace? Please draw from your own experiences to share how a supportive work environment helped you attain your goals?

When we talk about gender-just workplaces, there are two aspects to it: one is the policies that the company is making to ensure inclusivity; the other is the attitude of the people. 

When it comes to the former, I believe that India has made tremendous strides. Six months of maternity leave is now legal, for example. The only missing bit is that we need to enable men’s roles as caregivers, with paternity leaves, etc. And the attitude of people towards their female colleagues and subordinates make a gender-just workplace. It takes a lot of sensitivity and sympathy to understand the dual role that most women continue to play in society and not hold it against them. 

Personally, I have been very lucky in that department. I have had more male bosses than females, as the case is for most women in the professional workforce right now (hope we can change that soon), but all of them have been very understanding. I would say that men, in fact, have been more sensitive. To share an anecdote, when I was hired for Mastercard, I was on maternity leave from my previous organisation, feeding my younger one. I informed my then immediate boss, who is retired now, that I won’t be able to travel to join immediately. And he very genuinely replied that he did not even expect me to. 

In another instance, I happened to join a company off-site in Goa when my younger one was sick and my boss asked me - what am I doing there if my son is sick. And all these incidents mean a lot when you are a new mother. 

Which women have been your strongest supporters and role models (both personally and professionally)?

I consider myself fortunate that I come from a family where women always pursued their careers. Then I was lucky to get married to a like-minded person, who is also my classmate from B-school, who has been very supportive of my career goals and ambitions. So, I have had a lot of people to look up to even while growing up. 

There are many women entrepreneurs and business leaders who have continued to inspire me by breaking the glass ceiling. But one name I would like to specifically mention here is Indra Nooyi (former PepsiCo CEO & Chairperson). 

How do you see women as leaders and consumers in the business you are handling?

If I talk about the BFSI space, yes women were not always considered as the key consumers here. But the pandemic has changed a lot. There is a resurgence in the way women are delegated in the space. There is a lot of scopes, however, wherein we need to educate women about their finances and how to manage them better. I can see better representation going forward. 

How do you see the portrayal of women in advertising?

Advertising has changed a lot, and mostly for the good when it comes to gender representation. It has started talking more and more about women in positions of power, has consciously started listening to discussions around equality in pop culture, all of which is much needed. 

My only complaint is that it (portrayal of women) still remains to be very unidimensional. The ads fail to touch all aspects of the personality of a woman. Being a marketer myself, I realise that it is hard to cover all that. After all, we are in the business of selling and not making statements. But I would like to see more ads showing the complicated mess that women's lives mostly are. 

What is your advice to the young women who are either working in or planning to join your industry?

My advice to young women professionals is Sheryl Sandberg's ‘Lean In’ quotes. You are going to deal with a lot of conflicting demands if you ever choose to get married. Therefore, it is very important to go that extra mile in early life. Do not put your foot off the paddle, keep working hard. After all, you have to compete in the world as a professional and not seek favours as a woman. 

Another important thing is to keep the vision long-term. Realise that life is a marathon and not a sprint. It is okay if you are not getting a project or promotion immediately. Keep your focus on the larger goals. Keep working hard and rest will follow. 

On a parting note, I would like to mention that for true gender equality to set in, we need to realise the role of men in the caregiving space. Real equality will come by not just getting more women to the boardroom but also giving the men the option to stay at home. One-half of the battle is won when we give women access to the corporate world. The other half would be won when even men can get to choose between going to the office and staying at home.

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