A good communicator identifies and creates opportunities: Shonali Chakravarty
Chakravarty, Head of Communications, APAC at Lenovo’s Data Center Group talks about her 'to-do' list as the new APAC Head, challenges to communicators operating in diverse geographies and more
It's a common misconception that women leaders are few and far between in a male-dominated tech space. The recent hiring of Shonali Chakravarty as Head of Communications, APAC at Lenovo’s Data Center Group thumbs its nose at such beliefs. It has ignited conversations around gender agnostic work opportunities and gender equality in the workspace.
With 36% of the workforce at Lenovo and 27.4% of all technical roles globally being held by a woman, Lenovo has been vocal about female representation and opportunities on the basis of merit. Chakravarty is responsible for 13+ countries including India, Australia, Japan, Korea etc at Lenovo’s Data Center Business Group (DCG), which includes servers, storage, networking, software and services.
As her first interview across APAC market, exchange4media caught up with Shonali Chakravarty on topics ranging from her “to-do list” as the new APAC head, challenges and opportunities for communicators operating in diverse geographies, key messaging by Lenovo Data Centre Group, challenges to women leadership in tech space to communication priorities post-Covid.
As the newly appointed APAC head, what are the top 5 tasks in your list? What changes do you wish to bring about in the system?
This is a phase of learning and growing. The tech industry is dynamic and there is never a dull moment. With covid-19, our understanding of the new smart normal, as it were, has changed rapidly and the importance of building business resilience, ensuring continuity of operations without compromising the long term needs of data and network security and capability is like never before. Every new challenge or opportunity throws new possibilities for both learning and unlearning.
I have always believed that for communication to be considered an important element of organisational strategy and reputation, it has to adapt to business realities, solve for business challenges and be linked to business outcomes. This requires communicators, therefore, to understand the business thoroughly first, acknowledge there’s ‘no one size fits all’ prescription and then determine what’s best suited for a certain unique context.
My approach to any situation is based on 3 principles:
- Unlearning several assumptions so as to challenge the status quo where needed
- Research deeply enough to accept and acknowledge my ignorance in others
- Acquire the wisdom to know the difference
Laptops and other hardware have become more in demand in lockdown. How is Lenovo Data Center Group keeping the messaging without pushing consumerism or opportunistic?
With remote working and learning becoming the new reality for organisations and institutions alike, the demand for connected devices and more importantly network capacity and security has grown. At Lenovo Data Center Group, our teams work with organisations to power through solutions that don't just attempt to plug the hole in the roof for the time-being but also plan a path to recovery and future growth through innovation.
Businesses can use building-blocks of software to virtualise infrastructure components of compute, storage and networking and scale up as needed. Separately, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) investments for institutions with lean or no IT departments can help manage workloads, ensure safe access to organisational data while enabling remote working capabilities for all employees.
As an enterprise business, our objective is to communicate transparently across all mediums and spend more time listening to what the customer really needs instead of force-fitting a product.
When it comes to technology, women usually are not the first choice. How do you think women have broken the stereotype? How do you see yourself leading the techspace? What are the challenges and opportunities for communicators operating in diverse geographies?
Strengthening the representation of women in leadership roles across all industries is a work in progress. Some systemic changes help us acknowledge and act on certain intrinsic hiring biases like ensuring a certain number of women candidates are also screened and evaluated for every open role. Certain other changes relate to adoption of behaviours that not only welcome but enable diversity. These include but are not limited to the availability of mentors and the institutional mechanisms to support the professional ambitions of aspiring women of all ages, races and nationality. At Lenovo for instance, women represent over 36% of the workforce, 18.5% of all global executive roles are held by a woman and 27.4% of all technical roles globally are held by a woman. From employee resource groups to open-house discussions that help people recognise women leaders and their leadership styles, the more platforms that we create for two-way communication, the more chances for increased representation of women at the workplace across all levels. For over a decade now, Lenovo runs a resource group called WILL or Women in Lenovo Leadership which also has a very active Asia Pacific chapter.
I believe that diversity is strength and creating an enabling environment for diversity to thrive is a shared responsibility. It is in togetherness and community that we all grow. Borrowing from an African proverb, I feel it takes a village to achieve any meaningful change.
When it comes to challenges, there is a saying that has stuck with me for years now- ‘in the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity’. Communicators operating in diverse geographies need to harness the potential for multiple local narratives that can seamlessly blend into global messaging. For businesses that operate across different countries, recognising the unique attributes of every market becomes important in the local context. A good communicator identifies and creates opportunities for localising the overall brand narrative on one hand and demonstrating the relevance of the larger narrative in local conditions on the other.
What are your views on women leadership attrition as we move higher on the ladder?
The absence of women or their premature departure from expected roles as we move higher in the ladder is a function of an organisation’s ability to develop supporting frameworks. While there is an increasing realisation of each for equal, one cannot ignore that most women multi-task and straddle a large chunk of responsibilities both inside and outside of home. Just as women have a different perspective and leadership style, they have different needs. For some, it might mean flexibility on work timings to better adjust to their priorities and for others, it might mean access to facilities like day-care, virtual meetings etc. Organisations that recognise this diversity of needs among their people provide an environment where women thrive. Organisations that force-fit employees to what the majority wants, unintentionally create talent and resource gaps. Even before covid-19, Lenovo employees in the US for instance took advantage of remote work and flexibility. Pre-covid, in the U.S., approximately 88.5% of Lenovo employees had remote work available to them and 98% took advantage of it.
Lenovo Data Center Group has always used all kinds of media for advertising and communicating with its consumers. With digital approaches being amplified during the pandemic; what is the media mix preference?
The media mix preference is a function of where the audience lies and where do we see the audience moving. As advertising and media consumption preferences for both consumer and enterprise businesses rapidly evolve, any sound media mix strategy has to keep in step with the times and credibly demonstrate its strength of purpose.
What are the upcoming digital campaigns that the audience is about to witness?
There’s a lot to look forward to, on the Lenovo Data Center Group’s front.
At the core, we are driven by the need to uncomplicate and the vision to humanise our experiences with technology.
What are the communication priorities for organisations in a post Covid world?
In a post Covid world, empathy, action and authenticity should be a communicator’s best friends. Uncertainty in the world around us leads to increased anxiety. Now, more than ever, brands need to engage with customers, employees and all stakeholders with empathy.
Internal and external communications should also focus on identifying and sharing clear actions in their messaging. Whether it is about what we are doing or about what we aren’t, actions convey direction and rationalise expectations.
Lastly, it's important to be transparent and operate from a place of authenticity. The more leaders today are authentic in their communications about the highs and lows of the business, the more credible is the message.
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