'Changing mindset is the first step towards building an inclusive work culture'

Harleen Sachdeva, Head – Communications, India, Hewlett Packard Enterprise says that fewer women in leadership roles is due to them giving up careers due to societal pressures

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Apr 1, 2021 4:11 PM
women achievers

A trained communication professional with almost two decades of experience, Harleen Sachdeva, Head – Communications, India, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, is an inspiration for the young minds entering the industry. Starting as a journalist and then plunging into the communication industry, Harleen has had a vibrant professional journey.

She has led commercial diplomacy communications (for UK Trade and Investment/DIT in India) and 360 integrated marketing and communications for an audit, tax and advisory firm, Grant Thornton India LLP. Harleen has also tried her hands at consumer tech briefly at Apple Inc. India and learnt the ropes of enterprise tech at Hewlett Packard (HPE).

After having handled roles from across the comms spectrum, Harleen has many groundbreaking brand campaigns and initiatives to her credentials.

exchange4media spoke to her about her journey in the communication industry, thoughts on inclusion and diversity, the pandemic and more in the latest feature of ‘Women Achievers Series’.

Edited Excerpts:

Tell us about your journey in the communications industry.

After pursuing a post-graduation degree in mass communications, I joined Hindustan Times in Chandigarh. As we moved to Delhi, I joined the British High Commission as a Press and Communications Officer and later led Communications for UK Trade & Investment in India for almost 8 years. My journey of almost two decades, spanning across the consulting and tech world, has been absolutely fantastic with moments of serendipity.

What and who inspires you to serve in comms industry? 

Communication as a function and as a role has finally got a seat at the top table. It is one of the most critical functions to help connect the dots. With communication itself having gone through such an evolution, this is one industry that always keeps you motivated to learn and unlearn to stay relevant. I have always been passionate about my work. Living with a purpose – making a difference wherever I work, mentoring future talent and connecting with people keeps me motivated and inspired.

What are your views on the gender balance in the PR and corp comm industry?

Well, I think we are one industry where the gender disparity seems to be less. Having said that, I always believe that we should play by merit and give equal chance to individuals to be successful irrespective of gender. By giving options for flexible working, ensuring the safety of women at workplaces and diminishing the salary gap, I think we should all work consciously towards making it a level playfield for bright minds with the right attitude.

What change has 2020 impacted with respect to women at the workplace, especially in our industry?

2020 has been a life-changing year for everyone across the world.

For women, I think it has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, it blurred the lines between work and home giving the flexibility to join or sustain the job at hand. While on the other, it also meant that the workload increased multifold as household chores added to office pressure.

I have been fortunate and am absolutely loving working from home. It gave me those extra couple of hours (saved from being on-road) wherein I could pursue my dream of learning to play the guitar and practice yoga.

Why do we observe attrition in women leadership when it comes to the C-suite category?

Women are expected to wear multiple hats at all given points in time. For anyone (irrespective of gender) to reach a senior level, it takes 15-20 years. Working backwards, we complete our education by 24/25 years and then by 40 we are raring to go ahead in our career.

But in these 15 years (from 25-40), many women have to make tough choices – deciding to get married, having children, and then finding a support system in cities. The third one in my view is the most critical one, which is a make or break moment for many, the safety of kids.

I have seen many women, including myself struggle to find a school which is from 8.30 am – 5 pm. Finding trustworthy, dependable, trained baby sitters or safe crèches is not easy and everyone doesn’t get lucky by reaching out to parents/in-laws for extended support. Therefore, some survive this ordeal and some are left with no choice but to take career breaks or call it quits.

I have lived with this dilemma for the last 10 years. Our country wants girls to be educated but does the education system or society at large including organizations encourage or foster the same girls to become future leaders is questionable. What are the options for working women in our country who want a family and a career? Educated, professional, bright young women give up their careers mid-way and hence there are fewer women in leadership roles.

Has there been any instance of gender bias in your journey? Is the pay gap a major concern for the industry?

I did not experience any gender bias in my journey probably by being at the right job at the right time in my life. Pay gap is a concern in every industry in every part of the world which needs to be fixed by a conscious effort by leaders and organizations.

What does an organization have to do to build its culture and work ethos to promote gender neutrality?

I think being mindful is the first step to build any culture in an organization and it has to flow from top-down. Just celebrating an International Women’s Day or a Diversity & Inclusion day or running social media campaigns won’t help. It has to reflect in the policies and working environment of an organization. Changing behaviour and mindset requires real action and sometimes tough decisions.

What are the steps that you would take to support other women in the industry and large?

I think we need to train and trust our workforce in order to mentor future leaders. Giving them the flexibility to work remotely whenever required, creating opportunities for women to join the workforce back after a career break without any bias, ensuring that promotions are given on merit and not denied just because someone decided to start a family and avail maternity. Most importantly, I think we need to encourage women to dream big and never settle for anything less than what they think they deserve.


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