Being confident and opinionated should be endorsed by women: Bhavna Satyanarayan

Bhavna Satyanarayan, Communications Head, BASF Care Chemicals, Asia Pacific, talks about her journey, the ratio of women in the chemical industry and attrition of women in senior leadership

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Apr 1, 2020 1:02 PM
Bhavna Satyanarayan

Bhavna Satyanarayan who currently heads the communications department at BASF Care Chemicals is an experienced, outcome-driven, communications professional, who has enjoyed working on both the consultancy and corporate side in India and overseas. Through her career, she has amassed a breadth of experience in various facets including corporate reputation management, crisis management, internal, digital, change and leadership communications. She has worked with a host of blue-chip companies, to help build and run their campaigns, aligned to business goals.

In today’s edition of ‘Women Achievers Series’, we speak to Bhavna Satyanarayan, Communications Head, BASF Care Chemicals, the Asia Pacific on her journey, the skewed sex ratio in the chemical industry, attrition of women in senior leadership positions and more.

Edited Excerpts:

How exciting has your journey been in the communication industry? 

I have been fortunate to have a very varied and exciting journey so far. Right from starting off as a management trainee, fresh off campus, where I learnt the foundations of PR and Communication; to working in top-class agencies, serving blue-chip clients across sectors; to being an implanted agency resource in a corporate and getting a taste of the corporate world; to joining a corporate and finally moving to another country. I have worked on winning national campaigns, small local projects which made a difference, have led teams, been an individual contributor, part of an industry body representing communications and had the privilege to work in various markets – Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and now Hong Kong.

I am appreciative of all these opportunities and all the people and mentors who have provided them to me. I look forward to more.

How has the chemical industry handled the irregularity in the number of female employees? Has the male: female ratio improved?

Like any manufacturing sector, the chemical industry has also historically been male-dominated. Over the past few years though, there has been a visible change in this trend. Companies are committing to providing an inclusive environment and opportunities across job roles – technical, R&D, sales, function including marketing and communications. Women are also being recognised and chosen for leadership roles, based on merit. Most organisations are pledging to measurable goals and are backing this up with relevant programs and enablers to help women emerge successful. There is also more awareness about biases and how to manage it.

I had the privilege of being a part of the first D&I (diversity and inclusion) forum of my organisation when I worked in India and that opened me up to a lot of learning from women and men across the globe in the network. It is amazing to see the kind of progress that is being made across the industry and the leadership commitment to this.

How crucial is communication in your industry? How can communication be used as a tool to create an equitable work environment?

I think the role of communications is crucial for any industry and it is no different for the chemical industry. I would, in fact, say that it is more critical for an industry like ours, because of the nature of it. As custodians of the brand we work for, it is important to not just build and maintain its reputation with external stakeholders through open, honest and clear communication, but also with employees – who are the brand ambassadors. The same principles of communication with a dash of fun will go a long way in making the work environment desirable. Through my experience of leading many internal campaigns, employee branding activities, leadership, culture and change communications, I have been fortunate to gain an in-depth understanding of the important role communication plays in building organizational culture.

Have you ever experienced any instance of gender bias on your journey? If yes, what could have been the potential reason?

Thankfully, for the most part of my career and all through my personal life, I have never felt this bias. I grew up not being denied anything because of my gender and I carried that into my professional life as well. I have seen women around be being recognised for the skills and experience they bring to the table. To me, personally, it was a non-issue. I did see and hear of biases from very close quarters but hadn’t experienced it first-hand until recently when I worked in a very typical manufacturing set-up, where colleagues were not exposed to having women in mid/senior roles. Especially women who had strong opinions and no fear to express it. This was quite a new environment for me, but one that I learnt from. It taught me how to stand up for myself. Talk to be heard. And not to be side-lined when I had something worth saying. These are lessons I will take with me through my career.

I always believed in equality and being recognised for the work one does, irrespective of the gender. I am very happy to now be back in an organisation which supports my belief and have a spouse who does the same. In my move to Hong Kong, he has been the trailing spouse, happy to support my ambitions and in the process cementing my trust in equality.

What is the scenario when it comes to providing financial assessment to the employees in your organisation?

Honestly, I don’t see any disparity in pay especially in PR and communications. I am a firm believer of skills and performance defining your role and therefore pay. In the many years, I have been in this industry, I have been paid equal to my male peers and in some cases even more than them. When I have hired for my team in the past too, I was never restrained by such factors.

Why do we see attrition in female senior leadership across sectors?

This could be due to a lot of factors. It would take some unpacking to really understand the reasons in each sector. But, some of the major reasons usually are lack of recognition and opportunity. As women, we usually tend to be quite shy to showcase our work and achievements openly. This must change. We should be confident of what we bring to the table and have a strong voice to stand up for ourselves. Learning from peers, seeking mentorship etc are some of the things we can do to help empower ourselves.

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