'Conversations around value are individualistic, should be merit based & gender agnostic'
Charu Raizada, Independent Communication Strategist, said that agencies need to walk the talk when it comes to being an equal opportunity employer in the latest episode of Women Achievers Series
A communicator by chance, Charu Raizada has successfully completed two decades in the public relations industry. Being a forerunner of equality and progressive thinking, Charu is a trusted name when it comes to media relations, perception management, marcomm - brand PR, corporate PR and crisis communication.
Started off as an account executive, she has worn all caps ranging from an executive to Head of Corporate and Brands Practice. A communication strategist and a brand evangelist, Charu has worked closely with both international and domestic companies in developing strategy and media planning; managing critical situations; sustainability and CSR campaigns for brands, designed to bring in behaviour change. She has been part of organisations including PR Pundit, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Enterprise PR, Perfect Relations and others. Most recently, she served as the Head of Corporate and Brands Practice at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Today, she works as an independent communication consultant along with serving as the advisory council member at WICCI Public Relations and Digital Marketing Council.
In today’s chapter of the Women Achievers Series, Charu Raizada, Independent Communication Strategist opens up to exchange4media about her journey in the PR industry, organisational culture in promoting gender diversity, changes brought in by COVID with respect to the female workforce and more.
How has been your journey in the communications industry? What have been your key learning?
My journey into the PR industry happened by chance – destiny at play is what I believe in. Coming from an era and family with a strong lineage towards patriarchy, my growing up years were centered around dreams of being swept away in Mills & Boons style. Have to admit that I always had a rebellious streak, and coupled with my parents’ progressive thinking, I egged myself into exploring the world. Armed with a PGDBM in PR & advertising and success in my stints in space selling, gave me the confidence to join the PR arm of an advertising agency. Then there was no looking back. It has been a truly satisfying journey spread over two decades, working closely with a wide spectrum of brands and companies, across sectors.
I have often had the privilege of working with bosses who have believed in me and empowered me. My biggest learnings have been –
Become a trusted partner to clients: I am humbled, yet proud to say that a solutions-driven mindset and client industry knowledge has always worked for me in winning thetrust of brands and companies I have worked with
Be a voracious reader: This did not come easy to me but I made a conscious effort to learn new things to stay well informed and relevant
Fall in love with words: Whether you are writing a press release or a blog piece or even an email, your choice of words is really important. Even more important is the ability to be a self-critique of your written
Last but not the least, there is no substitute for a creative mindset.
How is the PR industry unique with its largely female workforce?
Is it really so or is it just a perception? We never seem to question why more men dominate in advertising. At the start of my career, I have worked in agencies with over 90 per cent of the workforce being that of men. I would like to believe that in the last two decades more and more women are challenging the status quo and getting into professions beyond the traditional ones. But the irony is that very few make it to the C-Suite. Moreover, the dropout rate is higher at the mid-career level.
How has Covid changed the perspective for women leaders across industries? What changes did occur in the PR industry?
The PR industry has shown unparalleled resilience as opposed to most other industries especially in the communications domain. While the virus demonstrated characteristics of gender neutrality, its effects were not so neutral. On one hand, we witnessed women leaders skilfully navigating the crisis for the nation, their organisation, on the other hand, there were stories of lament and pathos with increased family responsibilities, career disruption.
I would argue that women intuitively know how to develop clear thinking, agile adaption, and reinvention, getting rid of the cobwebs along the way. They are wired to handle transitions by virtue of handling constant change in their lives. I would urge the men at their homes to be more supportive and lend a helping hand.
Memories are short and before we forget the emotional and mental trauma the pandemic has shown us, we need to find better solutions to solve the problem, with redoubled efforts, threaded to bring about behavioural change.
What does an agency have to build its culture and work ethos to promote gender neutrality?
Agencies need to walk the talk when it comes to being an equal opportunity employer. Let’s do away with lip service. Secondly, a big issue is the job gap, which certainly needs to change. Thirdly, we need to have a better organisation framework that creates opportunities for those facing mid-career challenges, helping them succeed and climb the ladder towards leadership.
As employees, we need to be driven by organisational good. This automatically makes us more empathic, a necessary trait for conflict resolution, understanding and bonding with others.
How crucial is the role of men in an organization to promote gender equality?
At a new business pitch about 15 years back, a comment ‘where are the men’ from leaders of an Indian business house till stings. I would like to believe that we have come a long way since then, but still have some ground to cover.
It is important to leave your biases outside before entering your workplace. Culture, gender, religion are weaknesses we need to say goodbye to. All women want from the men in the organisation is respect and a level playing field.
Why is the ratio of men and women not proportionate as we move to senior leadership level?
Inspite of having nearly 38 percent women at entry levels, a mere 3 percent reach leadership positions, with the maximum dropouts at the mid-management level. The biggest factor contributing to women’s struggle to advance into leadership roles is gender stereotypes, followed by patriarchy.
Women are typecast as being confrontational or too assertive for leadership roles because these traits violate prescriptive gender role norms. But studies have shown that women are by nature intuitive, empathetic, expressive and flexible – the desired traits in a leader. Secondly, women often succumb to the pressure from home as the notion that their primary role is that of a homemaker continues to hold.
A lot has been talked about the pay gap but is there something called value gap to be talked about?
Before answering the question, it is important to define the value gap in order to set the context. A value gap occurs when the perceived value and experienced value for a product/service don't overlap, creating a “gap” between expectations and reality. We are not even entering that territory of comparison. It is first essential to bridge the pay gap for an equitable workplace. Conversations around value are individualistic, should be merit based and gender agnostic.
What are the three adjectives that define you as a communicator?
Many a times we see that it’s easy for people to commit but not follow it through. But a commitment is a commitment for me – be it to a client, to a journalist, to my employer or to a colleague.‘Reliable’ is what defines me.
It is often easy to succumb to that voice in your head telling you that you will fail or urging you to give up. Call it my rebellious nature or my passion for the profession, which makes me ‘Rise Up’ to take a challenge head on. But it is also important to recognise a zombie situation on time.
I strive to stay ‘Relevant’and if possible ahead of time.
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