'Hire more female leaders to have as role models for women'

In the latest chapter of Women Achievers series, Amrit Ahuja, Independent PR Consultant, asserts that men as allies are crucial to promote workplace diversity

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Mar 23, 2021 4:05 PM
amrit ahuja

Diversity and Inclusion have become a top priority for most organisations today. They promote variety in ideas and improve the quality of work in a healthy and competitive environment. To discuss the concept in detail, exchange4media spoke to Amrit Ahuja, Independent PR Consultant in the latest edition of ‘Women Achievers Series’. 

Amrit Ahuja is a business and communications global executive with over 28 years of experience. In her journey from satellite TV to technology and the internet, she has been at the forefront of trends that were an inflexion point in the industry. She has been the Communication Director Facebook India where she led PR and communications also for Instagram and WhatsApp. She has worked with 2020 MSL for over two decades. When not working on branding and communication, Amrit mentors women on leadership skills or students on finding their career paths.  

Edited Excerpts:- 

How has your journey in the communications industry been? What are your key learnings? 

I have been part of the communication industry for over 28 years now and it has been an amazing journey. It is a fast-paced industry and constantly evolving but still does not get the respect that it deserves as all other functions like sales and marketing get their voice heard. The key learning has been that it is one of the only professions where at a very young age you do have an opportunity to work with CEOs and also coach them on what to speak and how to deliver a message strategically. I wish more senior talent would work on getting the respect that this function deserves. 

How is the PR industry unique with its largely female workforce? 

The PR industry is unique as a lot of females are at the middle and entry-level as they are excellent at process orientation, multitasking, relationship management but most drop out as they move to the senior level as they are not able to deal with the high pressure that comes with being at a senior position and thus not able to break the “glass ceiling” and navigate a male-dominated boardroom. 

How has Covid changed the perspective of women leaders across industries? What changes did occur in the PR industry? 

It is not just Covid but there has been a constant evolution to invest in diversity at the workplace. A lot of corporates have taken measurable goals to increase the diversity numbers in their organisations. Covid brought forth the dialogue of flexibility, work from home possibilities to the forefront and how more and more women now do not necessarily have to drop out of work for family pressures. For once “women can have it all” and can map a career that spans several years. 

The PR industry has always had a large women workforce but PR was seen as a profession where you need to spend face time with colleagues to drive campaigns, meet media for building relationships. Covid has changed all that and shown that a lot can be obtained virtually and a lot of slack can be reduced. Lot of corporates and agency PR professionals are moving to a new normal of flexi work – getting into the office when need-based or maybe just 2/3 times a week.  

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

Hire more women leaders to have as role models for motivating women. Invest in training programs and “women forums” outside the office set up to have women employees network and learn across industries and not just from peers.

Women need to feel reassured that their challenges are not just unique to the PR industry and cross dialogues across industries will reassure them that work-life issues are the same across industries and share tips on how to navigate them. 

Agencies need to have a role of a Woman Chief Mentor who coaches and grooms young talent to navigate successful career paths.

There's some data that shows why we need to invest in these roles. When asked what training and development skills were needed to help move more women into leadership roles in the future, professional working women cited leadership training (57%), 

Confidence building (56%), decision-making (48%), networking (47%), and critical thinking (46%) most often. Professional working women believe it is critical for companies to support a woman’s development in her twenties (80%) and career advancement in her thirties (61%). 86% of women report when they see more women in leadership, they are encouraged they can get there themselves. 

How crucial is the role of men in an organization to promote gender equality?

Men as allies are the most crucial factor to promote as the best ideas are born in the most diverse environment possible. Men show up interpersonally as better colleague and friend to women while also committing themselves to be a public ally, willing to put some skin in the game and advocate for systemic change. 

Men can talk about talented women publicly and call out their talent, achievements, and preparedness for promotions and opportunities. Some interesting data on reality is that 65% of men did not believe gender diversity was a business-critical issue. “There was a lack of understanding on the impact of women on your ROI or your numbers.”

Only 29% of men met with women at their workplace to discuss equality, inclusion, and diversity. Only 33% believed there was gender bias at work. Only 10% believed their own workplaces harboured any kind of gender bias.

Men need to change all of the above by being allies to women and celebrating their achievements

Why is the ratio of men and women not proportionate as we move to senior leadership level?

Data from HBR and Glassdoor shows that only 6% of all Fortune 500 companies have women as their CEOs, with over 90% of CEOs are men. 34% of people believe that male executives are better at-risk assessment. Men are 30% more likely to be promoted to a managerial role. 41% of all managers state “being too busy” as a reason to implement any kind of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The above data is a testimony to the fact why women do not move to senior roles so it is clearly a lack of role models. Men not being an ally and culture of “being too busy” and not deriving enough programs to focus on improving Diversity and Inclusion(D&I) in an organisation. It should be mandatory to report D&I targets and progress in an annual report.

 A lot has been said about the pay gap but is there something called value gap that needs to be talked about.

The pay gap and value gap need to have clear transparent measurable goals because we don't. Transparency in compensation for staff and we promote a culture of “your salary is confidential” there is a constant doubt on am being compensated adequately, and there is a need to have a policy shift and set up clear KRAs for value add and compensation to match meeting these KRAs.

What are the three adjectives that define you as a communicator?

The three adjectives would be clearly Curious, Constantly Evolving and Authentic.

How are you supporting fellow women in the industry? Why is it of prime importance?

I am a strong believer in the concept of “Knowledge Philanthropy” and senior women need to invest in spending time with upcoming leaders to pay it forward. I support a community of 150 aspiring women leaders called “Corporate Diva” which leads a philosophy of transforming women professional into women leaders. In addition, I run masterclasses on “building a personal digital brand” and “managing executive presence” to help aspiring women leaders navigate their careers in an ever-changing world. 

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