Merit is gender agnostic: Piyal Banerjee, IPM India

Banerjee, Head - External Communications at IPM India Wholesale Trading, explains why mutual respect, equity, equality & meritocracy are the key pillars of a balanced workplace

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Mar 30, 2020 5:11 PM  | 6 min read

With over seventeen years of brand and corporate communications experience across markets, Piyal Banerjee has been leading external communications for IPM India Wholesale Trading Pvt Ltd (A country affiliate of Philip Morris International). She has worked with some of the biggest brands across multiple sectors like FMCG, technology, corporate and start-ups. In addition to this, she was also heading "Step Up" a unique offering focused on start-ups in India.

Banerjee has been instrumental in driving high-impact integrated measurable campaigns in the service of thought leadership, advocacy/policy agenda, brand loyalty/preference building, content creation, smart partnerships & issues and crisis communications, Banerjee is known to take a keen interest in mentoring the next-gen of communications' professionals and preparing them for leadership roles.

In today’s edition of Women Achievers Series, e4m interacts with Piyal Banerjee, Head - External Communications at IPM India Wholesale Trading Private Limited, on her journey in the communications industry, the role of communication in establishing an equitable environment at workplace and more.

Edited Excerpts:

How were your initial days in the corporate communication industry? 

My initial days were about educating myself about the business -- its values, culture and ethos. The first two months of induction and orientation were extremely meaningful. I am genuinely proud to be a part of this exemplary and aspirational organisation that has its cornerstone in knowledge building.

Corporate communications as a function is more inside-out than outside-in. Here, you are also the custodian of the organisation’s reputation in a big way, a gateway of information from the organisation and its ecosystem. Corporate communication has evolved over the years and continues to change for the better. Today, it is a true value creator for any organisation and is closely linked with an organisation’s business goals. It has become a powerful function that impacts all stakeholders and subsequently has a direct bearing on their corporate reputation. When I was in the agency, I worked across multiple sectors and had to focus on all of them simultaneously. On the corporate side too, interestingly, even though it’s one organisation, you are the horizontal thread that cuts across all functions, each with their unique story, unique challenges. Therefore there are multiple powerful narratives at play, aligned to each of the function’s business priorities. It is an opportunity to serve the business of business with real, measurable impact.

 What are your major learnings so far?

For me personally, everything is a learning, be it big or small. Through my years of work in the public relations industry, a lot has changed; and I believe change is the only constant. Today, communication has evolved into a standalone strategic function. It is aligned to the business and reputational goals of the organisation. It is highly data-centric and evidence-based, with technology analytics underscoring every aspect of interaction.

There is no question that one has to up-skill and adapt as one goes along, and only then you can embrace the dynamism of the ‘new world order’. Another pivotal approach is to rely on credible third-party endorsement, which enhances the reputation of the organisation.

That said, what keeps it all real are the people, no matter what the advancements. The nerve centre is who you work with and how. Merit and craft matter the most but so does trust and personal equity. The journey is that of becoming a trusted advisor who has the ability to show the mirror when required. To challenge and co-opt, push and pull. So take things personally or objectively and dispassionately, but make them yours. Be resilient, view every challenge as an opportunity to innovate, improve and thereby create value. It is important to strategically engage, and not just keep things transactional.

Have you ever experienced gender bias in your career? If yes, what do you think could have been the reason?

Honestly, I have been lucky to never experience such sharp biases, whether at work or at home. However, even though times are changing for the better, I do realise that in India, one often succumbs to a strong patriarchal mindset. That’s where biases become challenging for many.

 Always be confident of what you bring to the table. I’ve worked hard and kept my eyes on the ball. Yes, there will be detractors, but when you stay focused and undeterred, the world will come around and then no one can stop you from moving mountains.

What makes the corporate communications industry so unique it that attracts so many women?

It is absolutely inspiring to have super talented women leaders in this industry, and that is gratifying. At the end of the day it’s about fitment and qualifiers because what matters is meritocracy and merit is gender agnostic. Having said that, nuanced communication involves empathy, flexibility, dexterity, resilience, ability to flawlessly multitask and connect; along with an innate sense of creativity. These qualities are somehow inherent in women, which is why one sees more women opting for a career in communications and performing exceptionally.

How can an organisation’s culture establish a sense of gender equality among employees?

I believe it is important to have gender-neutral policies. For example, we know that flexible work hours is important for women as we believe they have dual responsibilities of managing home and work simultaneously. But think about today’s nuclear families, where flexible work hours are equally important for men, especially when both the partners are working. Men are equally responsible for fulfilling family commitments while balancing work. So it’s all about how one is able to support the other shoulder-to-shoulder.

Mutual respect, equity, equality and meritocracy are the key pillars of a balanced workplace environment, which is fruitful for all the employees. When an organisation has defined SOPs and KRAs and habitually treats all employees equally, these qualities soon become a part of its culture and its DNA; it becomes the new normal where everyone thrives. We need to keeping it egalitarian, transparent and diverse.

How can communication play a key role in promoting equality at the workplace?

Communication has and will continue to play a very crucial role in giving out the right messages, at the right time and in the right manner. From engaging with a co-worker to writing a press release to organising a town hall, communication is omnipresent and is a part of our daily lives. The tools and platforms are specific to every interaction; however, the essence lies in the storytelling. Walking the talk, taking the right steps in initiatives, policies, programmes, and consistently staying connected are what matters.



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