Motivation & acceptance from loved ones key to success of women leaders: Valerie Pinto

The CEO of Weber Shandwick, Pinto highlights the importance of overcoming fear and insecurities, and challenging the status quo to excel as a female leader in the PR industry

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Mar 5, 2020 10:54 PM
Valerie Pinto,CEO @ Weber Shandwick talks on her journey as a woman leader in the PR industry, gender equality, pay gaps in the industry , major challenges faced by women in the industry and more.

In today's Women's Achiever's series, we speak to Valerie Pinto the Chief Executive Officer at Weber Shandwick. Among the first group of female leaders in the public relations industry, Pinto has been heading Weber Shandwick India with an aim to bring quality work on the table. The young CEO's efforts have paved the path for some significant changes in the communications field. Pinto has broken the glass ceiling to change traditional models of communication towards more integrated offerings.

 A woman who works on her own terms and with a futuristic mindset, Pinto is an inspiration for women aspiring to make a mark for themselves. Setting a benchmark for others to follow, she advises other independent women to never give up or settle for less.

In a candid conversation with exchange4media, Pinto spoke her mind about gender equality, pay gaps in the industry, major challenges faced by women in the industry and more.

 Edited Excerpts:

 You are among the first group of female leaders in the industry. How has the journey been? What are your key learnings?

Even though our industry has a 75:25 ratio of women to men, we had only a handful of female leaders until a few years ago. Today, we have a great list of female CEOs, and I am so proud of each of them.

PR is a hard industry, unlike what many people think. It requires you to be available 24x7 to all your clients and your teams, solve crisis, create campaigns, build leaders, build teams, resolve conflict, grow revenue, arrest attrition and the list goes on. According to recent surveys, after the job of a pilot, PR professionals face the most amount of stress.

 Being a woman in such an industry, running a family and managing a business as a leader demands true grit and perseverance to pursue your passion.

 One has to make the commitment to battle challenges of bias and prove your competence and ability to balance both work and home. It’s important to overcome your own fears and insecurities and to stand up to other leaders who could be far older, mature and seasoned in the industry.

 Some give up the fight as the mountain seems too hard to climb, but if they choose to fight then they have to develop the skills to be very resilient and have a strong support system to help achieve their goals. Motivation and acceptance from loved ones at home are critical to the success of a woman leader.

 What was the biggest turning point in your career? Any anecdote that you would want to share?

 About two years into the profession, I was faced with a unique situation where there was a mass exodus of the staff in the organisation I worked for. Everyone left, leaving me behind with a couple of office help/ peons. At that point, there were only two things I could do, jump ship and find another job or stay on at the company and build it ground up. I decided to stay on and build ground up. And the rest is history. With the confidence of the leadership and my own determination, we were able to build the agency to make it one of the largest PR agencies in the country.

 I always valued the opportunities that came my way, and I am eternally thankful for the support and belief the founders had in me that allowed me to blossom into the professional I am today. 

  What were the stereotypes faced by you in your initial days? How did you balance professional life and personal life?

 In India, if you are a working woman who is successful in your career, no one hesitates to make you feel guilty for not spending enough time. Be it, friends or family. It could be in good humour, but because we ourselves are so conditioned to what the role of a woman is, we tend to go on a guilt trip and then overcompensate to ensure no one feels you haven’t played your part well. We tend to try too hard. We tend to make it all happen and drive ourselves to breakpoint as we want to achieve this balance of professional and personal life. We try to do too much and excel at it all.

Working men sometimes don’t care if the biryani they cooked during the weekend hasn’t turned out as special as they expected it to be, or they at least don’t hyperventilate about it. But most working women want even their daily cooking to be perfect and appreciated.  Be it managing the help, or the family responsibilities, the working woman strives hard to keep it perfect and often guilt trips herself if things fall in between.

 It’s hard convincing your own mind and being open to say its ‘OK’ to not be good at everything.

 Have there been any instances of gender biases in your career? If yes, how did it impact you? 

I have grown up with boys as friends. I was always treated as an equal, be it in sports or in academics. So I never believed in the definition of gender roles. We were an all-woman family, so again I never knew or understood the concept of bias.

 However, when you start your professional journey you understand these nuances as you work with people who come from different mindsets.

I never let it bother me. I learned quickly to rise above it, be my best self and gave myself wholeheartedly to whatever task I did. The rest will follow, and it did.

Is there a pay gap in the industry? If yes, what could be the major reason behind it?

I think we have come a long way and today skills and potential are given more importance than gender. I know some great men and women in the business today who are making a mark and carrying the industry forward as a whole.

 What are the major challenges that women in the industry face? Any major hurdle that you faced in the past?

PR is a demanding industry where we often work round the clock and find ourselves in stressful situations/crisis. Managing stress at work, while ensuring a healthy work-life balance, with enough time for friends and family could be challenging. We have to individually plan our days better to ensure we give all aspects of our lives equal time and attention.

 What is your message to women in the industry?

 Believe in yourself, challenge the status quo and never give up!

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