'Once you've made it, help other talented women cross the same barriers'
exchange4media speaks to Vasundhara Mudgil, Head of Communications, Spotify India, about her journey in the communications industry, views on inclusivity and more
Corporate communicators, with their storytelling and crisis management skills, have played an important role in helping organisations skipper through the pandemic. They were successful in not only communicating with their target audience but also helping organizations maintain their business objectives. Vasundhara Mudgil is one such leader. She is currently the head of communications at Spotify India.
Vasundhara is an experienced communications consultant, skilled in storytelling, content creation, crisis management, negotiation, and business development. With a professional career spanning over 12 years, she takes pride in working for both -- agencies and corporates alike. In her present role, Vasundhara leads internal and external communications strategy, developing localised storytelling for product features and also globalising relevant stories stemming from Spotify India.
In this chapter of the Women Achievers Series, exchange4media speaks to Vasundhara Mudgil, Head of Communications, Spotify India, about her stellar journey in the communications industry, views on inclusivity, paradigm shifts, her inspirations and more.
How did you enter the communications industry? How has been your journey ever since?
It was luck by chance! I’d applied for a post-graduate course in Development Studies at TISS, and for the PR diploma course at XIC - both in Mumbai. Turns out that I made it to XIC, so I gave it a shot. There has been no looking back.
I have only ever worked with three companies, Spotify being the current one. Prior to this, I was at Intel, and Genesis Burson-Marsteller. It has been a wholesome ride. I have learned so much from the leaders at these companies, made lifelong friends, and had the opportunity to work on all aspects of communications, from basic news tracking as a trainee to strategic planning in my current role.
What has been your biggest inspiration to serve the industry? Who has been your inspiration?
I am fascinated by how impactful the role of PR can be if given a seat at the table, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to do exactly that. At companies that look at comms as an integral part of all they do, the effect on brand reputation and perception is remarkable.
While I have definitely worked with some of the best people in the business, the greatest inspiration for me has to be the resilience I have seen in many of them. I would say it is a value and a huge influence in my professional and personal life because things will go wrong – it’s normal –but it is how you manage, learn and move on that eventually matters.
On a side note, a special shoutout to my mentors at Genesis Burson-Marsteller!
What have been key learnings for you in the entire journey to work for the comms industry?
There have been quite a few learnings along the way, but one of the biggest takeaways has been to empathize and to understand that individuals come from very different work cultures and backgrounds and that you have to make the journey to meet midway and find a solution. This is true whether you are at an agency or at a corporate.
Another important learning is to be patient. Whether it is about replying to an email when you are upset, or about having a challenging conversation with a team member, there will be several instances when you have to just take a deep breath and think before you hit the send button, or snap at someone in the team. You can never take back words!
Finally, think beyond that one activity or marketing campaign. If you want to be seen as a strategic communicator rather than a support function, then focus on the business issues you are trying to address and what will help you succeed there. Tactics are not strategy. This is especially if you are in an agency, and have a very ‘execution’ based relationship with your client. The more you can act as an extended part of their team, and lesser as just an agency, the more you will be valued and have the opportunity to learn.
2020 was a different year. What major changes did it bring into your life both professionally and personally? What were the major challenges faced?
2020 was about finding a new routine. When you don’t have to head to work at a certain hour or have plans over the weekend, days often feel incomplete. It took time, but it was important to find a healthy work-life balance by prioritising, especially given that I work with both local and global teams. It’s not always possible, but on most days, I do try to make that happen. I rely on some form of exercise to separate the work hours from the evenings at home.
I also had to temporarily switch my WFH location, including a different time zone, while working India hours. That meant finding a new routine without compromising the quality of work and still switching to personal mode at an appropriate time.
How has the industry treated its women in the new normal? What paradigm shift have you noticed in the functioning with respect to women?
In my observation, both men and women have had the opportunity to reset, and been given an equal opportunity to rethink how they would like to adjust to the WFH situation. That is how it should be. When you are home, whether you live with your parents, spouse, children, or an extended family, everyone needs the same level of flexibility.
I can speak from my personal experience at Spotify, but my colleagues - whether women or men - have been given an equal opportunity to adjust to the new routine, and balance work, chores and family life. In that sense, it’s not about “treating women differently”, but about treating all employees at par. That, of course, also implies that the responsibilities at home are being shared by the woman and whoever she cohabitates with.
Why do we witness attrition in women leadership as we go high above the ladder?
There could be a few reasons. The first could be that they don’t see enough or any senior women in the company’s leadership, and feel that the opportunity for them to grow into and stay in a leadership position is unlikely or for a limited time. There is no role model.
The second reason is that there often is an inherent bias when recruiters or companies are looking to hire for senior positions. The question - “do you plan to start a family soon?” - is literally nobody’s business and a very inappropriate question, yet there are several recruiters (especially external consultants) who ask that. It is definitely something that would discourage many women from considering leadership roles.
And finally, there are stereotypes at the workplace, more prevalent in some industries than others. They act as continuous deterrents for any woman who has the ambition to grow into a leadership role. But they don't feel “welcome enough” by the other leaders or even her own team to do so.
Has there been any instance of gender bias in your journey? Is the pay gap a major concern for the industry?
I have been fortunate to work for managers and brands that have recognized and encouraged my potential. There have been a few, stray instances where it was a challenge to be taken seriously by external stakeholders because they thought I was a young woman, and a more senior male representative needed to validate the recommendations I made. However, I personally haven’t experienced the pay gap issue.
Overall, I think that the profession itself comes with the challenges of proving that what we do is more valuable, in-depth, and relevant to businesses with a tangible reputational impact, than the general perception.
How did you convert a crisis into an opportunity for yourself, professionally?
I think that converting a professional crisis into an opportunity is an ongoing process. The one I would like to highlight here is being able to tackle difficult interpersonal equations at work. If not managed right, it could lead to negativity at the workplace, and even enough frustration to quit the job. I converted one such equation into a strong work relationship. As you know, communication involves collaborating with stakeholders (all of whom come from varying backgrounds) and sometimes, having difficult conversations on how things should be done.
Given the challenge at hand, I started spending more time on planning and strategizing based on the feedback I was receiving, and often over-communicating to ensure that the key stakeholders were consistently aligned on what I was proposing as the comms strategy. This made the planning process exhaustive, but the execution of the campaign seamless. It also enabled me to build long term trust as well as the cadence of leadership inputs, ensuring that the business and comms are hand in glove.
What are the steps that you would take to support other women in the industry and large?
It is a combination of what women can do for themselves and the support they find in their work environment. As a professional, it is important to be assertive, own what you do, and embrace feedback. I have always worked at companies where women and men are equally respected and given opportunities to grow. Work for a manager and a company that believe in meritocracy and transparency – if that’s your starting point, you won’t think about how you can succeed as a woman in the workplace; instead, your focus will be on succeeding as a professional.
You will always find someone who is willing to be a mentor, so think about the right person for you. Take on new challenges, showcase your work. Many of us who have been in the industry are open to networking and using our experience to support the growth of other women joining the industry. Even more important is that once you’ve made it, make sure you’re the mentor, stakeholder, or client who is open to supporting other talented women to cross similar barriers.
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