Speak up, ask for it and lead it. Women need to support each other: Rachana Panda, GE

Rachana Panda, Chief Communications Officer & Citizenship Leader - GE South Asia, shares about her journey in the industry, views on women leadership and more

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Dec 13, 2019 12:43 PM
Rachana Panda

Rachana Panda, a Harvard Business School Alumnus, is presently the Chief Communications Officer & Citizenship Leader at GE South Asia. At GE, Panda is part of the leadership team where her role is to lead and champion the communications function in the region.

Her role comprises advising the leadership team on all facets of communication, which includes employee engagement and external communications. She also leads the Brand, Advertising & Digital communications team for this region. She is actively involved in conversations around innovation, entrepreneurship and believes in creating a culture and ecosystem around it.
Rachana received the Individual Achievement SABRE Award for 2019 in Singapore. She is also listed as one of the top ten women corporate communicators in the region. She has spoken at various National and International conferences and has contributed to leading publications.

In an interaction with Panda on her journey in the industry, she spoke about her views on women leadership and more.

Edited excerpts:

How has your journey been in the Corp Comm industry?
My almost 25 years of journey in the industry has been nothing short of fantastic. I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with innovative brands, across industries and sectors. From the development sector to telecom industry to infrastructure, it has been a multi-faceted journey for me. And each of these personally provided me with a unique learning experience. And that’s why today, I feel enriched, evolved and rewarded.

What has been the growth spectrum for GE over the years?
GE has expanded substantially in the South-Asia region. We have seen strong growth in all our businesses in commercial, innovation and manufacturing growth over the last few years. And there is no doubt in my mind that the communications function helped a great deal in achieving this for GE- both from the point of view of business, as well as reputation.

How has GE been able to curate a niche market for themselves over the years?
General Electric (GE) is a 125-year-young multinational company spread across 130 countries worldwide. Accredited to be one of the best B2B companies, GE is recognized for innovation, culture and customer centricity. These values are GEs fundamentals so to say. And it was my focus to ensure that these were communicated in a strategic manner.

With the coming of the internet, communication has undergone a massive shift. Can you tell us about the challenges and opportunities that the internet has brought along for PR professionals?
Oh yes! What was relevant yesterday, may not be relevant today. And that’s what makes it so complex, yet exciting. I would say that life has become smarter and efficient now. Internet has opened up newer avenues and better opportunities. For instance, campaigns can now be better planned backed up by data, executed much faster, are more innovative and fascinating. The most important is that it has helped Communicators and Brand managers to roll out target oriented, focused campaigns and plans, ROI measurement has become stronger and better, reach has become better and results are outcome oriented.

On the other hand, with the onset of the internet era in the field of communications, there are some challenges too. Managing and limiting information can be a major challenge nowadays. And lastly, corporations and brands need to orient themselves with issues and crisis, keeping social media in mind. In fact, this has driven the need of new skill sets which can be a huge opportunity for our function in terms of data management and analytics.

Since inception, what have been the technological evolutions that you have seen in the PR industry?
The advancements in technology has seen a huge upsurge in the usage of newer formats like Artificial Intelligence (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) , Augmented Reality (AR), Big Data and others. The mundane PR everyday practices have become easier to handle. The newer technologies have reduced the time consumption and enhanced productivity.

What are some strategies you have learned that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
I would not quote it as strategies but my learning over the years.
• Build credibility for yourself by exhibiting your strengths and delivering on outcomes
• Look for sponsors within the system. People who believe and stand in for you.
• Speak up, ask for it and lead it. Women need to support and mentor other women .
• Challenge yourself to learn more and up-skill. For me the biggest high point is my Advanced Management Program at Harvard which I took up while working at GE. That’s made a world of a difference for me and the way I look at things now.
• And irrespective of your gender, stick to your ground when it comes to nurturing , protecting and enhancing the corporate reputation of the organization that you’re representing.

What was your organizational culture like 10 years ago for women and working mothers? Do you feel the companies are making efforts towards improving the culture for this cohort?
In my view, every company has a different culture for itself. GE has a very inclusive culture. Such culture enhances the professional support to women and help them grow.
I see around that most companies are now taking a positive move towards this. To start with, they are aware and are open to learning which is a great start. Role models, bubble assignments, mentoring and coaching are really catching up and can work wonders if implemented well. Also, when women get into senior roles, then we get an opportunity and responsibility to bring more women at the upfront.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I am so glad you asked this. The conversation is back and how. The woman from South Africa, who was crowned Miss Universe, spoke about teaching young girls about leadership. It’s got the chatter going. And it’s true because most of the times it is our own mindset that is the significant barrier to female leadership. Women need to start taking up leadership roles and more so ask for it. If you come to think of it, we ourselves are not sure and limit ourselves. We, as women, create our own barriers and don’t realize our strengths and caliber.

What are your plans after GE?
My 7.5 years at GE are nothing short of a pleasant and an enriching experience, that I am so proud of. I am truly fortunate to have worked with fantastic peers, inspiring leaders, great managers and best of all, a fantastic supportive team. It's always great to move forward on a high note. I am taking some personal time off before I decide on my next assignment. Aiming to do fun things like travelling, learning music and kitty partying…things I have always wanted to do but never had time for!!

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