'Stepping out of comfort zone is the only way to be effective agents of change'

Tuhina Pandey, Communications Leader, IBM, India & South Asia, says that value & pay should be in equilibrium in the latest feature of 'Women Achievers Series'

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Apr 6, 2021 2:30 PM
Tuhina Pandey

A storyteller by heart and a ‘presenter’ by passion, Tuhina Pandey believes in the power of communication that can drive conversations. She wants to contribute with her experience in bridging the gap between business and creativity and help individuals and organizations tell the most powerful stories in a way that moves people to action and understanding. 

Started off as a business journalist, she has covered business and technology in depth before taking the corporate plunge. Tuhina has both global experience and an understanding of diverse sensibilities. She has worked with leading names of the industry including tuCom, Tech Mahindra and IBM. Currently, she is the Communications Leader, IBM, India and South Asia.

In today’s feature of ‘Women Achievers Series’ Tuhina Pandey, Communications Leader, IBM, India and South Asia opens up about her journey in the communication industry, thoughts on inclusion and diversity, value gap, the role of men in promoting equality in an organization and more.

Edited Excerpts:-

How did you enter the communications industry? How has been your journey ever since? What was the defining moment in your career?

My journey as a business journalist was foundational to why I chose to become a corporate communicator and enter the communications industry. Journalism was clearly one of the most immersive experiences for me. Covering technology and corporate stories was at the core of my experience.

I wanted to understand communications holistically and launched a digital corporate TV for an Indian headquartered firm in 11 countries and 8 languages back in 2010. I have since led global roles in marketing communication, public affairs, have been a founding member of an analytics start-up, communications consultant and media trainer for executives. It has all evolved from the canvas of journalism. The communications industry is evolving at a fast pace and there are learnings and discoveries every day.

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 has been a fascinating year and one full of lifetime learnings. Taking up a new role in a virtual world and operating meaningfully through virtual screens was certainly a task at hand. What was striking is the deep realisation that the human spirit is extremely adaptive and flexible and relationships can transcend in a virtual world.

It was an interesting balance of ‘working from home and working for home’. The boundaries between personal and professional life have completely shattered and a new equilibrium has set in. I would say space is still evolving and I am finding my own sweet spot.

Appreciation for fundamentals and minimalism was also a highlight for me personally as I experienced life very differently living out of a suitcase for months.

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

Well, it is certainly one space where you see women contribute strongly across roles but it's more than that. It’s about being open to diverse thoughts, ideas and being able to tap into creativity and innovation from a much wider spectrum of humanity. The communication space is certainly a beacon in this regard and I might add the men colleagues are equally prominent and accepting.

What does an organisation have to build when it comes to its culture and work ethos to promote gender neutrality?

Simple but fundamental, embed diversity at the core of organisational values and policies and work each day tirelessly towards the equilibrium that serves the human purpose. I draw a parallel with bio diversity and learnings from mother nature where everyone is unique with their own strengths and needs and it all comes together as a larger ecosystem to orchestrate the very sustenance of the planet and humanity. Diversity is much more than a gender issue. It is a human issue and can be best addressed if we embrace the individuality and collectiveness of each and all.

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

Extremely, male allies have through the course of history played a pivotal role in closing the gender gap. They have to be part of the solution as they have a strong representation in the workplace at important positions. The important part is that this conversation needs to be about the value of gender diversity and not a check in the box and that is where there is work to be done.

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

There is not a simple answer here and this is a reflection of socio-economic structure that may not be conducive to when women move up the ladder. I do believe technology and the connected world should eventually help women access opportunities from anywhere and with flexibility. The rise of gig economy will hopefully also have a positive influence in this context.

There is also a mindset issue at play here, It all starts from home and communities, support from family, friends and social networks is key to any woman being successful at work.

Finally, it is also upon us the women to choose our path more boldly, ask for the support we need, talk about the dreams we have because if we don’t speak up no one will ever know. I have in the past talked about ‘Super Woman Syndrome’ - the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect in every role is utopian and we must embrace our ‘imperfectly perfect’ selves.

A lot has been talked about the pay gap but is there something called value gap to be talked about?

This is an interesting question to address. The way I see every role in life boils down to the value you bring to the table; while some are tangible others not so much but equally important. Your pay in an ideal world should reflect that value but that’s not the case always. What is needed is value and pay should be in equilibrium and that needs structural interventions at a policy level. A lot of companies are addressing this in an encouraging way and big strides are being taken. There is however a long and tedious journey ahead and a gap that certainly needs to be bridged where the issue is an exception, not the rule.

The other interesting trend to observe is - if more and more women enter the workforce and the pay gap continues what is going to be the impact on overall wages? It is likely to bring the overall averages down, so in net, it’s important for the overall job ecosystem to aim for fair and sustainable pay levels for all.

What are the three adjectives that define you as a communicator? Give us an instance of when you converted a crisis into an opportunity.

Curiosity - your pursuit of unraveling the mysteries of the world in small and big ways is what keeps you in business as a communicator.

People – this is at the core of being a communicator, it is not just about being an avid networker, it is how deep your relationships are, how well you understand and empathise with the needs of your stakeholders. Very seldom communications is about you, it’s about others and the more clear you are about it the more effective you are in dispensing your responsibilities.

Comfortable outside the ‘comfort zone’ – Human civilisation and culture are forever evolving and it is important that you are open to change, open to doing things differently and disrupting constantly. Stepping out of your comfort zone is the only way to be effective change agents.

What are the steps that you would take to support other women in the industry and large?

Move over stereotypes is most critical. Stereotypes that women are women’s worst enemies and men are out there to get you have not stood the test of time in my journey. Some of my best well-wishers, collaborators, and mentors have been women and even men. Also, what women can and cannot do is best defined by individuals themselves and it is important to write your own social script rather than singing from someone else’s song sheet.

It is important to have conversations, mentor others and get mentored, pave the way for those who are coming into the industry, build a support network, a sisterhood, and don’t forget to include the men. Ultimately, it is about embracing your individuality and daring to dream, each step counts and each conversation is a building block of the world we all aspire for.

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