‘Supportive women got me through many crises in both professional & personal life’
Guest Column: Swati Bhattacharya, Chief Communications & Brand Officer, Bajaj Group, shares her experiences as a woman leader in the world of communications
I started out in the world of communications like a fish out of water. I came from a small town called Darjeeling, nestled in the Himalayas. The only need for leadership was when we had to motivate each other to finish a particularly arduous stretch during a hike, or when we had to make a joint case to our particularly strict Irish college principal of why we should not be “gated” for missing a class to watch a movie being shot on Chowrasta, and of course when the same case had to be made to the irate parents who wouldn’t stand for misbehaviour no matter what.
Over the years, communications became my best friend. Why did I get into it in the first place, many people ask me. In the beginning, maybe it was because of my love for storytelling, for making a worthwhile difference to the business without getting into the not-so-interesting numbers and figures. It didn’t take long before one realised that facts and figures were not something one could avoid, but the storytelling piece remained and so did the need for creativity to help companies create interesting campaigns that had an effect on the bottom line.
And then came the realisation that in the corporate world, women in leadership roles were not the easiest to find. That has been changing over the years, and there are a lot more women leaders today than there were when I started out. But that was something then. To be in a room full of men in grey suits and make your voice heard was an act that required courage, leadership, and even defiance sometimes. That became easier if we women stuck together. We understood each other’s problems better, we knew when we needed that extra coffee or just a thumbs up to persevere. Supportive women got me through many crises in both my professional and personal life.
So when I was approached by friend and ex-colleague to be a part of a global PR organisation called Global Women in PR (GWPR), I said yes without a moment’s thought. This kind of an organisation is what women in the world of Communications and PR need. I think back to when I started out. Imagine what I could have done with the resources that GWPR will make available to young communicators! How wonderful it would be to know that there was a cumulative depth of experience of several hundreds of years that I could dip into when faced with an issue. How reassuring it would feel to have so much wisdom to partake of when I needed it.
My first brush with the big bad world was when I moved to Bangalore. My sheltered existence earlier didn’t quite prepare me for the various kinds of people I would encounter in my attempt to make a mark. Whether it was the media or the clients, some days I would retire hurt to the office, only to have my lady boss and more experienced colleagues bolster my confidence and send me right out to conquer the world. I managed, and managed pretty well because of this support I could count on.
Then came my move to Delhi. That was a whole new experience and going out to work here showed me another side of the universe. I was the main crisis contact for a fast food brand, and from screaming angry customers to mean crowds bent on destroying restaurants, I got to be on the front of it all. Basic lessons in communications and leadership that my mum had taught me stood me in good stead. “Use your words”, “stand your ground” she would tell me when I was overwhelmed. I repeated that to myself like a mantra while dealing with all the madness, and came out all the better for it.
Delhi taught me more about strength and resilience than anything else. It taught me to “use my words” and “stand my ground” and support other women do that too. In my career spanning nearly 26 years, I have worked with global brands like General Motors, Ingersoll Rand, and Agilent Technologies among others, and been a core part of their leadership teams. I have seen the value that a good communications team can bring to the table. I have realised that effective communications can make all the difference for a business and nurturing women leaders gives them that edge. GWPR combines the best of both these worlds, and I am very excited to be part of this organisation. I am absolutely certain that wonderful things will come out of this and I look forward to it with all my heart.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com
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