'The organization is only as safe and as empowered as the most vulnerable feels in it'
In this edition of Women Achievers, Abhilasha Padhy, Co-Founder and Joint Managing Director at 80dB Communications talks about her journey, views on female leadership and more
Counted among the new-age entrepreneurs, Abhilasha Padhy believes in the culture of inclusion and creating opportunities to succeed at her firm 80db Communications. After 15 years of experience in communications, she decided to take the proverbial leap of faith. Working with some really great startups and tech firm, her firm has made PR more exiting by riding on the bandwagon of social media and integrated marketing and communications.
Abhilasha has seen both sides of the business, working with both agencies and corporates. She started as an associate with Integral PR and worked with firms like Genesis Communications, 20:20MSL, Mercer, Philips Consumer Lifestyle and Google.
We speak to Abhilasha Padhy, Co-Founder and Joint Managing Director at 80dB Communications about her journey, inclusivity in the PR industry, views on attrition in women leadership and more in the latest chapter of ‘Women Achievers Series’.
How did you enter the comms industry? How has been your journey ever since?
It has been 19 years since I started my career in PR and it's been a very fulfilling journey.
I always wanted to pursue journalism. So after my graduation, I studied Mass Communications. I got the opportunity to intern with McDonald's at the peak of their meat crisis and loved every bit of the learning and the challenge. I knew then that being in PR was what I wanted to do.
The journey since then has been fantastic. I have spent time both at the agency side and at corporates which has added to my perspective and appreciation for both. I understand the need for processes on the one hand and the importance of agility and creativity on the other.
In all my years of being in the profession, I have seen PR evolve to take on a far more strategic, senior, and meaningful role. It has transitioned seamlessly into becoming an integral part of branding and marketing, something that needs to be accounted for in overall brand planning. Already riding a wave, the advent of social media and digital has only made PR more exciting.
Founding and running 80dB (in its sixth year now) along with Kiran Ray Chaudhury has been the highlight of my journey. It’s been literally like raising a baby but with the advantage of experience.
What have been key learnings for you in the comms industry?
What may seem like learning while working in the comms industry, have indeed turned out to be life-lessons that have stayed with me. In many ways, professional and personal lives cannot be siloed anymore, especially after the pandemic. Boundaries have merged and the strengths of our personal life flow seamlessly into our professional life, and vice versa.
Communication campaigns are not run on plans alone. The patience and perseverance of running a brand campaign, sometimes in adverse circumstances, is a precious takeaway that has transformed me personally as well. The compassion and empathy required to be exhibited towards people while at work, and as a leader, have changed me as a person – shaping the way I work and live. At the end of everything though, I believe it’s my authenticity and honesty that have helped me stand my ground.
2020 was a different year. How did 2020 change the perspective for women leaders across industries? What major changes did it bring into your life both professionally and personally?
2020 has been a watershed year, to say the least, transforming everything in its wake. In many ways, it has been an equalizer. While traditionally it had been mostly women working from home, 2020 made it WFH for everyone. Suddenly, the struggles and challenges it posed became apparent to all. For me professionally, it has been a year of significant learning – at a time when both we and our clients were challenged to the core, and yet had to constantly strategize our next steps.
On the personal front, I had a very satisfying and fulfilling year, where I had the opportunity to share work-space with my spouse since we were both working from home. Not to forget going for lunch breaks with the family - precious moments I will not forget for a lifetime.
How inclusive is the PR industry according to you?
Based on my personal experience, the PR industry is inclusive.
80dB, founded and led by two women leaders Kiran Ray Chaudhury and myself, is extremely inclusive. Women comprise 85% of our workforce, and we try consciously hard to ensure inclusiveness remains an integral part of our DNA. Inclusiveness for us goes beyond gender. We are focused on creating a culture of acceptance, providing a safe place for everyone to voice themselves, giving everyone the opportunity to succeed to their fullest, while affording 80dB the best chance to benefit from everyone’s experiences.
How has the industry treated its women in the new normal? What paradigm shift have you noticed in the functioning with respect to women?
The industry has generally been inclusive and diverse and has thrived on its acceptance of women. The new normal has further intensified this acceptance of the crucial and important roles that women play in their personal and professional lives and has made our workforce more open and flexible.
Why do we witness attrition in women leadership as we go high above the ladder?
Cliched as it may sound, the woman is expected to take over the home and rear her children. Even when it is not something that is imposed on her, her natural tendencies may sometimes take over. A woman may indeed, and fairly so, want to spend more time with her growing baby. As a mother, I know it’s a natural instinct. While the roles are surely changing, the transformation is slow and is yet seen only at the fringes.
This major change in a woman’s life often coincides with her professional transition and sets her back by a few years. Post that, catching-up may become difficult, leading to attrition. It is at this juncture that women need the most support to bump back up in life and compete on an equal footing.
Has there been any instance of gender bias in your journey? Is the pay gap a major concern for the industry?
I have been blessed to have worked in great organizations with excellent mentors, which I treasure to this day. That is also the learning I bring to 80dB, making it more inclusive and diverse in the way we work, think and live. And to me, diversity is being inclusive of a whole lot of things – it’s not just gender, but about experiences, personal values and opinions.
How did you convert a crisis into an opportunity for yourself, professionally?
I am an unapologetic optimistic, so every situation that has seemed like a crisis has actually transformed into more opportunities. I have always looked back at any and all challenges through the eyes of a learner, and with humility. And it has helped me take back learnings that success can never replicate. I have learned to accept that work will be a mix of rewarding and challenging moments. The faster we take our learnings and continue onwards, the better.
What are the steps that you would take to support other women in the industry and large?
Interventions to bring about behavioural change, and the need for feminist leadership. I first read about feminist leadership in an article by Srilatha Batliwala. It talks about the style of leadership, which is feminist and is not necessarily about women as leaders. This style of leadership is collaborative, relational, consensus-building, open, and intuitive. The underlying ethos is that an organization is only as safe and as
Empowered as the most vulnerable in it feel. I would like to consciously put this into practice, in my own way of operating, in all my interactions within and outside 80dB.
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