At the launch of IMPACT’s 50 Most Influential Women list, 2020, a most riveting panel discussion featuring four women leaders on the list – Anupriya Acharya, Priya Nair, Shereen Bhan and Swati Bhattacharya – and moderated by jury member Delna Avari, charged up the air as the participants shared anecdotes, moving stories and learnings from their careers to reiterate the infinite wisdom of leading by example
How do women in power lead by example? What makes a good leader? These were questions addressed at a panel discussion at the online event to mark the unveiling of IMPACT’s 50 Most Influential Women List, 2020.
The discussion was moderated by jury member Delna Avari, Founder, Delna Avari & Consultants, and featured phenomenal women leaders who are part of the list - Anupriya Acharya, CEO, Publicis Groupe, South Asia; Priya Nair, Executive Director - Beauty and Personal Care, Hindustan Unilever; Shereen Bhan, Managing Editor, CNBC-TV18 and Swati Bhattacharya, Chief Creative Officer, FCB Ulka. The conversation was filled with insights and learnings, as the women shared their experiences and emotions in a brutally honest way.
TRUE LEADERS SHOW UP
On the topic of challenges, Priya Nair was the first to talk right from the heart about her most recent personal setback – the loss of her father just a few weeks ago. Describing him as her biggest cheerleader, she said, “The one thing my father taught me was to just be present and show up.
Among the many lessons he taught me, that was the one that I remember the most and the reason I am here today. I have learnt since his passing that professional challenges pale in comparison to losing a loved one.” She added that she initially hesitated about attending the virtual celebration, but did it because it’s something her father would have wanted.
Anupriya Acharya also echoed Nair’s insight about the need to be present and show up, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. “The biggest challenge we are facing is essentially how to keep people feeling motivated and inspired.
I had never imagined how big a role the organisation played in this.” She pointed out the increasing complexity the pandemic and WFH has brought on for most people in the organisation, where separation of personal and professional lives was nearly impossible. The lines had now blurred between the two, as people’s homes are also now their workplaces.
Shereen Bhan also spoke about the
“Women have all the required qualities to navigate the role of a leader effectively. What you need to remember is that you are stronger than you realise, and you need to believe in yourself first.”
CEO, Publicis Groupe, South Asia
“Sanjiv said to me – Priya, you have 100 families to take care of, not 100 people. We then made a list of all these people and found a way to re-skill, redeploy or place them in another role. That was something that stayed with me.”
Executive Director - Beauty and
Personal Care, Hindustan Unilever
“We have gotten so used to just being apologetic; we need to stop doing that. We should stop being ashamed of how we feel – good or bad. We need our voices to be heard. If you deserve something, you should go up and ask for it.”
Managing Editor, CNBC-TV18
“One of the things women often do is wonder if they are good enough for the job. They doubt themselves too much but sometimes, they need to take a chance on themselves. Chase your dreams and do not let the naysayers stop you. Feel free to reinvent yourself.”
Founder, Delna Avari & Consultants
“Don’t take the pressure of being perfect either at home or at work. When people around realise that you are not perfect, it enables them to work around that. That’s what allows you to truly be more creative and productive. Stay humble, vulnerable and open.”
Chief Creative Officer, FCB Ulka
importance of empathy in leadership roles today. “It is sad that it has taken a pandemic for us to understand the importance of empathy within organisations today.
You cannot make people compartmentalise their personal and professional lives, and tell your team to leave their problems at home.
If you want to ensure a collaborative environment at work, then you have to learn to collaborate on other areas the person deals with,” Bhan pointed out. She also shared with the audience how she started a gratitude e-mail for people in her team to show appreciation for what they were doing at the start of the lockdown.
Delna Avari added that true leaders are the ones that look beyond numbers and profits, and take their teams ahead and enable them to grow. She also pointed out that there were no women leaders in the auto industry when she started out.
The pandemic also proved to be a great opportunity to bring back conversations with friends and rekindle that ‘sisterhood’, Swati Bhattacharya added. It allowed her to reconnect with her friends, and the women who have been her support system throughout her life.
“We had lost the art of long conversations,” she observed. “Before the pandemic, we would make a plan to meet, and then hang up. Now, my readings and conversations are back and I am quite enjoying that.” Bhattacharya added that talking regularly to her friends have kept her nourished during these tough months.
“The culture of generosity only comes when people are nourished,” she added, pointing out that organisations must work to retain female talent post motherhood. With the pandemic, she observed that companies are now offering greater flexibility at work, something they should have done a long time ago to retain talent.
LEADERS WHO INSPIRE
The women also spoke about the leaders who have inspired them and enabled the growth and discovery of their own leadership skills. Bhattacharya spoke about how she worked for over two decades at her first agency before being offered a CCO position, something she had never thought about.
It was that opportunity that allowed her to dream bigger and accomplish more than she ever expected. “There was never really ambition at the start, or any craving for fame. When I was given the CCO role, it felt more than just a token. Otherwise, I used to feel like Pratibha Patil,” she laughed, but was clear that leaders must be generous, give back and allow young talent to shine.
Nair too shared a deep insight she once received from her boss Sanjiv Mehta, CMD HUL. At a time in the past, when HUL was faced with a situation where they had to redeploy some people (non-employees) that worked for them in different capacities, Nair recounts what Mehta told her.
“Sanjiv said to me – Priya, you have 100 families to take care of, not 100 people. We then made a list of all these people and found a way to re-skill, redeploy or place them in another role. That was something that stayed with me, and it is relevant even in the times we live in today,” she said, adding that it reminds her to stay humane in all situations.
Acharya paid tribute to the women in the business who made an impact on her, when she was in the formative years of her career. “We were very fortunate that there were a lot of women in the business when we started our careers in the mid-nineties.
Over these several years, the relevance of individual conversations may not have been high but their role in shaping our mindsets very well really stood out,” noted Acharya, while also adding that it is necessary that leaders today are seen minus the gender lens. “We need to stop looking at leaders as women leaders or men leaders,” she insisted.
Bhan recounted an incident where NDTV’s Dr Prannoy Roy went out of his way to greet her and applaud her work at an event, and added that a good leader never takes himself/herself too seriously. “My mentors in the business taught me the importance of staying humble,” she said.
“You have to wear your success lightly. Do not take yourself too seriously, and do not believe that you have all of the answers. If you start to believe in your own myth, that’s a dangerous place to be. There is still so much to learn today from the younger ones in the industry in today’s environment,” she observed.
BE YOUR OWN CHEERLEADER
Towards the end of the discussion, Avari pointed out that ambition and drive are key to becoming an effective leader, something all women must recognise. Nair added to that saying, “Women already have a lot of innate leadership qualities, whether it is a higher EQ or greater empathy.
What they really need to do is be ambitious and become their biggest cheerleader,” she said emphatically. Acharya seconded that note of advice, adding, “Women have all the required qualities to navigate the role of a leader effectively. What you need to remember is that you are stronger than you realise, and you need to believe in yourself first.”
Bhan also noted that women will be judged all the time, irrespective of what they do. But she urged women to not allow other people’s judgements and opinions to affect them. “Do not hold yourself back. We have gotten so used to just being apologetic; we need to stop doing that. We should stop being ashamed of how we feel – good or bad.
We need our voices to be heard. If you deserve something, you should go up and ask for it and there should be no shame in doing that,” she said. Bhattacharya also added a note of advice to leaders in the industry, encouraging them to let their vulnerability show. “Don’t take the pressure of being perfect either at home or at work.
When people around realise that you are not perfect, it enables them to work around that. That’s what allows you to truly be more creative and productive. Stay humble, vulnerable and open,” she offered.
As someone who works closely with women in leadership positions, Avari closed the discussion by stating that a designation doesn’t define you. “Don’t take other people’s opinions too seriously. One of the things women often do is wonder if they are good enough for the job. They doubt themselves too much but sometimes, they need to take a chance on themselves.
Chase your dreams and do not let the naysayers stop you. Feel free to reinvent yourself when you feel the need. Create your own path,” she concluded as she thanked the women on the panel.