The W Suite | Unpack your fears and conquer them: Vandana Das

With a rapidly evolving business and economic landscape there is a dire requirement of fresh thinking, new skill sets, greater flexibility & adaptability, more collaboration as well as the ability to think on one’s feet.

Gone are the days when the thinking was more on the lines of getting a man to do this job. Diversity in the workforce has become a necessity today, and more so in the leadership positions. It can’t be denied that women bring a high level of creativity and empathy while solving problems and handling crises. Women leaders bring to the table a different level of dexterity.

There are way too many trend-setters and convention-breakers today. And we don’t have to look far, as there are several inspiring women leaders in the Indian advertising and media industry, who have achieved much and paved the way for many to follow.

AdGully proudly presents ‘The W-Suite’ (taken from the C-Suite), our feature series, wherein we have been featuring interactions with influential women leaders in India, who share some deep insights on what being a woman leader means in India’s business landscape, the mantras to succeed, achieving work-life balance, pay parity and much more.

A post graduate in Psychology and Business Administration, Vandana Das is President of DDB Mudra North, responsible for building both the DDB Mudra and Mudra brands in Delhi. She brings with her more than two decades of experience, including more than 15 years at Ogilvy.

She is credited with the significant growth that Ogilvy Delhi enjoyed in the last few years. Besides successfully turning around many brands of Dabur across the hair care, skin care, oral care and home care categories, she launched the hugely successful Maruti Zen Estillo – Little Box campaign, a completely integrated effort that spanned Television, Print, OOH, Digital as well as Rural Marketing. She played a significant role in the transformation of Limca from an uninspiring brand to a very refreshing drink for the youth. She has also worked on Costa Coffee, Hindustan Times and Four Square Cigarettes. Das voluntarily also handled the Training Leader’s role at the Ogilvy Delhi office.

Having completed almost four years with DDB Mudra Group, she leads DDB Mudra North, which is responsible for clients like Wrigley, Marico, SAP, Patanjali, Mother Dairy and many others. She works closely with the different units.

Das likes to travel a lot and has explored many new destinations. She loves cooking and is always ready to churn up a meal for family, friends and colleagues. She lives with her husband, Tarun Das, and their 16-year old son, Aryaman Das.

What defines a woman leader in today’s ecosystem?
In today’s times, you need to lead by balancing empathy and drive. In a business environment, where it is important to meet business objectives, you have to blend your task orientation with empathy. In addition, you need to use more of a hands-on approach rather than lead out of chair. I try to include the three E’s of Energy, Enthusiasm and Effectiveness in my leadership style.

My leadership style is also influenced by my distinctive experiences, advice from mentors, and greatly by self-introspection.

Why do you think a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions?
I am assuming it’s not a conspiracy, it’s just that the need to get there in women was kindled only two decades ago. Give a decade more and they will be there in C-Suites. They are real, true, transparent, honest and authentic at work – and that is now beginning to get recognised, valued or appreciated.

Women are still performing the majority of domestic and childcare responsibilities at home, even when there are two spouses working full-time.

Though to be honest, there seems to be a positive shift as there are enough conversations, especially in urban areas, around changing gender roles, greater support from spouse when both people are working and increasingly no gender biases at workplaces.

Do you think women leaders are still scrutinised as much for style as for substance?
Yes, female leaders are still scrutinised as much for style as for substance, and invariably compared to one another. Personal beauty, elegance, artfulness can come in the way of being noticed for deeper things.

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
Yes, I believe women are more effective leaders for one simple reason – in order to get the same recognition and rewards, they work harder as it is about proving themselves. They are more organised, diligent and meticulous.

Women leaders in the 80’s and 90’s and women leaders today – what are the key differences? And what are the things that haven’t changed much?
While gains have been made since the 1980s, men and women still aren’t equal anywhere in the world. It’s not enough that the major parties restate past commitments to increasing women on boards, or leaders throw us a few election campaign scraps around childcare and women in sport. Though there are winds of change. There are more women in top positions than ever before. Even when you see the emerging trends in Bollywood, which is a reflection of the society at large, there are more women-centric roles that are emerging in the movies.

How do you maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? How frequently do you have to sacrifice one for the other?
We don’t ever stop going to work, the transition from office to home is, therefore, seamless…it’s like you got to do what you got to do. Professional women with children have their own secrets for managing life, and succeed. Yes, you need to sacrifice a bit, but not much. If you have your priorities in place and know how to balance them out, it is not such a big deal.

Do you think pay parity exists in our corporates today across levels? What about pay parity at the leadership levels?
Yes and this is a highly sensitive subject across all experience levels. Employers need to address this as these directly impact employee motivation, performance, productivity and loyalty. It is essential for organisations to correct actual and perceived inequalities in compensation among our workforce.

What would be your advice to women aiming for the C-suite?
Fear is consistently one of the biggest challenges we face in the workplace. It’s the fear that we won’t be taken seriously by the ‘boys’ club’ that runs the company. The fear that having a family and raising children will reflect negatively on their commitment to their careers. Unpack your fears and conquer them. From your wardrobe to your attitude, exude confidence. Be the most impressive and focus on attention to detail in everything you do.

What, according to you, are the three important lessons new women leaders need to learn?
I would draw these from successful predecessors and my personal experience. Firstly, be relentlessly curious, hungry to learn, and have first-hand experience working hands-on.

Secondly, there is no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance. Your performance will actually improve if you can commit to working hard and also unplugging, recharging, and renewing yourself. And thirdly, embrace change; seek out different perspectives, and critically listen to honest feedback.


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