The W Suite | We are not an inclusive industry: Sakshi Choudhary

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.  

AdGully’s ‘The W-Suite’ series features 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. 

Sakshi Choudhary, Creative Controller, Ogilvy India, gave up a promising corporate career to be part of the advertising business. Seven years into her journey, Choudhary created award-winning work for some of the world’s most iconic brands. She has been ranked by One Club as one of the world’s top ten Next Creative Leaders, she was the only Indian to make it to the Cannes Lions See It Be It Programme in 2017, and was also listed on Campaign Asia’s Women to Watch. 

Also Read: The W Suite | Need more female heroes in the boardrooms: Marya Shakil

Alongside her key role at Ogilvy India, Choudhary hopes to start a platform for Indian women in advertising that focuses on equal representation of females in leadership positions, and discusses the role the industry can play in fighting a deeply entrenched patriarchal society while also trying to simplify the complex interpretations of gender bias in India through an art initiative – The Seesaw Project, which she founded in 2016. 

 A strong proponent for gender equality, Choudhary highlighted the rise of the ‘Female Economy’ in her address at the recently held Zee Melt 2018 conference, where spoke about the growing spending power of women and how brands and marketers have realised the changing scenario. 

What’s your take on women and advertising?
I think the country is telling us what we are doing wrong; my entire address (at Zee Melt 2018) was about that. As an industry, we need to acknowledge and really work towards getting our communication right to the women out there. And if we are able to do that, it’s great. But more than that, we also need more women as it would benefit the business and there is enough proof to show that. I recommend marketing, advertising and all the brands to look at the statistics and do something about it. 

Do you think women are not portrayed right or you think a brand is not selling in a right way to women?
I think we are not recognising the opportunities that exist for us. For example, if we are doing an empowerment ad, it is only for Women’s Day or if you are doing a gender equality ad, you see a spike one year and then the brands go back to their regular messages. 

What are your thoughts on women in media? Why are there fewer women as one goes higher up in the hierarchy?
There are loads of reasons for that. Firstly, we don’t have too many women CCOs right now because 20 years ago women did not see adverting as a long-term career. So, they would not choose advertisement as a career option. We are great when it comes to diversity, but we are not an inclusive industry where we are doing enough for our women. In fact, marketing is also like that. On the other hand, there are a lot of unconscious biases that affect women. Therefore, they don’t see it as a long-term career. 

What are the kinds of opportunities that Ogilvy provides its women workforce to rise and reach the boardroom level?
Ogilvy has come up with focused efforts to get the representation up. We have exclusive mentorship programmes for women at the level where they would give up on their careers. Ogilvy is also doing something like Leadership Talk, where we get women leaders from outside the industry to inspire the women. Internally there is a lot of focussed effort, which I cannot reveal. So, there is enough going around in the network. 

Also Read: The W-Suite | Gender pay gap is a huge issue in India: Tara Kapur

When it comes to the big names in creative, it seems like an exclusive men’s club with names like Piyush Pandey and Prasoon Joshi coming to the fore. Why don’t we get to hear about the women creatives?
I would disagree with that. I think it’s the perception of people in the media as they wholly cover them. Look at the work that Kainaz Karmakar has produced in the last two years or the work that Swati Bhattacharya has done this year. There is so much transformation happening. Tista Sen has been at the helm all these years. I think media must take a conscious effort to write more about them. 

What is your opinion on the gender pay gap issue in the industry?
I think it’s not just specific to our industry, but exists everywhere. I feel there are lots of issues the go beyond the employer paying less to women employees. One of the reasons behind this is we don’t ask for what we are really worth. We often feel guilty. It’s more of a societal problem. From birth we are conditioned to not take risks as compared to men. So, for me it starts from there. 

Do you think the industry as a whole is doing enough to make women reach the boardroom level?
No. Some agencies are, but I don’t think in India we are coming together and making a conscious effort to make a change. Apart from Babita Baruah, Managing Partner, GTB India, who’s a business head, I cannot think of many names. So, we need to do that consciously when it comes to women in boardroom levels. 

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