‘You are only as good as the value you bring to the table’: Divya Gupta

09 Jul,2012

Divya Gupta, the quintessential media strategist, moved to Dentsu Media as the CEO not very long back. Gupta, one of the early movers in the media space is oft admired for her clarity of thought and her business acumen. She has had an illustrious career both on the agency and client side of the business.

 

In this conversation with Ritu Midha, she discusses her experiences in the industry, the glass ceiling, and the changing face of Indian woman among other interesting things.

 

To begin with, why did you opt for media at a time when it was considered secondary to creative?

I meandered into media. I knew very little about media at that time- almost nothing. All I knew was that I was very comfortable with numbers and my love for analytics. So I started off and I loved what I was doing and that was it.

 

Had it anything to do with the fact that the domain was considered to be more suited for women?

That did not play a part at all.

 

[youtube width=”400″ height=”225″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KWJH0tf_AE[/youtube]

You are considered to be a role model by many. Did being a woman ever prove to be a hindrance or an advantage?

Never. Neither which ways.

 

Never – not within the agency – not with media partners – and neither with clients. You are only as good as the value you bring to the table. There is complete gender neutrality.

 

In fact, in many ways you get treated depending on how you behave. Let me give you one example, I did a short stint with O&M Media Network, London, and at that time, belief on the media buying floor was that women were lousy buyers. That despite the fact that the CEO at that time was a woman! I observed after joining, that the lone woman on the team there was more interested in doing her nail varnish than negotiating deals. So, to cut a long story short, by the end of my tenure, I was one of the boys.

 

Looking at women across business houses, do you think that businesses are giving an equal opportunity to women now? Are they unbiased?

Gender equality in our society is lip service. Biases begin at home, and they definitely exist at work. The facts are very hard to ignore. Women are more prone to opting out than men. Companies need to examine, and address the issue.

 

There are many factors at work. Historically there has been an occupational segregation, for example, typically more female nurses and male doctors. Or the fact, that women are valued less, and paid even lesser. And then, many women with the homemakers’ responsibility, and that of parenting, get pulled down. And lastly, I find that perhaps women sometimes, don’t take themselves seriously enough. If you look at the women workforce, it is a very narrow pyramid. With women at the middle and senior level, twice as prone to opting out, than men – that needs to be addressed, for both the society and company’s benefit.

 

There are umpteen examples in our society, where the glass ceiling has been breached. So, right from banking to FMCG sector, to good old politics, and closer home, even media. But these examples are iconic in nature. There is so much more that needs to be done – the narrow pyramid needs to become far more sturdier.

 

And if you look at women at large, as consumers, do you think that they are becoming more powerful and influential now? Moving beyond their traditional territory of FMCGs…

Women were always powerful, only quietly so. As for their becoming far more influential, there are multiple factors at play- (a) They are more economically independent and financially independent,  (b) They are decision makers right from household products, to higher outlay durables – even financial products, and last, they are no longer apologetic, no longer subservient in playing this role. In fact, overtly and confidently so. So, yes, there has been a shift.

 

It’s often stated that women have a different set of priorities, references and attitudes vis-a-vis men. Do you agree?

From a young age, I believe that a woman can do all that a man can. But, by that, I don’t necessarily mean to say that men and women are the same. There is so much more beyond the traditional, stereotypical role that we’ve assigned to men and women. So, if you look at the homemaker role assigned to a woman, it requires so much of hard work and dexterity, day in and day out. And often, thanklessly so. A career is as important to a woman as it is to a man, not just because of the money that she brings home, but as much for her self-esteem. So often, a woman who is good at her job – quits, we attribute it to attitude, behaviour, priorities. I would urge you to look beyond the obvious. What happens when we stretch an elastic band? It snaps. So, who is to say whether it was the quality of the elastic, or the fact that it had been stretched too much, too long?

 

Do you think things are changing now?

Yes and no, both. There is far more awareness, acknowledgement, most importantly from their partners, as in, the men. In a lot of areas, men are not shy of taking responsibility, and there is an equal partnership. Now, that is a great thing to happen. So yes, things are changing for the better. Having said that, while ten things are changing, as many are not. The pressure on multitasking today is far more. As a homemaker working from home, you worked as hard, but to an extent that elastic did not snap. But when you try to straddle too many stools, sometimes, there is a danger of falling in between, and that is not the so good part.

 

How different is the metro woman today from the previous generation?

The previous generation, more likely was a homemaker, working as hard – so she was the CEO, the CFO and the CMO of her house. Today’s woman is all that, and more. There is a career outside the home that she tends to. Not only does she contribute to the family kitty but there is a pressure and her own self esteem that she does well. As compared to her mother she is far more hard-pushed for time and energy, and she is also at the same time far more empowered in decision making, in leading her life her way- in asking for and getting equality with her partner, family, friends and social circle.

 

How are the marketers looking at this shift?

Marketers will mirror society. So increasingly you will find that across the spectrum – from FMCG to the durables to your financial products, they will address her as an equal prospect. There is hardly any category where her influence in decision making is not considered.

 

What one needs to watch out for in this hurrah and egging her on, is that society needs to ensure that there is a support system for her. For example, one of my colleagues who is working with me currently is mother of a young baby – she needs her mother-in-law to look after the child. Family raised their hands recently. So she put the child in a crèche. A week later the child was traumatic. She just wouldn’t leave her mother – she was not able to adjust to crèche. There needs to be assistance from family, friends, society, companies – where you provide that safety net. A lot of work needs to be done in that direction.

 

To conclude this interview, who, in your view, is a Diva?

Somebody who walks the walk and talks the talk – who exemplifies and leads by example. To my mind that diva can be a lady who sweeps outside our building – or somebody sitting in an office. Anybody across the spectrum who worships her work and leads by showing other people examples. I salute such people.

 

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