EXCLUSIVE | Be fearless, dream big and invest in yourself: Sathya Ramaganapathy, Shoptimize

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Sathya Ramaganapathy, Vice President Marketing of Shoptimize, is an industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in cross-functional industry spanning Product Marketing, Sales and Account Management, SaaS Product Management and Delivery. At Shoptimize, Sathya heads Marketing for this one-stop D2C eCommerce growth platform.

Sathya started her career with the Time group and subsequently took up the roles of marketing director in Callidus Cloud, VP and Head of Corporate Business at Jigsaw Academy, where she spearheaded sales plans to achieve revenue targets. She is a humorist, published author, and an eloquent speaker who has delivered talks on platforms like the TEDxAJCE 2019, Times of India LitFest Bangalore 2019, Future of L&D Summit 2018 among others.

On this International Women’s Day, we caught up with Sathya, who in this exclusive interaction with MediaBrief addresses the challenges that women continue to face at the workplace, how to overcome them, what sets women leaders apart and the need for more female role models in the industry. Read on.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

In the last few decades, women’s roles in India and around the world have changed. More and more women today are seeking and obtaining the highest leadership roles in education, professions, and business. According to Grant Thornton’s Women in Business report, the proportion of global businesses employing at least one woman in senior management has increased by 20% in the last few years.

However, many barriers still remain in the way of women achieving this degree of leadership. Lack of access to developmental job opportunities, limited networking opportunities, social expectations, and caring jobs outside of work are some of the barriers I’ve seen women face.

Traditionally leadership traits are rewarded in men but condemned in women how can we change this dated perception?

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Many multinational corporations have policies and procedures in place to encourage women to take up positions of leadership. According to a report, these policies were developed not only to address the issues caused by gender inequality but also to recognize that women can achieve great results in the organizations they lead.

Inspite of that, women in management, are more likely to be found in the middle of the pyramid than at the top. They are underrepresented in high-paying employment, and it will take time for this gap to be corrected. Furthermore, there is still a significant wage disparity between men and women.

This change in perspective, in my view, necessitates a shift in attitude, which will occur steadily as more women assume leadership roles. Companies should also train men in the workplace to be more sensitive, in my opinion.

Is the Marketing & Advertising industry ‘Friendly’ to women’s professional advancement? 

Yes, the A&M industry is welcoming to women and provides enough opportunities for advancement.

How do you hold your ground when you face sexism at the work-place?

I advise and practice speaking up. I know it’s easier said than done, but one should keep in mind that bullies always target the vulnerable. It is extremely important to stand up for oneself and others. When I’m unsure, one thing that motivates me is to consider what kind of world I want to leave for my daughters. Every time I speak up, I do so on their behalf, advocating for a more equitable, gender-balanced workplace for the next generation.

What is one important leadership trait that male leaders can learn from women in business?

Being empathetic is undeniably a leadership trait that distinguishes women leaders. Most women are empathetic by nature and place high importance on relationships. This gives them a better understanding of what motivates and inspires people, as well as how to recognize different people for their achievements.

Even in 2021, less than 11% of women hold leadership roles in India, what do you think is the reason behind this?

Women in their mid-career years tend to leave the workforce to concentrate on their families. It is normally difficult for them to return to their professional work due to several reasons after taking a break. One simple reason for this may be the lack of programs in companies that encourage women to return to work. I feel, organizations should work more on programs that focus on the following to encourage women to return to the workforce-

Leadership training programs grooming mid-level female managers

Mentorship opportunities and bringing more female leaders to the forefront

India ranks fifth lowest in having women in top leadership positions. How can corporations and individuals change this number?

By establishing an equal opportunity strategy based on diversity, which is critical for a company’s continued success. Since many women take time off for maternity leave, child care, or other family obligations, they may tend to have fewer years on the job than their male counterparts—despite having the same degree of expertise and skills.

Incorporating people from various backgrounds, genders, perspectives, and ethnicities into any work climate, on the other hand, will not only help to prevent job discrimination but will also help to strengthen the company. Organizations can also foster gender equality through employee training events and seminars.

In India, women make up nearly 42% of new graduates, but only 24% of entry-level professionals. How can we remove hurdles like these for women?

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This again necessitates a mindset shift, such as families supporting women who work outside the home; the government can also implement initiatives that spread the message at a grass-root level. What is also required, is an inclusive workplace with policies and laws in place, that enable women to participate in professional spheres. 

In short, gender equality, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care/work, better paternity/maternity benefits, and so on are all required to enable women to pursue their career or complete their education.

Finally, more female role models are needed – seeing more women in leadership roles makes it more aspirational; the media can also help by highlighting more of these stories, where women leaders can share their experiences, perspectives, advice, and insights, among other things.

Another prevailing issue is the ‘Gender wage gap’ – Indian women still earn less for the same amount of work. What are your suggestions to make the numbers more even?

India has fallen to 112th position in the Gender Gap Index in 2020, down from 108th place in 2018. According to the report, India will nearly need 100 years to bridge the gap in areas of politics, economy, health, and education. While the gender wage gap appears to be the overall difference in earnings between men and women at first glance.

However, there are many layers to this problem that must be analyzed. Since it takes into account the earnings of all employed women, there are several reasons why there is a wide wage gap between the employment of the two genders owning to discrimination in terms of opportunity, education, etc.

I feel, closing the gender wage gap requires all of us as individuals or organizations or society, to take a path of eliminating the social stigma around working women, encouraging women participation in the labor force, and creating safer environments. 

With companies planning on a permanent WFH model do you think this will translate to more opportunities for women, what are your thoughts?

There are two ways to look at it, in my opinion, first, the burden of unpaid care/work tends to fall on women, hence, stepping out of the house allows working women the time and space to pursue their careers without interruption.

Second, it could be a boon to work from home with small children or elderly parents, since they would be able to work flexible hours and balance both work and home responsibilities.

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And how can we as individuals change gender perceptions about women in positions of power?

In the last year, women have demonstrated what they are capable of and led from the front, whether as healthcare workers, community workers, business leaders, or heads of state.

We can help by simply recognizing, celebrating, and mainstreaming these women and their accomplishments. It is important to recognize such women, as they bring a variety of experiences, perspectives and skills to the table. It’s past time for equal representation across the table, and to have a say in decisions, policies, and law.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

My advice to women is to be fearless and dream big. Experiment, fail and reboot your way to success, but never give up. The most important thing you can do is to invest in yourself.