As a part of BizAsia’s series of specials for International Women’s Day, we spoke to Sonia Huria, Head: Corporate Marketing, Communications and Sustainability, Viacom18. One of the most powerful women in the Indian television industry, BizAsia’s Raj Baddhan interacted with Huria to get her take on her journey, challenges being in a male dominated industry and pay disparity.

How does it feel to be a strong female of power in your field of work, which is normally dominated by men?
After centuries of progressive thinking and sacrifices, gender equality today is a mainstream conversation. Women are increasingly leading from the front, be it in boardrooms or the government machinery. As conventional barriers are moving, more women are making choices without the fear of being tagged. These days, women don’t really need someone backing their career graph. They have rather been drivers of their own success.

As a female, what kind of challenges have you faced in your journey to where you stand today?
I have encountered biases in life because of the Y-chromosome. Whether it’s from extended family or the society, even in educated middle class homes – a girl child’s education and career many a times takes a back seat if a choice is there between a girl and a boy. I am grateful that my parents, especially my father, has always supported my decisions, fought all social pressures and encouraged me to chase my aspirations. Professionally, I have been blessed with mentors and bosses who have never treated me different and given me opportunities only based on merit.

How do you feel the acceptance of females in such prominent roles has changed since you first joined Viacom18?
Over the past decade, there have been gradual changes and improvements in the outlook towards women, especially in the media and entertainment industry. Women have been defying stereotypes and norms across the media fraternity. Right from being behind the screens to on screen, women have been shaping the way the industry is growing. With gradual development of positive measures in the corporate sector, increased participation of women has pointed out to multifarious benefits including improved financial performance of the organization, greater tilt towards corporate social responsibility and better organizational climate. Women lead to more productivity and better problem-solving.

The existing pay disparity showcases the mindset that needs to be changed and it needs to start at the grass-roots level. Organisations need to have multidimensional approach in hiring, retention and development of women.

How much is pay disparity an issue when it comes to male counterparts in a similar role to yours?
Today, women leaders are definitely in the consideration set while making any business decisions. While, this hasn’t been balanced completely, there certainly has been visible development in the form of appreciation and backing a woman’s potential in terms of her talent and pay. The existing pay disparity showcases the mindset that needs to be changed and it needs to start at the grass-roots level. Organisations need to have multidimensional approach in hiring, retention and development of women. Having said this, we still have a long way to go to bring a complete balance in terms of pay scale.

How do you think companies should be educated to lure more women in higher positions at workplaces?
While talking about the need for greater women representation in leadership roles, we often tend to portray it as only a gender parity issue, when it is a larger issue of workforce diversity bringing wider benefits for organizations themselves. The problem does not lie in the non-availability of capable and well-qualified women but in the lack of conscious efforts on the part of corporate organizations to nurture and groom women for senior management roles.

Talking about Indian TV channels, we have seen women take up challenging positions in the last couple of years and have been made CEOs as well, however there is much more that can be done.

Cultural shifts have to be consciously created through long term goals along with an effort of achieving them through multifarious initiatives. Gender inclusive policies such as maternity and paternity leave, flexible timings and day-care facilities should be incorporated within every organisation. Such policies enable a seamless transition. Collaboratively, these policies help empower women to not only return to work but also take on larger responsibilities.

Despite women in prominent roles in various media outlets, there’s still a gap to be filled by a female for a CEO role of an Indian TV channel, why do you think this has not happened yet?
The last decade in the Indian TV channels saw a growth of various women to powerful positions. In fact we saw an overall growth of about 28% of women making it to influential titles across roles. Talking about Indian TV channels, we have seen women take up challenging positions in the last couple of years and have been made CEOs as well, however there is much more that can be done. We can hope to see headlines about how women at the top are changing the face of the Indian television industry soon.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
For me, Women’s Day is about encouraging an ecosystem that strives for gender equality and equity, every day. We are at the cusp of changing paradigms in gender representation where both men and women are changing norms and making their own rules. We are seeing men and women becoming equal partners in changing the narrative of gender conversations and according to me, that is what a day like Women’s Day stands for.

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