Break Glass Ceilings


Zee Telefilms senior vice president, network marketing, Sita Laxmi Narayan Swamy, in a candid conversation with Indian's Nidhi Jain.

Top Leadership Mantras

Be good at your work and committed. Integrity and a never say die attitude is a must as well. Being caught up in the circle of whether I am a man or a woman, we tend to spread prejudices that don't exist, and start creating barriers which are not there. I would say to any woman as I did at LSE, that as a woman you have to first learn to dream and then believe in those dreams. Once you do that, it is very easy to overcome obstacles. These glass ceilings do exist the world over. 11 percent of the Fortune 500 companies constitute women entrepreneurs who are millionaires today.

Do Looks Count

Personally I believe that one should not go by precedence. A woman has to learn to be her own example. I may be petite. There is no mistaking the fact that I enjoy being feminine, enjoy my looks and what I wear. The truth of the matter is that the world and especially in the corporate domain, they look at you first and later check what you do. But that would only happen the first time round. Once you earn their respect, it really doesn't matter. There is still a chance for biases. I can't pretend that it doesn't exist. The idea should be for every capable woman to say that "I am a shining light" and not use gender as an excuse but rather as a motto to reshape.

A Method to the Madness

Firstly, I believe that there should be a method to the madness. Some amount of chaos is good because we live in a very dynamic world. A decade ago things were different.

Today change is a constant. It may be a clich? but we have to reinvent ourselves as individuals, organizations and brands. That is the only way to make sure consumer loyalty is maintained.

Take a look at the biggest brands we have today - whether it's the technology brands like Google, Myspace or Vertu; not only are they generating revenue but they also make sure that consumers keep coming back for more. Brands which have unwiring attachments and engagement with consumers are dynamic brands. The consumer is living in a dynamic world and the market is dynamic as well. As a result we need to have dynamic organizations which are a challenge. It maybe chaotic, but if we set a basic system in place firmly and have a brand parameter, not just as an old fashioned word but as a live example, it is possible. Words can be reinvented with passing time. Essential cores though do not change; brands with value and virtue can redefine product performance .So every madness has a method. It may sound erratic but if madness and chaos don't exist, there is a big danger that my world will become stagnant. Also, the feeling that you are in the thick of all the action gives me a huge high.

Inspiration to succeed

A question with a kick? I will not lie, since I am a blunt person, that I was very fortunate to have a woman as my first boss. She is no longer in advertising though. She made sure that I started out as a very strong personality. I think that a woman boss who is good at her work has a very fine mind and has no gender compunctions. Again, there is no such thing as nice or bad boss. That I think is a standard amateur definition. I think there are bosses that you can learn from and bosses that don't teach you anything. I am willing to deal with them no matter what. But I would rather deal with people who are themselves rather than people who pretend.

I have no problems with people who are difficult, though as long as they are who they are and earn respect through their work and can bring something to the organization. My boss was very good at her job, she influenced the part of a leader in me. She was my mentor in that respect.

All my men bosses that I worked with respected women when it came to work. They expected the world of me, they gave me the world of trust. Both men and women I worked with have shaped me.

The other parts of my life like painting fortunately, have not had to take a backseat either. I never had a compartmentalised life. The fortunate part is when you work in advertising /media/entertainment field you are surrounded by creative people. So far it's been very encouraging.

A Way of Life

Work has always been a huge part of my life. I am aware of the fact that I go to work every morning and it consumes a lot of my life. But it also ensures we develop bonds beyond work. In terms of work I believe to get the basic hygiene out, system functioning (laughs?). We need to focus on time for adding value. I am not a happy shiny person in a sense that I can't crack jokes in 10 minutes. Though I always have a song in my heart, wake up listening to songs and take time out to listen to my inner voice. I believe that this lifetime is a gift and failures and depression will be constantly encountered here. To me it's always about having another chance. If you believe that every failure or shortcoming has a gift for you in hand, you won't look back. Courage can be given to people when you don't forget the bad times. According to my dad, who was an army man, one must take defeat as a badge of honor because it will give you courage to go forward.

Likewise when I paint there is no depression.

The Changing rules of work

With the changing rules of work, perhaps it's very scary thing for work and organizations themselves. We are moving from the age of information to the age of ideas. Today, at the age of information and outsourcing, if we have great ideas we don't need 100 people, just a couple of people who believe in that idea. Its not the era of talking, it's the era of doing. It's important to believe in your dreams. Talent management becomes important. Rules are changing quickly, there are no fixed ones. It's the age of instinct, bravery and courage.

Ensuring the team delivers

You need to have a set of bright individuals to begin with. I grew up the ranks to become a leader. It is to be remembered that a team is not a wall with whitewash. Allow people to play to their strengths. Don't expect everything to be the same. This should be recognized to get incremental growth and happy individuals. Do encourage studies and get scholarships. Challenges will keep them constantly excited to outperform themselves.

Lessons Learnt

Now I have worked for 20 years, there have been lots of lessons learnt along the way. But the most important one - Being a woman, I can say gender doesn't really matter in the long run.

Business is fun

Every day is full of surprises. There is no script we are playing to, there are no rehearsals. Today, media is constantly changing, you can't over intellectualize, meet success and failure in the eye, don't brush it away.

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