For women on top... Just another day!

It‘s that time of year. When people who couldn‘t care two hoots rustle up some contrived empathy for the cause of womanhood. But for those who do, 8 March is truly a celebration of the economic, social, cultural and political achievements of women.

And to celebrate the occasion, we peeked into the minds of some of the top women in the television, advertising and media sectors trying to find the ‘real‘ woman behind the professional. More power to them we say…

There‘s one thing common about women achievers in the television and advertising industry in India. All, without exception, hate being labeled an achiever thanks to their gender. Across the marketing, programming and advertising spectrum, women dot the industry landscape, climbing the corporate ladder with agility. But unlike in the West, where studies pop up regularly indicating that women are yet to break the glass ceiling in the media sector, women professionals in media here are a happy and thriving lot. Being singled out for International Women‘s Day in fact raises a lot of hackles. Says media veteran Meenakshi Madhvani, "I think the advertising and media industry is one area where women have been able to make a difference. Not only in terms of the number of women at the top but also the sheer representation of the fairer sex in corporates that operate in this area." So, why pick on the gender to find a distinctive trait, ask others.

Probe if HR policies in media outfits are favourable to women, and you get a prickly response. Asking for women friendly policies would be akin to asking for preferential treatment, they aver. Rightly so.

Most of these women, are still in the early 30s, but definitely not green behind the ears, having already spent a decade or more in various allied fields. Most too, are concentrated in the programming side of television - an indicator of the intrinsically creative talent that even these women achievers agree, gives them an edge over men. But ask if the presence of women in programming helps shape the women-centric shows we see on television, and you are greeted with amused laughter. What one watches on TV is ruled by gauging what the average woman viewer may want to see on screen and emotionally relates to, they maintain. Says Sab TV‘s Kanta Advani, "Women by their own virtue are a "creative" sort. Apart from being creative they are more sensitive, emotional and can empathise with others. Therefore they have the ability to reach out to the viewers."

Most also balance a hectic professional life and a demanding home life with panache. Here again, they do not let personal commitments creep into tight deadlines at work, nor have many forsaken domestic bliss to advance their careers. Says Sahara Manoranjan‘s Triptii Sharma, "Women professionals in television have been quick to seize the opportunities in production and in channels with their grit and determination. But the adherence is a matter of choice, not due to any restriction. We all know women are equals in our industry." Agrees Madhvani, "Men and women are evaluated with the same set of benchmarks and there are no gender stereotypes. Promotions and increments are based on ability and background, gender does not play any role. What‘s more, the work culture is very result oriented. Long hours and high levels of stress are the norm for men and women." Says O&M‘s executive director Nishi Suri, "Being a creative business, it‘s what you bring to the table that counts. So it doesn‘t really matter whether you wear the pants or not!"

Notes Sab TV‘s Madhavi Mutatkar, "Now almost 60 per cent of women dominate this industry in all positions and almost 20 per cent of these are in the topmost positions. With the film and television industries merging, women like Shravani Deodhar and Raveena Tandon too are making the crossover to the small screen."

On screen too, these gutsy women have climbed the tough terrain at Kargil, braved Gujarat riots and continue to grill reluctant politicians and recalcitrant bureaucrats about policies and issues, while also engaging industrialists and economists in debates in a manner that would do an Amartya Sen proud. Our Smriti Iranis may not have reached the stature of an Oprah yet, but the grit and desire to go beyond mere acting in soaps is very much there. For every weepy family drama that airs, there are those shows which raise their head every once in a while which indicates that even the portrayal of women on the screen is changing subtly. Astitva, Hubahu, Malini Iyer, Jassi and even Kahiin To Hoga... are indicative of the changing woman viewer as well as those who shape the programming. As NDTV senior editor Barkha Dutt points out, "NDTV has women doing everything from running studios, editing, to camera work. In the end it all depends on the mindset of an organisation and of course it helps that our executive producer is a woman, Radhika Roy, liberal and progressive and very, very encouraging."

All in all, it‘s a vibrant lot out there, which has been there, done that and is still raring to go. They have battled power politics in their organisations, elbowed out competition in the software production business with ideas and cunning, risen to the top of the bureaucracy by sheer dint of foresight and hard work. And then there are still those to watch out for, who are still young in the industry, but have their sights higher. As Anurradha Prasad said last year, the TV software production which already has several dominant woman players, could well be dominated by women in the next five years.

"We need to take the first confident steps. The rest will follow. The advertising and media industry is one of the few sectors that enables and empowers women," says Madhvani.

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