A communicator with more than two decades of experience straddling business journalism and corporate communications, via a small detour into film-writing, Minari Shah is fascinated by the challenges posed by converging traditional and digital media, addressing multiple audiences with blurring boundaries and creating content that balances corporate messaging with high credibility.
Shah has been leading from the front the public relations of Amazon where she has been instrumental in driving key campaigns and strategies for the firm. In today’s edition of e4m’s Women Achiever’s Series, we talk to Minari Shah- Director – Public Relations at Amazon India on how the organizational structure helps in promoting gender equality, the role of men in creating an equitable environment, challenges to women leadership and more.
How were the initial days of your career? What are the key learnings in the entire journey?
The initial days of my career were varied and fun, quite challenging but with loads of learning. I started out as a copywriter and then forayed into journalism for quite a few years before moving into public relations.
I did not have any formal degree in public relations but my years as a journalist as well as the initial days in the industry helped me tremendously, as I had a good idea of what the media needs as well in understanding the business perspectives, expectations of business leaders. These helped me bring different perspectives together for optimum results. It also interestingly, taught me early on that I should always be forthright in my opinions, ensuring I was backed by data or good understanding of the subject and the business needs.
The other major learnings through these 25-odd years, besides being straightforward or frank and ensuring you have a thorough knowledge of the company and business, would be prioritization, prioritization, prioritization!
How is the communication industry unique in terms of having a large workforce as women?
In my view, it is a good sign to see a greater workforce as women in the industry. The communication industry is lucky to have more women at the entry-level but we have to ensure that we don’t lose this early advantage and have increased higher up the ladder. Due to various historical, socio-cultural reasons, there are fewer women in leadership roles in most industries and I don’t have the data to show how it is in the PR industry but I don’t think we have more women at the top. So it is important we use that entry funnel to create a system where opportunities are gender agnostic.
So everyone should get fair opportunities to surface to the top. Providing better infrastructure, mindset changes, social and corporate policies and infrastructure, facilities such as mentoring could help them funnel to top.
How can the culture of an organisation be instrumental in promoting gender equality?
Companies are beginning to realize that there are unconscious biases and there is a lot of effort toward driving stronger awareness to mitigate these as well as bring in the right policy structures to support a more balanced and diverse workforce. It is a gradual process that needs to be backed with strong social changes, much of it starting before corporate life, in childhood or within the educational system too.
What are the measures adopted at your workplace to ensure gender neutrality?
Amazon has a strong focus on diversity with respect to gender diversity including through processes for fair and balanced hiring, flexible timings etc. We have a program called Re-Kindle that specifically offers opportunities to women who chose to come back to corporate working after a break. There are programs to encourage Women In Tech and focused forums within the company, with events such as AmazeWit that help shine the light and provide a platform for these talented women.
What is the role of men in providing an equitable landscape at the workplace and personal life?
We could not possibly get a diverse workspace unless the change is across the board and that, of course, meant the right mental models for men as well as women. I often joke that it is not women who need to get better work-life balance but it is time men got a work-life balance too so that women can stop being superhuman and be able to focus in a more balanced way at their interests and ambitions. While I don’t have data handy, anecdotally from some focus group discussions in a previous workplace, as well as what some research has shown, women have tended to be less aggressive or demanding in terms of issues such as salaries, workplace recognition or even just being able to speak up in meetings or large groups, a lot of it perhaps due to the social conditioning through years. So unless we create a more empathetic environment, we will find it difficult to make significant and real changes.
Is the Communication industry too infected with a pay gap syndrome?
Practically, I do not know about the industry scenario but overall data including some recent research has indicated a similar gender-based pay gap as in other industries.
What are the major challenges for a woman to become a leader?
On a personal level, I have never thought of myself as a woman leader. I have always heard my inner voice and did things which were right according to me. I have never bothered about the perception of others. I have had young women tell me there are socio-cultural reasons or (absence of) social support systems that pose challenges to women. But at the same time, while we would want to move to a more empathetic world, that truly gets gender equality and balance, my suggestion to young women is to not let their gender be a factor in their decisions or approach to life.
What is your message to other men and women in the industry?
I think this is the most exciting time to be in the PR and corporate communication industry – it’s getting the rightful importance as flag bearers of corporate reputation; technology is changing the way we communicate or who we communicate to and making the industry take centre stage in relevance to business. So I would say – be well-read and researched, be technologically sound and believe in yourself – and enjoy the dynamic industry where you can bring incredible value to your company or client.