Last updated on June 26, 2020
Vaishali Nigam Sinha, Chief CSR, Sustainability & Communications Officer at ReNew Power talks about her journey in the industry, the role of communication during the COVID-19 crisis, value gaps & more.
A practitioner of sustainability and gender empowerment ideals for over a decade, Vaishali Nigam Sinha is currently serving as the Chief CSR, Sustainability and Communications Officer of ReNew Power, India’s leading renewable energy Independent Power Producer. Vaishali drives the company’s engagement, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability initiatives.
A strong advocate of equal participation of women in economic activities, Vaishali is deeply engaged with industry bodies, think tanks and educational institutions. She is also passionate about climate change, women’s entrepreneurship and leadership.
After a decade in Wall Street and then London as an investment banker, she returned to India, where after several years in banking. She is now a social entrepreneur.
In today’s edition of Women Achievers Series, e4m interacts with Vaishali Nigam Sinha on her journey in the communication industry, need of communication during the coronavirus crisis, value gaps and more.
How has your journey been in the communications industry? What are your key learnings?
I began my career as an Investment banker with JP Morgan in New York and worked with some of the leading names in investment banking space before joining ReNew Power as a founding team member in 2011. For over 26 years, I studied communications, which business leaders refer to it as a foundation of every successful business, and have had the opportunity to learn every day.
I believe that this line of work offers no short cuts. One must always be ready to put in the effort. The pace of change around us ensures that. However, I also believe that success is achievable once your value system and processes are in place. Integrity and honesty have been my guiding values. A communications professional must always stay aligned to the company’s objectives while creating messaging for the company, and build capabilities in tune with the times and deliver consistently. Great brands have always been built over time.
It has been a very fulfilling experience to see ReNew emerge as India’s largest renewable energy company and lead the conversation with key stakeholders across a range of issues. We have been able to identify the right platforms and build a brand with consistent stakeholder engagement and completely on the strength of public relations.
How has COVID-19 changed the communication process? How crucial has communication become in these times of despair?
I always believe that crisis situations are also opportunities. COVID-19 is basically three problems rolled into one: one is the virus itself and risk of infection; two is the panic about the virus, with cases rising every day; and third is the economic and business impact of the virus and its aftermath.
The main challenge that I see around me is that while previously we engaged with our audience face-to-face, we now have to accomplish the same engagement remotely. This is a paradigm shift. In spite of the best technology at our disposal, we never anticipated this kind of a turnaround.
Business and leaders now have to be cognizant that changed realities merit a different approach. A company may not want to speak to the external audience as a matter of strategic choice, but all brands must take the onus of communicating with the internal audience and demonstrate that they understand the physical, emotional well-being aspects of their duty towards their employees.
The core messaging has now been inverted 360 degrees, and it is less about you and more about your benefit to society. Therefore, more focus on people and welfare is warranted. As an industry player collaborate with your peers and reach out to spread awareness of your work. Positivity and collaboration take precedence over everything else. The specific one can get, more considerate and trustworthy they will come across.
What are the risks or challenges to women entrepreneurship? How should one tackle these challenges?
Things could not look any better for women in entrepreneurship in India. On paper, we have several companies, which are doing extremely well, led by women and they have been making their mark in their chosen line of business. But, look deeper and we still see challenges which include:
- Finance – Access to finance for a women entrepreneur is difficult.Financial institutions often ask for a co-signee and generally discourage women borrowers on the belief that they can, at any time, leave their business. Women are also generally conservative with their projections when they go to seek funding. VC’s who hear 1000 pitches a day will tend to value them at less, therefore, it’s critical that women learn to seek what they need even if it means sometimes they may have to ask for more.
- Struggling to be taken seriously – Women often find themselves in a position where people may not acknowledge their leadership. In such situations, it is important that women build their confidence and overcome negative self-talk. These negative scenarios that we build in our heads hold us back. Best way to combat these is to find or better still build women entrepreneur support groups.
- Owning accomplishments – Women, especially in India are brought up to be consensus builders. When they grow up and the time comes for them to take their decisions, this communal upbringing ties their hand. Many business leaders and accomplished ones have often found themselves saying “We” instead of an “I”. There’s nothing wrong in that but if it leads to erosion of your worth as a leader then perhaps, women should take a pause.
- Balancing business and family – Parent entrepreneurs have dual responsibilities. to their businesses and to their families; finding ways to devote time to both is key to truly achieving that elusive work-life balance. Culturally we are becoming more accommodative, that’s the good news. But are we there yet? No.
A lot has been said about the pay gap. Is there a value gap that needs to be addressed now?
Worldwide, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. The “motherhood penalty” pushes women into an informal economy, casual and part-time work, and tends to be larger in developing countries than in developed countries. Therefore, I think that conversation on the pay gap isn’t over yet. India has taken great strides in making policies that bring women on par with men in employment but there is a lot more work that needs to be done. The value gap is the next logical step.
What are the main causes of attrition in women leadership at the senior level?
I think that there are two reasons why women let go of senior positions after working hard to achieve them. One is the cultural and two is systemic biases.
Women in senior leadership often find themselves competing against systemic challenges rather than business and strategic issues for which they were brought on board and worked hard for. A significant majority of women also find that while they had support on their way up, they do not quite enjoy the same support when they have reached the corner office.
I have also found in my interactions with women in leadership is that often women don’t have the role models to look up to. This coupled with the fact that there are very few women in leadership roles, feeds into the isolation and leads to exit. The only way in my view is to get more women on board and have them take positions that do justice to their potentials.
How can the culture of an organization promote equality and inclusion?
I strongly believe that it’s the people of an organisation that make its culture. Business leaders need to recognise that gender parity is a strategic objective. It is a critical prerequisite for sustainable growth of the business. This starts with understanding and acknowledging the gaps, followed by ensuring top-down commitment towards building a culture of equal access to opportunities and resources. Leaders must communicate the business rationale for gender diversity, set measurable goals and disclose the progress at regular intervals. This can be done by
- Reviewing policies from a gender lens
- Ensuring pay parity across levels and running audits to ensure zero discrimination
- Developing a stronger support network and offering flexible work hours, work from home options.
- Shifting focus from “time spent” to quality of output.
- Mentoring, skilling and grooming women for leadership roles from an early stage
What would you advice to other women leaders across the industry?
My advice to women leaders in the industry would be to take the step forward with confidence. There is no dearth of opportunities for people who believe in themselves and offer a new perspective.