Superwomen 2022: I look at it as Life-work balance versus the other way around, says Sunitha Natarajan

Sunitha Natarajan

Sunitha Natarajan of SocialPanga talks about how persistence and having an intrapreneurial mindset helped her excel in this A&M industry.

Sunitha Natarajan, Associate Director – Digital Strategy, SocialPanga and winner of Social Samosa Superwomen 2022, talks about how the pandemic has seen many women leaders being given the opportunity to step up and what kind of challenges continue to exist for women in the A&M industry.

Like everything else, the pandemic has redefined the word Superwomen too. What do you think it means to be a superwoman in the New Normal?

Women are better and natural leaders and the pandemic has seen so many women leaders being given the opportunity to step up and lead. We are just natural crisis handlers! This has got us more representation, given us a bigger voice and the world is taking note of it seriously. 

Pre-pandemic, the narratives women were often criticized for being too masculine but also penalized for being too feminine.

But in the new normal, we were clearly able to reconcile the fact that a Superwoman can be both decisive and strategic, as well as compassionate and nurturing. 

A big part of success is mental health & work-life balance – how do you ensure to create work-life balance for yourself & those around you?

The truth is there is no such thing as work-life balance. It’s about setting clear priorities and taking it one day at a time. Responsibilities grow as you get older and experienced in life both professionally and personally.

My perspective has always been to look at it as a Life-work balance versus the other way around.

My parents have been my rock throughout my life and I had unfortunately lost my mother to covid during the second wave. Mentally, physically and professionally it has been a testing time. Having a strong support system at home and at work really helped. 

For everyone around me, I advise one thing – practice the art of detached attachment. In the workplace, we can become attached to a particular culture, belief or perception about the way things are, or should be (applies personally too). Especially in a creative agency, you fall in love with every idea or strategy ever made! This extends to being attached to our views of others and also about how relationships should be at work. People who resist change are usually the people who are attached to maintaining the status quo. My decision making is always backed by strategic thinking, logic and taking charge and hence there is a great balance that I am able to bring for myself and my team.

Also read: Superwomen 2022: It’s important for women to continue to carve out time for themselves says Bhuvana Subramanyan

While a lot has changed for the better in the A&M industry, what kind of challenges continue to exist for women? Especially with the whole WFH & hybrid work situation?

Continuous access to mentorship and fear of uncertainty at times. 

Continuous access to mentorship and fear of uncertainty at times. 

Mentorship is necessary for anyone on the road to leadership. Women on this journey should look to and have access to female & male superiors with parallel experiences to guide, share and support. In a WFH set-up, the networking or the interpersonal skills sometimes get lost in translation leaving you a bit directionless.

Secondly, throughout our careers, we are conditioned to come up with the answer — as in a single, definitive, correct answer. While the pandemic has taught me a lot about uncertainty, navigating change and disruption, one thing is certain — we cannot avoid ever-increasing complexity. If we let go of a bit of control over the degree of change, uncertainty, and complexity faced, we women will have more added avenues of learning and growth experienced for sure.

What in your opinion, helped you excel in your career?

Persistence and having an Intrapreneurial mindset.

Beats perfection over any day! Resilience or perseverance is displayed not when the environment is calm and prosperous, but precisely the opposite. In the chaos, I shine. Throughout my 6 year journey, there have been many challenges to overcome, be it internal or external. All the talent and brains in the world will not help you succeed if you don’t have the persistence to use them to pursue your goals. 

I joined 6 years back as an intern at Social Panga. Today, I am the first, youngest woman director in the company, scaling the strategy vertical at Panga. My entire journey has helped me in assuming a leadership role as an intrapreneur which continues to pave the way for me to explore disruptive initiatives. 

One Superwoman you look up to & why

Indra Nooyi (Former CEO of PepsiCo) hands down! Indra’s success is rooted in the way she leads. Learning from her example can help anyone become a leader people are excited to follow.

One thing you would like to change about this industry

One of the biggest struggles agencies face today is making sure to have the right conversations with the right people. When there is a fear of losing a client or crisis, the quality of work is at risk because the talent will be afraid to challenge, push back, or even speak honestly. What then ends up happening as an outcome is that the client who used to be a partner ends up looking at you as just another vendor. This requires a structured intervention and that’s still not cracked by many agencies. 

This is where culture plays a huge role. Having the right foundation and platform given to talent within the agency and empowering them to have the right conversation vs just chasing deadlines or damage control goes a long way. 

One thing that this industry desperately needs

Reducing the skill gap.

In India, there is increasing spending on marketing campaigns and technologies (like blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning) to support campaigns. The use of and adoption of various tools and technology is often a key indicator of how savvy you are as a marketer. We are encouraged to look at full-funnel thinking but there isn’t enough effort put into skill development to empower everyone to push the boundary and stay updated. 

One tip for all aspiring A&M professionals out there

Experience is everything. I am not talking in terms of years of working but more in terms of learning. How you derive value out of everything that you do is what will set you apart in the field. It’s not just about doing a big campaign, or working on something you love – it’s also about what value it adds to you individually. Make sure to always set a goal and align yourself and work towards it.