Vasundhara is an extroverted introvert, which is probably why she feels she truly enjoys being a communications professional. In her childhood, she lived in several countries, and that itch to travel, meeting new people, and immersing in the local culture continues to be an integral part of her life even today. She thrives on learning something new – whether it’s a yoga asana, reading more about what’s happening in the world, a new style of writing, or whipping up a new dish in the kitchen – she is up for it all!
She is currently the Head of Communications for Spotify in India and based out of the very chaotic but charming Mumbai.
How did you get where you are today and how has your experience at IE helped you?
An interesting backstory is that becoming a PR professional happened to me by chance. I’d applied for a post graduate course in Development Studies at a prestigious school in Mumbai (and was then based out of Delhi), and because there was a media school in the city that I’d heard about, I applied for a PR diploma there as well. Turns out that I made it to the latter, so I gave it a shot. And there’s been no looking back.
I’ve only ever worked with three companies, Spotify being the third and current one. Prior to this, I was at Intel, which I joined after my MBA at IE. While most people may highlight the professional skills they learned at IE, the real contribution of the school for me has been a cultural one – I work with global teams and with stakeholders across functions; throughout my year at IE, being a part of different work groups every semester, prepared me for the real world. The business school experience nurtured me to work with peers from diverse cultures and professional backgrounds.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
As cliché as it may sound, it’s only possible to accomplish a healthy work-life balance by prioritising, and that’s truer than ever as most of us have been working from home for a few weeks now. I prefer to start my day at around 8.30 am, before the calls and emails start coming in from the local team, and usually wrap up at around 5.30 pm (of course, there are days when we all have to spend a few extra hours). I use yoga to separate the work hours from the evenings at home.
Weekends are sacrosanct – unless there’s a crisis, I avoid responding to emails that can wait. It’s equally important to set expectation with your stakeholders and your teams on the turnaround time for reviewing content and other deliverables, when you’re accessible on messages/email etc. I feel that the sooner you can set that expectation, the more effectively can you manage your day, and eventually work-life balance.
What advice would you give to women who want to succeed in the workplace?
Be assertive, own what you do, and embrace feedback. I’ve always worked at companies where women and men are equally respected and given opportunities to grow. Work for a manager (and a company) who believes in meritocracy and transparency – if that’s your starting point, you won’t think about how can you succeed as a woman in the workplace; instead, your focus will be on succeeding as a professional.
What kind of mindset should younger generations have to break the glass-ceiling?
Find a mentor, take on new challenges, showcase your work – these are just a few ways to shatter the glass ceiling. The more you are able to network within and outside the company, with stakeholders, clients, and anyone else who can vouch for your skills, the more likely you are to succeed. Be fierce, confident, and do reach out for help if you need it. Even more important is that once you’ve made it, make sure you’re the mentor, stakeholder, or client who can support another talented woman to cross the same barrier.
How do you mitigate various unconscious bias at workplace as well as for your own career planning?
The great thing about working at a relatively young brand like Spotify in India is that everyone comes from very different backgrounds, and cultures (even from within the country). We work very closely with each other across functions, and also spend ‘team time’ outside of work hours. These factors help mitigate unconscious bias at workplace.
Generally speaking, I think it’s important for the leadership at any company to be aware of what comprises unconscious bias, make a concentrated effort to hire a diverse team and also ensure that the team has enough opportunities to interact with and get to know each other, helping reduce the bias. And finally, if there is any evidence of instances that demonstrate unconscious bias, the issue must be addressed, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
What challenges have you experienced as a woman in business during your overall career?
I’ve generally been fortunate to work for managers and brands that have recognized and encouraged my potential. There have been a few, stray instances where it’s been a challenge to be taken seriously by external stakeholders because they thought I was a young woman, and a more senior male representative needed to validate the recommendations I made. There’s also a general perception that PR is a flaky profession – planning the next big party with celebrities in attendance, or lobbying our way through a crisis. Being a woman in this profession has come with its challenges of proving that what we do is more valuable, in-depth, and relevant to businesses with a tangible reputational impact.
Could you share a professional failure that you have had and what you have learned from it?
Failure is a strong word. I’d say there have been quite a few learnings along the way. One of the biggest ones has been to empathise; to understand that individuals come from very different work cultures and backgrounds, and that you have to make the journey to meet midway and find a solution. There’s no point in taking the “my way or the highway” approach because that ego play will only bring frustration, low job satisfaction, and adversely impact the quality of work that you could potentially be fantastic at!
What or who has been your greatest influence in your professional path and why?
While I’ve definitely worked with some of the best people in the business, the greatest influence for me has to be resilience I’ve seen in many of them; it’s also something I value in some of my closest relationships, and in the most successful brands. I’d say it’s a value and a huge influence in how I look at charting my professional and personal life because things will go wrong – it’s normal – but it’s the “how you manage that, learn, and move on” that eventually matters.