Ashish Bhasin

APAC CEO, dentsu

I’ve grown-up in this industry, working in it all my life. I feel lucky – it’s the best industry in the world. Having worked through the ranks, I’ve had experiences, good and bad, and built my own view on what makes an environment for women – and broader diversity to thrive.

Do the right thing, not the easy thing.

While I was CEO in India, we identified a drop-off of women in senior leadership even though we had good balance in our junior ranks. In India, there is huge pressure on newly-married couples to start a family, and we realised women weren’t coming back after maternity leave. It was our call to action.

We spoke to women in our networks to see how we could get women back into the workplace. We consequently founded the Women’s Council. It focussed on helping women reach their highest potential based on merit while facilitating a path for more women in leadership. It’s made a difference, and I am proud of the council and changes as a result. It would have been easier to ignore it, but by doing the right thing we have many amazing women in all ranks of our business.

A leader must always do the right thing. No question. And you must nurture it as a culture from the grassroots so top and bottom meet. You must have the courage to intervene when something isn’t right and have strong and trustworthy leaders who do the right thing when faced with a difficult situation. Part of this is ensuring continued education in recognising and understanding bias – unconscious or not. At dentsu we’ve just trained all 800 of our leadership team in inspiring inclusion and recognising bias, training the rest of our teams over 2021.

Create a safe environment where people can bring their real selves to work.

In 2018, Indian ad-land was hit with a wave of stories by women who’d been sexually harassed at work. It was one of my darkest days as a leader. There was no questioning the decisions that had to be made. But healing and rebuilding trust back into the organisation was a long, slow and non-linear process. We had created the Women’s Council the year before and their guidance was critical. But as a leader who has seen a business hit rock-bottom, I know a safe space is not a north star. It’s a must. And that includes the safety for people to speak up when things aren’t right.

We need people that think differently, come from different backgrounds and walks of life to create the dynamics of a wonderful idea. Be aware of what makes you unique, respect that in others and continuously find ways to educate and grow. Stop teaching people to think the way you do. Instead, teach people to appreciate different points of view and come to a middle ground while as a leader, making sure everyone’s best interests are included in your approach and decision.

Be more thoughtful about your shadow

This was part of our recent unconscious bias training. It isn’t your only job to work on and grow your teams. It’s also your responsibility to work on and grow yourself. A leader is always under the microscope; display the wrong behaviour and you set a precedent for what’s acceptable. Increasing your own awareness and management of your inclusive mindset and behaviours will build an inclusive environment for all. It’s something I will be working on every day, learning from people around me and creating a solid, equitable path for my teams and the business.

Most importantly…

Celebrate the differences in people. My job would be very boring if everyone was the same. Celebrate the beauty of difference and the unpredictability of humans. Equality is not an option. Creating an equitable environment where people can thrive is essential to the success, happiness and longevity of a business.

This International Women’s Day I #choosetochallenge gender bias and will endeavour to create an equitable environment where women thrive.