Last summer, I made the 8,400-mile journey from Denver to Pune India. The goal was to assist our colleagues at Merkle Sokrati with learning Merkle’s email marketing practice. The training covered everything from account management to communication, and technical platform knowledge, to effective ways to collaborate with our US-based teams.
Prior to my trip, I read a lot about India and noted how difficult it can be for women—not just culturally, but professionally. India has one of the world’s lowest workforce participation rates for women—a rate that has seen a steady decline since 2005. Also, like many workforces around the world, women in India feel they are unable to speak up, voice opinions, or prioritize their careers alongside familial obligations.
The women in our Pune office were eager to speak up and acknowledge the professional hurdles they face and expressed the desire to learn from both their US coworkers and from each other. They recognized the need to support one another and call out bias, both explicit and implied. Many of the topics they wanted to discuss were familiar; they wanted to know how to better negotiate, how to develop the confidence to speak up in meetings, and how to more effectively compete with their male counterparts for career opportunities.
They were excited about what they heard about Merkle’s Women in Leadership (WiL) and eager to start their own chapter. As we’ve seen D&I spark conversations among women and other underserved populations, D&I empowers people to support one another. Our WiL chapter in Pune has since grown from the initial fifteen members to over sixty people strong. We have regular meetings with the WiL Pune Office Leads—Anusha Sharma, Priyanka Kunjeer, Saloni Kwatra, and Anuradha Manna—and their leadership.
In honor of International Women’s Day we planned and hosted a remote session of #IAmRemarkable on March 12, 2020.
#IAmRemarkable strives to empower women, and other under-represented groups, to speak more openly about their accomplishments in the workplace and beyond, helping to cast aside outmoded cultural norms in service of inclusion and equality.
Merkle has been conducting #IAmRemarkable workshops over the past two years, primarily in person. Pune offered us an opportunity to test our ability to do so remotely. We met with the Pune leads over the course of several weeks to understand how the US developed program would resonate with their team to ensure the wording was meaningful and relevant.
There is a magic to #IAmRemarkable – something happens in that space that many of us across Merkle experienced. Though we can’t share the personal stories we heard – after all, “What happens in Goa, stays in Goa”, we did get great feedback. Our Pune colleagues shared their accomplishments outside of work, from sports, to juggling families, and careers.
This remote workshop gave us a chance to test our workshop muscle (pre-COVID-19). Admittedly, it wasn’t without some technical hiccups. However, we were able to make that connection, via video computer sharing. We spent two hours getting to know each other and helping our colleagues find the words and ways to express what is often hard to do – to speak about our own accomplishments.
We were delighted at how open everyone was and the feedback we received after, in their own words:
- “I was hesitant in the beginning but later when everyone was feeling comfortable sharing their experience, I too felt it was a safe space and when I shared my experience and why I am remarkable, it was liberating.”
- ‘Find your voices and build each other up. Changing the narrative is never easy.’
- “Now I know that gender development and women’s empowerment are now considered the core of growth policies and the overall economic prosperity of organizations and countries.”
*Special thanks to Jari Rouas and Kanishka Surana for helping to plan and facilitate this meeting.
When I think back to my time in the Pune office, I can’t help but be moved not only by the women that spoke up, but by the dozens more that continue to speak today. These WiL Pune leaders have given voice and confidence to those who felt the challenge of doing so on their own.