Wave Guilt Goodbye

By Alixandra Rutnik on Mar 17, 2022

In conversation with Elevate mentor Swati Bhattacharya


Elevate is a mentorship series for modern leaders. It's for the women who want to feel empowered. It’s for the non-binary individuals who want to learn to be exceptional leaders. And it’s for the women who want to support other women.

Elevate is a series of two-hour sessions featuring incredible speakers, successful mentors, valuable lessons, and intimate conversations with powerful women in our industry. We interviewed Nancy Vonk last week, who will be kicking off Elevate with Susan Credle during the first session next Friday, March 25, so mark your calendar!  

This week, we had a chance to catch up with one of the individuals who will be providing mentorship to attendees after each day's "Leadership Lesson" — and oh, what a mentor she will be throughout Elevate! Swati Bhattacharya, CCO of FCB India, shares a powerful message with us ahead of Elevate, one that will especially resonate with women finding their place within this industry.


Elevate is designed to empower women and nonbinary individuals. Name two mentors who have empowered you and helped you get to where you are today?

The first one is my mom, Mamta Bhattacharya. She was a refugee from Bangladesh who came to India as a child and got married at 18. My mother continued her education and never stopped working after I was born. That was lesson number one. Motherhood is not a pause– it can be your propeller.

"Motherhood is not a pause – it can be your propeller."

The second one is Susan Fowler Credle. She came into my life and changed the size of my canvas. She brought me a large pair of shoes and then waited for me to fill them. I don’t think I was ever given a better ecosystem to thrive.

What are the leadership qualities you strive to embody as CCO?

I don’t understand the words "leadership qualities." I am a human at work. I believe in human qualities and I bring them into every room I enter. I want to be a creative human at work. A creative mother at home. And pursue creative sisterhood at work. I’m fifty-three and it’s taken me so many years to realize that I can aspire to be the best version of myself.

Some days I am a Type-A badass in meetings. Other days I am a coy Type-B. I’m energetic. I’m calm. I’m even unbearable at times. All of these traits make up who I am.

I have no boundaries with the women I work with– everything in their personal life is important to me. I don’t like to create a distinction between work and home life. Anything that happens in one affects the other. This minimizes guilt at work and helps with problem-solving. Compassion and creativity are cousins. I feel women are always carrying a mountain of guilt on their shoulders. Sometimes for feeling too much and sometimes for feeling too little.

"I don’t like to create a distinction between work and home life. Anything that happens in one affects the other. This minimizes guilt at work and helps with problem-solving."

What are some of the challenges and stereotypes you face for being a woman and specifically, a woman in power in India?

I don't try to be a man in order to be a leader. When I consciously role model I fail. I bring all of me and all of my emotions into work and that allows other people to be who they are too. This is how I challenge the stereotype and own it. I still don’t own a business suit and never want to wear one!

I remember writing this blog that went viral called, “My dirtiest secret at work.” It was about how I leave the office at 5:30 pm and how often I am judged for it– even teased violently about how I like to “disappear” at 5.30 pm.

Then a virus comes and teaches us that working from home is not a perk, but a normal ask from an organization.

"A virus comes and teaches us that working from home is not a perk, but a normal ask from an organization."

The motherhood years are the toughest and that is where the walls of the office and the walls of the home need to be porous. It's just for a few years and companies really need to support mothers and give them an ecosystem to survive.

Apart from this, we all need a vocabulary on how to ask for a raise without feeling guilty. We all need to learn how to talk about our worth, not in words of love, but in dollars and cents.

"We all need a vocabulary on how to ask for a raise without feeling guilty. We all need to learn how to talk about our worth, not in words of love, but in dollars and cents."

I think we have learned a lot of good lessons from this virus. The way we accepted work from home as something that the virus demanded of us. And we should also be able to do this when motherhood demands it from us too. As an organization we need to understand that we lose most of our talented mid-level staff to marriage and motherhood and that’s a shame.

"As an organization we need to understand that we lose most of our talented mid-level staff to marriage and motherhood and that’s a shame."

What professional and political conversations are you looking forward to engaging in with other women and non-binary individuals during Elevate?

Professionally, we need to get comfortable talking about things like money– including the vocabulary terms, "I deserve" and "I demand." I still don’t have it down. Sometimes our sheer gratitude about having a job and finding support at work is enough. Then we start questioning ourselves. Am I being too demanding now? Along with all this, should I also demand money? In advertising, we always talk about PR for brands. We need to think of ourselves as brands too, which women often shy away from doing.

And it’s political because of our low pay scale. We tell ourselves we should not demand or ask. Women feel they have been handed a script and they must follow it. It's time to break out of the mold that tells us to be gentle, kind, and nurture others.

Name three challenges you experienced throughout your career. How did you become stronger because of them?

1. I decided to stay in Delhi when I started out, even though all the advertising action was happening in Bombay. It was clear to me that if I wanted to make a mark, it would only happen in Bombay. Yet, I stayed in Delhi.

2. Motherhood. And the endless guilt it came with.

3. I was happy making normal bread and butter work. In India, we call that popular work. There wasn’t a strong culture of sending work in for awards or teaching you how to showcase it. So when Susan made me the CCO, I was aware that without awards, there would be no shine to my CCO title. I would just be a woman CCO. So I put the pressure on myself that in order to be a successful CCO I would have to be an award winning one! I started my award journey later in life and I learned that it means doing your job well and then showing the world what you did.

WATCH A CREATIVE PERSPECTIVE WITH SWATI BHATTACHARYA


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