2020 Honoree

Devika Bulchandani

President, McCann North America

“…I would say health and education are the two most important elements of a civilized society.”

What in your opinion are the qualities of a power woman?

I don’t know if we talked about this when you and I spoke the first time, but there’s a very interesting study done which talks about the ten most important qualities of leadership today. Then, they ask the same responders if they would identify those qualities as a male trait or a female trait, and 8/10 so the majority of those people identify those as female traits, so to me it’s really sort of interesting when you have the word power next to woman, and I understand why we have it, but if I had to define the qualities they wouldn’t be the qualities that you typically associate with power. Right, so the quality of empathy I think is a fundamental quality that makes any leader. Frankly, I think power is in the quality of inclusiveness, and inclusiveness I mean in reference to different points of view. I think the quality of multitasking, which women are genetically wired to be able to do. Women like to look at genetic theories, we can birth multiple children, well, more or less, and juggle all of that, and that’s a critical thing. I think again, the quality of, and when I talk about inclusiveness I’m not talking about inclusiveness just about the way we talk about it in society today, which is definitely fundamentally important, but inclusivity meaning having different people at the table. It is hearing different perspectives. How do you get different perspectives to all be heard, feel heard, and then be able to lead all the different perspectives and bring them together? That’s one of the critical qualities. I think there are some male qualities that are very important in leadership, whether you’re a woman, in a man’s sense of decisiveness, or being able to make decisions in the room, that’s very critical. Again, something that is traditionally considered male, a competitive spirit I think is sort of extremely important. A competitive spirit doesn’t mean putting somebody down, right? A competitive spirit in my mind is a sense of ambition to move something forward and challenge. So that’s how I would define the qualities.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the COVID-19 pandemic and do you believe that the response to the COVID 19 pandemic highlights the natural resilience of women?

I mean it’s kind of an interesting question, because if you want to look at the headlines, look at the six nations who have dealt with the pandemic the best and those are the ones led by women. Whether it’s New Zealand or Germany, or the others. The way I look at it, and I’m gonna answer your question at a slightly higher level instead of just simply the pandemic, if we’re talking about equality, and that’s why you’re doing this because you want to put women who have succeeded on center stage, when I sort of think about true equality, and I go back to the point I was making earlier, I think I grew up in a world where I emulated certain behaviors – and I don’t know if this is sort of my spirit, but I obviously am a alpha-woman, I’m a very type-A sort of person and it works for me, so I kind of look at it and say true equality would be when I’ve adopted a lot of masculine traits. I’m extremely decisive, I’m very competitive, I have no problem having difficult conversations – actually men don’t have difficult conversations, women do – but I just sort of think when men start behaving like women, when a man is very empathetic to me, that’s amazing. That would be incredible, a man thinking with his heart first. That would be amazing. that’s equality anyway that’s my general overall perspective on this notion of equality it’s not just how many people we have at the table I need the representation but then let’s also get the men to get in touch with their feminine side I had to get in touch with my masculine side to succeed in this world let’s get them to get in touch with their feminine side and then I think we’ll have a really beautiful world. In this pandemic the gender specific role for women to play I think we’re putting it again which relates to my point when we put it in the gender construct you were saying the pandemic to be caring this sense of nurturing that’s really important right because and I don’t see nurturing as just nurturing the children we have to nurture each other because we’re all some people their health is being attacked others have mental health somebody has economic issues so this sense of nurturing is extremely important with each other for all of us as a community to survive I just wish I didn’t talk about it in a gender specific way I wish I would say this is a value or a quality that’s really important and I wish everybody would say that.

Do you feel that this should become a more global approach? Or do you feel that there are more other specific issues that you care about outside of gender equality?

I always say women and gender equality, women, let’s talk about women first and then all forms of diversity, they’re actually good for business. So it is the right thing to do, but it’s not just the right thing to do from a societal perspective, it is the effective thing to do, and I love that. There is so much research, and this is what Fearless Girl would say, so if you have a certain amount of women in leadership positions, companies do better. If you have a diverse corporate board, those companies do better. So I always feel, what do we all want in the world? Do we want a more effective society? Then let’s have diversity at the table, and that is gender too. When we’re talking about gender it is one aspect of diversity, race is another aspect, and in different countries, there are different sorts of aspects of equality. It makes us more effective as a society. That’s why I use the word, it makes society more effective however you define or however you want to measure the effect of equality, it makes society more effective.

What do you feel is the #1 action that allows society to empower women and gender equality?

I think education if we’re talking a societal or the broadest based level, all these issues of equality go back to education. If you take countries like India, countries in Africa, women aren’t educated as much as men are. Then you take the race issue in this country, our black friends have less access to good education because of all the redlining and rebuilding that was done years ago. Education is the root of it. If you were to ask me for one thing, we have to focus on education for any form of equality because with education comes opportunities. But just think about it, boys grew up with more boys in the class than girls at some point, and that made a big difference in how they were going to perceive the world I think. If there was equality at the education level, if we didn’t stereotype education – my daughter, who is 16 is a total math and science nerd – if we told more stories about educated women, which they did do things, women were inventors, I couldn’t name a woman inventor, could you? But that goes back to education, right, we don’t put all the stories in the textbooks. It’s not that education isn’t available, it’s also access to education and what the material is that we’re educating our children with.

Can you tell a story about an encounter in your life that was a block to you because of your gender?

Oh, where do you want me to start? So I always say that I somehow, by the time I got to the workforce – I’m from India, and I’ve dealt with being told “you’re a girl, you can’t do something,” forever and ever and ever. One of the reasons that I say I came here is because I wanted to get away from that sort of system. My earliest memory of being told I couldn’t do something is when I couldn’t climb a tree. I had two older brothers and they were climbing trees, and they would climb rooftops, and it was all very well for them to do it, but I couldn’t climb a tree because I was a girl, and that used to infuriate me because I couldn’t understand – “I can climb a tree! Look, let me show you I can!” It was kind of like, girls don’t climb trees. I used to sit in this guava tree all the time because I was like, super defiant, and I’ll never forget – I think I was five years old, and one day, I ran – we sort of grew up in this joint family structure which is very Indian – I ran out, and it was my dad and his brothers, and everybody would eat lunch together, and they had a family business, and I ran out and I was screaming screaming screaming “I did it! I did it! I did it!” and everybody looked at me like “what did you do?”, and I said “I can pee standing up!” I always wanted to pee standing up, and I thought I could conquer the damn world because I didn’t understand what the difference was between my brothers and me other than the fact that I saw they could pee standing up, and I thought if I can do that then I can climb the damn tree.
So again it was growing up in that culture, and I don’t say this with a sense of resentment, I am really glad that I wasn’t 18 or 21 facing it for the first time. It’s not like when I went to the corporate world I had to face it because to me, it was hardwired into me that I’m going to, that I needed to, fight my way with diplomacy -fight my way with diplomacy, which is critical to Indian culture. Another story, which is not as old as when I was five years old, is about four or five years ago – I’m ambitious and so I decided about, four or five years ago, that I was going to stop making excuses for being ambitious. I was like “no man ever makes an excuse, and I’m always having to say, no it’s okay, like no! Fuck that shit! I want to run something, I want a corporate career, I’m not gonna make an excuse for it!” I said that I was doing this to one of my bosses, and I was told to be careful because I came across as aggressive. I said “wait a minute, so I’m telling you that I want something for my life and my career, and that’s aggressive?” I said “you would never say that to a man when he’s ambitious,” it’s “ah he’s so ambitious, we love it! He’s a winner!”
A woman says “I want to achieve something,” and she comes across as an aggressive bitch. But those are gender stereotypes, right? The good news is that it’s getting harder to stereotype.I always tell women that we also have to take some responsibility to correct it because what happens often is that we want society to correct itself, but we’re not gonna call it out because we shouldn’t have to. But we have to display that courage because society isn’t going to correct itself. Men are programmed with thousands of years of genetic training, as are women, of course we all are. I’m not ever gonna tire on it, that’s the other thing I always tell people, it’s not like “oh my god it’s so tiring.” Hell yes, you’re right! I’m not here to change 2020, I’m here to change a generation, and that takes a while. I always tell people that, in the moment, you have to have a certain amount of patience and humility through it because nobody likes an asshole, you’re just gonna make it a fight and that ain’t gonna work either.

Do you think that asking the previous salary requirements in a job interview contributes to why the pay gap is so strong between men and women and should we be pushing for a national ban for this question to never be asked as it is in New York?

Definitely. New York was announced right in the heels of Fearless Girl. That was the best press conference, when they announced it we had just done Fearless Girl, so hell yes! Why is my work defined by what I made previously? My logic through all of this is that the rate is set by the market. If somebody else is willing – if you are willing to pay somebody else something, why should you pay a woman anything less? So a simple answer? Hell yes.

There are many studies that point to having a female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line, and leads to a healthier work environment. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the presence of women in high profile positions?

The question anytime you’re dealing with any sort of minority group is that you want a greater representation of the minority group, because we hear time and again all this data about why it is better. One of the biggest questions that come up is that there’s not enough of a qualified pool, so in my mind that is partly true, that until we start giving any minority group – and in this case, women – the training. I mean, should women go through – and I’m gonna answer this because we’ve dealt with this issue a lot – when we do work with state street, should there be a training program for women to get board qualified? Historically, women haven’t had the positions that men have had, so duh, women are not as qualified. So, should we do training programs? Are we going to take “x” group of women and put them through some sort of training program and get them board qualified? So “because the pool” is always the issue. The pool is always the issue, and all that ends up happening is now three women who have been CEO’s and suddenly they’re on every single board. I think there’s a shift happening, I keep saying this, from shareholder value to stakeholder value, so I think there’s a shift going on in the world which as consumers and people we need to preempt or we’re gonna demand more than shareholder value or stakeholder value. It’s doing the right thing as well, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s coming. Yeah, because the status quo is easier. For any change that requires – for any revolution – there’s gotta be moments that unite the revolution, and everything swings in one direction and we come back to a little more. You know four years ago it was the gender revolution, and I think it really helped. That moment, every man would say “well men feel scared,” and I say” well I don’t really mind you feeling scared, because I, that is how women have felt for years. Maybe even channel that fear into empathy.” That was my response, but the other thing I always say is “it’s not gonna be that extreme, things do find a way of balancing,” but it’s important to have these moments in life because that’s when the biggest change will happen.

Do you have a defining moment or experience in your life that brought you to where you are today?

I can’t say that there was a defining moment in my adult life. I would say that there was a defining moment in my childhood, being in a culture where women were meant to play the role of a homemaker. You were supposed to have an arranged marriage, and hell I wasn’t gonna do that! Instead, I was like “I’m gonna climb every tree, and every ladder I find.” I used to jump off things, and my mother would always say that I gave her paranoia all the time because I was falling off things, jumping off things, and getting stitches all the time, and that was my way of being defiant of the gender stereotype. I think my defining moment was “girls don’t climb trees,” and I was like “hell yes they do, and I’ll climb more than a tree, I’ll climb the corporate ladder!” I already told you that story.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape with women in the past few years?

What was the number when we had – was it 100 women voted into congress? I think it’s sort of interesting, the defining moment in the political landscape was Hillary Clinton losing, right, and I think that the whole gender revolution took off from there. So have we seen a change in the political landscape? Yes, I mean Biden is there, he’s gonna have a woman as a VP which will be super interesting. I think it’s still a battle though, I think it’s still a serious battle, but I’m okay with that because we’re seeing change. Change is not gonna happen overnight, we’re talking about an issue that’s been in the making for 100 years, so we’re gonna take a little while and that’s okay.

Is education one of the top three responsibilities of civilized societies and if so why is it so expensive?

Well yes of course it is. I would say health and education are the two most important elements of a civilized society. I think education has become a brand, it’s become a luxury because it’s almost become branded if you know what I mean. Why do we talk about where you went to college, and not the fact that you went to college? There is a rating of which is the best college, and because of this, we’ve created a very consumerist experience. Education has become the same principle as consumerism, right? Is it having an education in the establishment, or is it a brand? I tell you it’s a brand, and I think the decisions are based more on the brand than they are on educating people today. I think in any of these crises there’s always some industry that goes through a major reckoning, and a new model is born. I really think that because of the pandemic the reckoning is gonna happen for the education industry, and I think it’s gonna birth a new model.

If you could have one person’s job for the day who would it be? And why?

One person’s job…oh my god. If Obama was in office, I would want his job, but he’s not in office. I still think that I’d like to be in his shoes for a day, whatever he’s doing, I adore the man. Those are the shoes that I’d love to be in for a day, just to see. I want to be in the shoes of a man to see how they look at the world.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I like the definitive nature of these..there’s quite a few, but you’re saying what’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given? Okay. When I think about the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given, and it’s advice that I give others, I’m a very good stealer of material by the way, when I find something that somebody says to me really good I’m like “okay I’m gonna share that wisdom if or when you have problems to solve.” The best piece of advice I’ve been given is when I went into the office of this woman I consider very influential in my life, and I was like ‘Ugh, here’s my problem blah blah blah blah blah.” She listened to me ranting and raging for a few minutes when we discussed it, and then she opened the door and said “now get out of there, get out of here and be a player.” That’s the most empowering bit of it, she didn’t solve the problem for me, and later we talked about it and she said “I wasn’t gonna solve the problem for you and tell you what to do, because then it wouldn’t be your victory.” I do this with everybody now if they come in, we listen, we discuss the issue and I don’t overdo it, that could last forever, so I go “okay, we’ve talked about it, now get out of my office and go be a player.” That’s the best advice, and I think the manager makes a really important distinction. Don’t solve problems for people, don’t make it your issue, that’s very important for the victory, for it to be solved by the person who had the problem. It’s really easy for me to call somebody and say, “hey, do it this way, but now I always say “I’m not gonna solve it for you.” They always start with saying “no, can you solve it for me?” but they walk out of my office going, “oh, I got this .I can deal with this.”

What is your favorite book?

You’re gonna laugh when I tell you, I’m gonna give you a genre as opposed to my favorite book. Recipe books – I absolutely love cooking. I think there’s something incredible about recipes, which is the notion of the combination of different ingredients, this is very important when you’re putting teams together, which is also very important when you’re figuring out how to make a family work. So, I’m an obsessive recipe watcher and recipe reader, because I find that you can extrapolate the concepts of cooking in life. You’re gonna get no standard answers from me I’ll tell you that.

What do you most value in your friends?

Be interesting.

What trait do you find most uncomfortable about yourself and in others?

What’s the word, neediness? Not in me, but in others. In myself, I think sometimes what I find is when I’m constantly telling myself to be patient, what I’m also saying is that it’s not personal. Women tend to take things very personally, and I constantly have conversations with myself in my head. It’s a very dangerous place to be, in my head. I have to constantly tell myself, “it’s not about you.” It really annoys me when I catch myself in a situation where I have decided to interpret it personally, and I think women do that a lot. That really annoys me about myself, but I just have to go, “you’re doing it again, it’s not about you.” It’s just like, “the world doesn’t revolve around you, get a hold of yourself lady!” This is what I say to myself, “the world doesn’t revolve around you.”

What do you consider is the most overrated virtue?

Collaboration. A collaborative spirit is what I call the sure way to mediocrity. I think there are good ideas and there are bad ideas. I think the thing about collaboration is that we need to be able to say, “some things work, some things don’t.” Again, collaboration doesn’t mean don’t hear other people out. What I’m saying doesn’t mean that other people don’t have a voice. Collaboration means everybody gets to the table, and everybody’s idea is a good idea – but no, everybody gets to the table and then we should debate. I don’t disagree with collaboration means no questions, it means no debate. Collaboration has come to mean all those things, and I do agree that everybody has to have a seat at the table, but I think we have to be comfortable and confident enough to debate. Ultimately, somebody’s gonna make a decision and you have to commit. I mean do you think the Apple computer would have happened if 86 people collaborated? The greatest ideas of the last century didn’t happen because of collaboration. Distinction is really important because I’m making a distinction between corporate collaboration and having a voice and a seat at the table, because I totally believe in the latter. It’s a really good way of getting to mediocrity because we need debate, we need diversity of thinking, of perspective, of people, but also the ability, the intellectual rigor, the intellectual will power, to be able to debate that.

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