Women that have empowered women in advertising & marketing to pursue their dreams

To celebrate diversity and empowerment on International Women’s Day and beyond, the theme for this year is ‘Inspire Inclusion.’ Every year, March 08 is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made toward gender equality and highlights the work that still needs to be done.

And if it weren’t for the women who paved the way for future generations, we wouldn’t have made it this far. For every woman who broke the glass ceiling and mustered the courage to speak against boardroom inequality and the pay gap, there are fewer barriers for today’s women to overcome.

From Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi to Ogilvy’s Devika Seth Bulchandani, women who hold crucial positions across advertising, marketing, and media industries have also inspired many women CXOs and Founders to take that plunge of believing in themselves, achieve their dreams, and unlock full potential. They’ve felt a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment because of these women who led by example.  

We reached out to women in the advertising and media industry to find out those impactful figures who have inspired them to pursue their dreams, believed in them, and pushed them to be their best version. 

Many of them raised a toast to personalities who have broken gender norms and shattered glass ceilings in their respective fields, paving the way for other women in the industry. Others shared anecdotes of how the resilience and compassion demonstrated by their mothers shaped them into the leaders they are today. 

Here are a few women they look up to:

Aditi Shrivastava, Co-founder, MD & CEO at Pocket Aces:

I think my answer to this question about a Superwoman who has inspired me for the longest time has been Oprah. I think that the way she has led her life and risen up literally from the ashes to build a media empire and become a true thought leader is amazing. But obviously, I’ve never met Oprah. I hope to meet her someday. Closer to home and much closer to the real women that we work with on a daily basis, Vijayashree Parameswaran is a coach with whom I work. She’s a leadership and organisation-building coach and is just a beautiful example of a confident, smart, organised woman. She has the option to earn crores working at the largest organisations, but has chosen to start her own business helping SMEs and SME leaders grow. Because she is a coach for both women and men, she really instills self-belief and asks the right questions for us to grow. She embodies positivity, confidence, empathy, and the ability to listen beautifully. So, I would like to give her a shoutout. She is still my coach right now, and it’s been amazing working with her.

Ambika Sharma, Founder and MD, Pulp Strategy:

My mother is my mentor and leader who has inspired me in my career and has influenced my leadership style. She was amazingly talented, creative, strong, and uniquely empathetic. Growing up seeing her, I never felt that there was something women could not do, in the 80’s she rode a bike, she baked like a MasterChef, and people flocked to our house on birthday afternoons just to catch a glimpse of cakes she baked, she was the school principal, a national level debater, a joyful dancer, my mentor, and my best friend, all in one day.

Reflecting on my entrepreneurial journey, I am reminded that every challenge I faced was a stepping stone towards growth and success. Starting out in the business world was undeniably tough, but perseverance, strategic planning, and perhaps a touch of divine intervention paved the way for smooth sailing ahead.

The path I chose required time—our business – was still in its infancy at just 6 years old, steadily maturing and evolving. As a first-generation woman entrepreneur, I became acutely aware of the slight disadvantage that comes with carving a place in a traditionally male-dominated arena. Navigating the regulatory framework became an enlightening journey in itself, highlighting the importance of establishing a strong team to navigate the complex landscape successfully.

First-time entrepreneurs like myself often encounter a guidance gap, a void that can only be filled by a resilient team willing to weather the storms together. Running a business is akin to being a one-person army, where every moment is dedicated to the growth of the enterprise, leaving little room to shift gears or rest. 

Through perseverance, strategic planning, and the unwavering support of a dedicated regulatory team, we embraced each challenge as an opportunity for growth and transformation. The belief in the power of innovation, strategy, and digital transformation guided us through the toughest times, reinforcing our commitment to meeting the evolving needs of our clients and creating unparalleled consumer experiences.

I strongly believe that in entrepreneurship, challenges are not roadblocks but rather catalysts for innovation, resilience, and ultimately, success. Embracing each hurdle as a stepping stone towards a future where businesses not only survive but thrive, creating lasting impact and meaningful connections along the way.

Anisha Iyer, CEO, OMD India:

An iron woman whom I’ve long admired and looked up to is Indra Nooyi.

Hailing from humble beginnings and roots in the heart of Tamil Nadu and making the kind of impact she does on the world stage today is nothing short of inspirational.

Her transformational brand of leadership is democratic and collective in its approach. A trait that makes her people feel involved and empowered to drive growth and shared success. Combined with her strategic acumen and commitment to innovation, her leadership has influenced my outlook and has been my North Star over the years. 

Anupama Ramaswamy, Chief Creative Officer, Havas Worldwide India:

For me, that would be Susan Hoffman, Executive Creative Director, WIEDEN+KENNEDY whom I had met at the jury of The One Show. I follow her work closely, and she has been a big inspiration. Closer home, I really admire Anuja Chauhan, whose rich body of work includes some of Pepsi’s brilliant campaigns like Yehi Hai Right Choice Baby and Yeh Dil Maange More. I really admire Swati Bhattacharya as well for all the glory she has brought to Indian advertising through her standout campaigns over the last few years.

Binaifer Dulani, Creative and Founding member, Talented:

Sakshi Chaudhary, the founder of Indian Creative Women, is a guiding light whose life’s work has been to accelerate female talent around her.

Puja Nathani– VP- Group HR and Marketing, Team Pumpkin:

My true inspiration for life has always been, Swati, our co-founder at Team Pumpkin, for her sheer excellence and strength. Working under her leadership made me aware of the value of patience, respect and a never give up attitude towards work and team members as well. Absorbing this attitude has helped me create extremely productive and happy teams over the years. Her brilliant work ethics continue to push me harder, as she embarked her journey towards being a mother as well and so seamlessly handles both her roles of a CBO and a mother. For every girl (like myself), who is trying to figure out who she wants to be in life, I wish you are always surrounded by strong and unstoppable women like Swati.

‘May we meet them. May we learn from them. May we become them.’

Ronita Mukerjee, Executive Director – Client Services, Landor:

There are many leaders who I look up to for inspiration and guidance. Lulu Raghavan, VP APAC at Landor has been a constant source of inspiration. I admire how she embodies the spirit of a “gentle force” ; kind and empathetic yet assertive when needed with colleagues and clients. That’s a wonderful balance to strike.

Shradha Agarwal, Founder and CEO, Grapes:

One of the true inspirations from the business landscape is Ghazal Alagh, Chief Executive and Co-Founder of MamaEarth. Her journey and accomplishments resonate deeply with me on a personal level. I admire how she has built something so great for herself, demonstrating her resilience, determination, and strong vision to become the strong, powerful businesswoman she is today.

What strikes me most about Ghazal is her ability to maintain a perfect balance in her lifestyle while running a successful business with her husband and the leadership qualities that she has nurtured in the company. With this, she has not only defied traditional gender roles but also managed to establish herself as a strong businesswoman in the industry. This is a testament to her strength and determination to break stereotypes and pursue one’s passions, regardless of societal expectations.

Moreover, her success is a reminder that collaboration and support within a partnership can lead to greater achievements. Her partnership with her husband in running MamaEarth demonstrates the power of teamwork and shared goals in building a thriving business.

Vanaja Pillai, Head – DEI, DDB Mudra Group and President, 22feet Tribal Worldwide:

While I can’t think of one such person, I am surrounded by women who inspire me with their talent and leadership every day. In the course of running the Phyllis Project – DDB’s women’s leadership program – I have had the good fortune of getting to know and admire many women, who are making a difference every day in how women are seen, valued and respected in workplaces.

Villoo Daji, SVP – Group Marketing, Baccarose:

Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, has been an unwavering source of inspiration throughout my career as a female leader. Her remarkable journey from a small town in India to becoming one of the most influential women in global business has left a deep-rooted mark on my professional aspirations. Nooyi’s exceptional qualities, including her emphasis on work-life balance, tenacity, and navigating the competitive landscape, have significantly shaped my leadership style and influenced my approach to success.