12 women thriving in APAC: Tista Sen

12 women: Tista Sen

Only 3% of the world’s advertising creative directors are women. And yet it is women who makes most of the purchasing decisions. Mumbrella Asia asked creative directors in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand for their perspective on the challenges of rising to the top of their profession as a woman.

Tista Sen, senior vice president and national creative director, J. Walter Thompson | INDIA Tell us about your background and achievements. I started my career in a film production house and assisted in over 60 commercials. But I always knew it was the writing I interested in. I have worked across categories and clients both FMCG and start-ups and the financial sector. One of my key accomplishments would be to launch sunsilkgangofgirls.com

Who is your role model?

My role model keeps changing depending on the stage in life I’m in. And right now my big peeve is finding a voice for women in our industry. I am a complete fan-girl of Cindy Gallop. She was my jury chair at the inaugural Glass Lion at Cannes and is such a strong voice for women across the industry. The thing is, what she says is not just restricted to the West but symbiotic of cultures and transcends geography. And she says it like it is. Blunt and sharp and always makes perfect sense.

Do you think there’s a glass ceiling in advertising in India? 

It would be naïve and foolish of me to say there isn’t. Too many horror stories with too many unhappy endings. All I can say is as a culture where women are made to feel subservient and inferior there’s a lot we can do to change. Advertising, like any other industry in India, is aware of the challenges women face and attempting to address that. How successful and how they implement it is another story.

What are the sort of challenges you have faced as a woman in making it to the top of your profession?

Actually it was harder when I was starting out. I was told by many a male colleague I may add, that clients would not take me seriously because I dressed well. A manicure and pedicure suggested I was too woman-like and could not be taken seriously. Ordering lunch somehow was my job as well as cracking the next big idea and being firm in the work-place meant being aggressive. Recently I feel that my being a mother and wife and having a successful career means I must be screwing up on some count. That makes it more palatable for the rest.

What is your view on the belief (proposed recently by former Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts) that women do not want management roles in advertising?

That is such a crock of absolute rubbish. Women want it and more. And why shouldn’t they. I have seen too many cases of mediocre management because gender came into play. The issue is women are hesitant to ask and expect the other party to notice. I prescribe to the theory that men are hired on potential and women on proof in our industry, and that is an issue we grapple with everyday. Women approach problems differently and come up with different solutions. If that involves taking a crack at the top job and sitting across the senior leadership table, so be it.

What do you make of the claim (made by some male creative directors in the past) that women aren’t as creative as men?


What advice would you give to a woman who aspires to be a creative director in India?

If you are passionate and really love what you do this is where you belong. Walk with your head high and your high heels even higher. For every obstacle or impediment in your way you have the option of walking out. And if you cower once you will cower forever. Your thinking and mind is what the industry is looking for not your vital statistics. And if discrimination and gender bias is what you face give me a call.