Priya Patankar: Storytelling, Working From Home & Challenging The Status Quo

Welcome to our section where we bring you stories of and conversations with inspirational women who’ve changed lives and given back to the community. Today, we’re joined by Priya Patankar, Head of Communications, PhonePe—who has experience of 21 years across industries. She talks to us about storytelling, working from home & challenging the status quo. 

Watch the full discussion below or listen to the podcast here

A few snippets from the discussion here

Sarika: Hi Priya. Welcome to FS Changemakers. Tell us how you got into marketing & communications.
Priya: Thank you for the warm welcome, Sarika! I was a Science student. My parents wanted me to be a doctor and it took them extremely long to reconcile to the fact that I wasn’t going to be one. Because at the age of 8, I’d realised that all I wanted to do was tell stories. So I decided to study English and History instead—as these two fields gave me the freedom to do just that. In hindsight, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The next logical step was transitioning to communications and marketing. What I’ve learnt over the years is that there’s always a customer at the heart of every story we tell & you’re creating something for the customer. I also manage CRM which is all about numbers. So, I juggle my creative calling & a data-driven approach.

Sarika: That’s really interesting! You’ve worked across industries. Is the process different from each sector or is there one methodology you follow?
Priya: Transitioning from sector to sector is hard. Whether you’re an individual contributor or managing teams, the expectation is that you’ll hit the ground running. When I had joined PhonePe, digital payments was a completely different ball game for me. I remember making lots of notes & continuously going back to them! Another time, at a telecom company, I realised that there was a gap that existed in the overall way we communicated with the external world. Although corporate communications was a totally new area for me, I took on the challenge even if that wasn’t in my job description, figured it out and found mentors willing to help me on creating more complex content like white papers on technology. Things can be complex at first but one needs to prepare, find the right mentors & not shy away from complexities.

Sarika: That’s lovely! You had also worked from home for quite some time. How was that experience back then, considering it has become the new normal today?
Priya: When I became a mom, I chose to work remotely for a while. Working at home is a lonely life—especially if you’re looking after children, managing work, and trying to carve time for yourself. That was 15 years back, and today when I see others having challenges like setting up a quiet workspace or setting boundaries, I can totally relate. The structure and discipline that I had during my own WFH days have immensely helped me to cope with all this throughout the past year. You have to shamelessly switch off, let go and take “cheat times” for yourself, even if it means neglecting household chores for a day.

Sarika: Fantastic! Tell us a little about the gender & inclusivity programme at PhonePe.
Priya: It all started with CEO Sameer Nigam wanting to make PhonePe a more inclusive company. What I love the most is that there was always an effort to bring in more representation of women across teams, including encouraging male managers to hire more women. The conversation started with Sameer talking to us function heads about solving for diversity & inclusion & identifying the key metrics to consider. We’re currently at 16% hiring of women at leadership positions, we aim to increase it to 25% in 2021 and are currently mentoring women (at middle management) with potential & guiding them to the next levels.

Sarika: To conclude, what advice would you like to give to those looking at a career in communications or marketing?
Priya: Don’t shy away from complexity; at the most, you’ll end up making a mistake. Contribute to other conversations, challenge the status quo, irrespective of what your job designation is. Especially if you’re a communicator. Just because something hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done now. Most playbooks outlive their lives. Move on, create your own.


All images used are the sole property of Priya Patankar and cannot be used without prior permission

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