There are a handful of people who can make a first impression, although only some can effortlessly impress, inspire and even create a lasting impression. Meenal Sinha is one such person; it’s unlikely that you’d fail to notice her. Now we can’t really conclude if that’s because of her coloured hair strands or how impeccably groomed she is. What’s easier to imply is how interesting she actually is. And so, we decided to find out more about that. A co-working evangelist with about 20 years of corporate exposure who has set up her own venture named Meetings And Offices, Meenal decided to chitchat with us. Sitting at one of Mumbai’s chicest co-working set-ups, The Mosaic at Andheri (E), we caught up with the start-up enthusiast on everything from her entrepreneurial journey, breaking the glass ceiling in the corporate world, and tips on power dressing. Read excerpts from the interview…
What was life like before you became an entrepreneur?
Back in 1995, when I left college, I was sure of a career in advertising. I was recruited at Design Shop (India) Ltd., the in-house ad agency for Tata Press, through campus placement. Design Shop was where I learned the ropes… how to make artwork, how printing works, and more. But within six months I realised I needed to work in a bigger team, with bigger clients. This was a time when financial advertising was growing fast. I moved to Percept Advertising and made a conscious decision to stay on for a long time – started off as an Executive and grew on to be the Profit Centre Head in 2000. It was the right place to learn the tricks of the trade.
How did things change post that?
I decided to take a break from work after a year and a half of my child’s birth. During that time, I realised I am someone who needs to work; I can’t sit idle. Which is when I took a few consulting assignments in PR.
Restarting my career was a little difficult too; it so happens that people take advantage of the fact that you’ve taken a break. But I was fortunate to then work for Servcorp India, a franchise of K Raheja Corps, that is part of the shared workspace industry. Everyone questioned as to why I was moving from advertising to what looked like real estate. I was clear about what I was doing; a. It is customer service, b. Once you’ve been a Profit Centre Head, it’s all about business. Five years into my career, and I realised that running a business is what I enjoy. So I got into the shared workspace industry, enjoyed the journey, and realised that I truly believe in the industry and am passionate about it. By the end of 2013, with 20 years experience in the corporate world, I was keen on taking a break and starting out on my own.
The corporate world is not as generous to women, and it is all about breaking the glass ceiling. How true is this?
Yes, it is not easy. I was born and brought up in Delhi, so everything from the move to staying alone, being by myself in a new city and managing it all was both daunting and difficult. Thankfully I had my parent’s support. And after marriage, my husband supported me. That said, it is not easy to survive in the corporate world, not then, not now. I’ve experienced this; there are those who would much rather make eye contact with a male employee standing next to me than talk to me. Women face this on a daily basis. But the thing is, once you establish yourself as somebody they need to respect because of the knowledge you have, how good you’re at your work and because you deliver the value, things change. So yes, all I say is take it on. Also, thankfully now there are men who realise this, and the world is changing. I think it is important to be gender neutral, you don’t need to favour a woman and ignore the men; it’s about who is better at their job.
Moving from Delhi to Mumbai might have been quite a transition. From a city perspective, was that a drastic change?
The Bombay I moved to was not only a safe city, it was an extremely professional city. If there was work, it got done. With the new age of millennials, I think it has become a little difficult. But at my time, even if the boss yelled at you, and you had to deliver on a strict deadline, there was no such thing as ‘it can’t be done.’ That is also how we grew so fast and the responsibilities we were given was on a greater scale; because we showed results and took ownership of our work. In Delhi, I thought the professional attitude was missing.
Also, I couldn’t ever think of sitting at the office in Delhi till 12 a.m. and then go back to an editing studio to get work done…it wasn’t safe. Maybe there were women who did that, but I couldn’t have done it… my parents wouldn’t have allowed me to. in Bombay, I could hail a cab anytime between 12 a.m. and 4 a.m., with no worry, and it didn’t seem like a risk. Unfortunately, that is also changing now… it is no longer very safe. I guess, we just got lucky.
You’ve done both schooling and college in Delhi. How different was your style and how has it evolved over time?
In both school and college, it was all about following trends. Especially in Delhi, you couldn’t be caught walking in last season’s clothes. You had to keep up with the trends. At least in Bombay, you can wear anything and be happy. As far as personal style goes, now, I have evolved into being comfortable with what I want to wear, and setting the trend. I don’t care what is happening in the fashion world or the professional world for that matter. I know I have to create the right image and look professional at all times, and this is how my personal style has changed. I don’t follow any style icon.
How did the transition from being on the business side to grooming businessmen/women come about?
It was gradual, and I consciously trained myself in it. Before I joined a workspace where I had to to be immaculately dressed, I was in advertising, which has no stringent dress code. In fact, everyone is casual, and you can dress the way you want to. I was used to wearing anything and everything. But even back then, when I got into a senior role there, I realised that if I am not dressed right for an important meeting, there was a problem. Some people wouldn’t take me seriously, others (bosses) would comment on it and it was important to make the effort. Once you get into the power role there has to be a transition in style. Obviously, it isn’t easy… you need to evolve.
When you’re not in a meeting, what’s your style like?
I am not someone who wears Indian clothes unless I’m at a family function. You’ll find me in a pair of tracks and tee at home.
I’ve hardly seen you in Indianwear… is that a conscious decision or all about comfort?
It happened when I joined Servcorp; it only allows Western formals. That was probably one reason, but now I have become extremely comfortable in the style. Let’s be honest, it looks more professional. I even ask my team to dress in it.
The thing is, people don’t realise what’s formal and what’s not Indianwear. And it gets difficult to train them to wear the right kind of salwar suit and sarees. Also, if you want people to take you seriously, you have to dress formally. The moment I dress in a business suit and walk in stilettos, people tend to take notice, compliment me. When you’re formally dressed, they are in awe at the first meeting. That said, experience and work come into play. But dressing up formally helps, and so I have maintained that.
Something that stands out in your style is your hair; it gives off a rather edgy vibe, which is nothing like your professional self. How did that come about?
Well, I’ve always had a wild streak in me (laughs). But when you’re working, you need to carry it off such that it blends with your personality. I don’t advice blue hair colour for a professional, but if you think you can carry it off and turn it around for people to take you more seriously, you can go about it.
As for me, I’ve gone blue, green, orange, copper, and red many times… but I make sure the rest of me and what I speak is in the professional zone. This way, when people talk to me they take me seriously. Also, this little colour helps as an ice-breaker in conversation. It goes on from being just a vendor-client relationship, and they seek advice from me unlike what they would from a regular service partner.
What’s the wildest in grooming and style that you’ve done?
I’ve always wanted to get a tattoo, but I’m only getting there. A year back I went salt and pepper with my hair colour. You know, I wasn’t sure, nor was my stylist but I went ahead with the decision. My stylist, who has been a constant for the last 14 years, did an undercut and didn’t colour that bit. Well, going to a professional setup with a punk haircut, I think that’s edgy enough.
Describe your personal style in three words.
Elegant, edgy, comfortable.
As far as the Indian corporate space is concerned, what do you think is missing when it comes to grooming and style?
This space is only evolving in style, but I think there are no good business suits for women. When it comes to a business suit, the cut has to be right, so does the fabric. But here, just anything goes in the name of formal wear. Young ones think they are dressing smartly and formally but they don’t realise the basics since no one is training them.
But suits aren’t really suitable for this weather, don’t you think?
How do men wear suits all the time… it’s all right. Maybe you can skip wearing stockings all the time but I don’t think a lightweight jacket is a problem. Carry a suit jacket around and wear it before you’re entering a meeting room. Make sure you have one good jacket and a great pair of shoes in your office drawer, always.
Do you have a favourite online store?
I don’t buy my clothes online. I am of the opinion that fits are very specific to an individual, and you need to try it on to see how it looks on you to decide if it’s a wardrobe addition. Also, just because something looks extremely formal on someone else, it’s not necessary it will look the same on you. So it’s important to try the outfit before buying it.
Are there any favourite formal wear brands?
In India, bespoke for women is very difficult to find. I mostly shop for suits when I am travelling abroad. The variety you get internationally, you don’t find here. Nonetheless, the few places where you get good outfits are Park Avenue Women, Allen Solly, Van Heusen.
How would you define a capsule workwear closet?
It consists a good pantsuit, nice dress with a jacket, as well as a great pair of shoes.
Tell us what are your travelling essentials when you go for client meetings?
It’s got to be a classic business suit and makeup. There’s the Elizabeth Arden mineral makeup that I cannot do without. I am very particular about certain details in styling.
What is an ideal first interview outfit is like?
Whatever you wear, make sure it is professional. No party wear or what you would sport when you’re off to fetch vegetables. Your outfit needs to be clean and well-ironed. Also, be comfortable in it, and ooze confidence.
It can get difficult for women to walk around in stilettos, which is a shoe style that complements power suits. How do they tackle this?
I think comfort is very important, and even on a personal level, I would not do something that I am not comfortable in. I don’t think you always need to sport pencil heels with a power suit. You can try block heels and rounded toe shoes. Also, closed shoes with a slingback is a great option. That said, it’s ideal to hold a bag big enough to carry spare shoes, and change from your flats to heels right before a meeting.
Can you give our readers some grooming tips for work?
Dress smartly and evolve your individual style. Also, cut the bling out as it’s not office wear. Always ensure you don’t wear to work what you would wear to a party or a wedding. Makeup for work only enhances the personality; the washed out look is not ok. Be particular about the shoes you wear as it’s an essential in grooming. If you stand in front of the mirror and feel like a million bucks, others will think the same.
Location Courtesy: The Mosaic, Andheri (E)