Humanity and humour are powerful tools

Nitasha Devasar

Nitasha Devasar, managing director of academic publishers Taylor & Francis India and South Asia (and whose book Publishers on Publishing: Inside India's Book Business is out now) describes her business journey and shares her best business advice.​


The thing I wish I knew in my early career that I know now is that one needs to ask for more. Specifically, more recognition and more salary.

There are two pieces of career advice that have really stuck in my mind, and they’re seemingly contradictory: “Be yourself” (now called ‘authenticity’), and “Calibrate your responses to the receptivity of your audience.” The first doesn’t always work – and the second took me years to figure out!

My top career tip is: say ‘Yes’ more often than no. Also, volunteer outside your immediate role, be open to change and build networks of influence. And, importantly, don’t give up or give in. There have been many challenges in my career and my life, and my key to overcoming them is the belief that only I can do so – and having the strength and persistence to carry through on that.

I like to celebrate the overcoming of challenges. It could be simple things like savouring the moment over a cup of nice coffee at my favourite café (caffeine and exercise give me the strength and determination to carry on) or adding to my ‘agony collection’ of jewellery or artworks to mark the moment forever. Family time and ‘me’ time also helps me stay grounded and focus on what matters most.

Communication and people skills are vital in my role. Also the ability to step out – and stay out – of one’s comfort zone. Business and financial acumen is important too, along with risk and change management skills and the ability to put individuals and teams before yourself. The characteristics and skills I look for when recruiting are attitude, aptitude and a mix of EQ and CQ (emotional and communication quotients).

Humanity and humour are powerful tools. In my view, a powerful communicator has an ability to connect and empathise. And communication is as much about listening as being heard. My one tip for getting people to listen to you is: listen to them. It always works. I build rapport with people in and outside my team by reaching out to them, encouraging them to talk about what matters to them and by trying to be as honest and open as I can in my responses to their questions. If you notice when and how people connect effectively, you can learn and hone your own skills.

To be an inclusive leader, you must ensure you have inclusive policies. Be vigilant and call out and encourage others in critical roles like HR to call out and change transgressions and mindsets. In my own company, the impact has been greater sensitivity and awareness at all levels, and significant steps taken towards building diversity in skills, approaches and culture in the organisation.

Networking is important. It provides circles of influence, helps to build lasting relationships, and creates opportunities for learning. I understood early that building relationships was vital to both joy and success in my career. And building credibility among peers in my industry both locally and globally would not have been possible without networking. In turn, it provided opportunities beyond the immediate scope of my work. Networking has supported me through the good times of course, but also during times of transition and change. And that support has come in unexpected ways and from varied sources. For those uncomfortable with networking, I say: hang in there: it gets better – and so do you!