This month, we are featuring Senior Director of Digital Messaging Erin Kelsh and Sales Enablement Lead Anuradha Manna for their work with WiL – and more specifically with the Pinkishe Foundation partnership. This foundation began with the dream of 16-year-old Khyati Gupta, and its community has grown to more than 200,000. Pinkishe is an NGO working toward menstrual hygiene management, menstrual literacy, widespread availability of sanitary pads, and other areas of women empowerment in India. The subject is still taboo in many areas of the region, causing problems and limitations in the lives of women.
First up, we talk to Erin about her work, what inspires her, how she became involved in DEI initiatives, and more.
I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is probably why I love old things, history, and true crime (because it’s an old, haunted type town). The majority of my family now lives in Charlottesville, VA. I have lived in Littleton, CO, for the past 6 years and absolutely love it!
I actually started out in sports/music marketing and worked for a company that managed venues all over North America. I was the Director of Marketing at our venue in Florida (Florida State University) when I decided I wanted to finally live out my dream of moving to Colorado. My past company had venues in Colorado; however, I chose to move into the agency world and try something new. I originally applied and interviewed for a role at Merkle that I did not get. But I kept in touch with the team, and 6 months later accepted a position in Digital Messaging, based out of the Denver office.
I learn every day and enjoy challenging myself to evolve. If we aren’t learning, we aren’t growing. My biggest teaching moment early in my career was learning to trust my gut. We all know that feeling, and even worse, we know the regret we often feel when we ignore it. I’ve learned through the years to trust this instinct more than anything else – at work and in life.
There are so many moments; however, the one most relevant is when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I grew up with multiple learning disabilities including a speech impediment and a reading disorder. My dyslexia still impacts me daily, but I’ve managed to mostly work with my speech impediment (although it creeps up sometimes😊). I never felt smart enough, even though I was; I just had to take extra steps to prove it to everyone else. I always felt like I knew the answers, but I was unable to articulate them. I was labeled with the state of Virginia, which placed me in a special education program. I worked with a specialist before and after school all through elementary school, but in middle school, I struggled with being labeled, with the educational format, and more specifically with the bullying.
I made a decision to test out of the label with the state before entering high school, which I worked toward for 12 months, mainly by reading the most challenging books I could find, over and over again. Testing out meant not receiving privileges or assistance, which was a risk for my grades in high school. I traveled to the state capital and finally tested out at the end of eighth grade. I then went on to fail multiple classes in high school, resulting in summer school every year and a 2.7 graduating GPA. I struggled to get into a college but eventually was accepted at Radford University in Virginia. Radford took a chance on me, and I knew not to waste that opportunity. I excelled in college, graduating with honors and a 3.8 GPA.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change this part of who I am for anything. It has shaped me in so many ways but mainly in my sense of pride for hard work and ambition. I will find any way to get something done. I learned that you can overcome any challenge and fight for what you know is important to you, regardless of how many roadblocks occur.
The biggest thing that inspires me about my workplace culture is the people and how we support and champion good people. We all individually take part in creating the place we want to work and spend so much of our time. An inspiring workplace culture combines fun, collaboration, celebration of accomplishments, and diversity. In Denver, a good beer fridge also goes a long way!
7-year-old me would say a whale trainer at SeaWorld. Another dream for me would be to continuing to work with women and diverse groups worldwide.
I originally got involved in the Denver office WiL program when I started in at the company in 2016. In 2018, when the Merkle DEI council was formed, I wanted to get involved and help anywhere it was needed. I learned so much from the WiL chapter in Denver and events hosted across other offices. In 2019, I had the opportunity to go to Pune, India to meet and train our Digital Messaging extended team. While there, I wanted to learn more about the culture and women in that office, so I hosted a women-only meeting on a whim. About 12 women in the office attended that meeting, which formed into the WiL Pune Chapter. Thanks to the original local leads Anuradha Manna, Saloni Kwatra, Priyanka Kunjeer, and Anusha Sharma, that group is now close to 500 women!
This is a recent partnership that Anuradha Manna organized for a WiL event this past August. I was traveling back to Pune for Digital Messaging meetings and to reconnect with the WiL Pune Chapter. We decided to use this opportunity to volunteer at a local school. I had heard in the past that periods in India were a taboo topic (mainly from the documentary on Netflix: Period. End of Sentence.). However, I never knew how this one topic impacted generations of young girls and women and how that impact results in an ongoing suppression of women at school and in the workplace.
At our event, we met with Pinkishe at a local Pune school for young girls to educate them on periods and reproductive hygiene, and to pass out reusable pads. Pinkishe’s mission is “To end period poverty by channeling the civic society's efforts towards advocating, mounting campaigns, creating open conversations, ensuring menstrual literacy, and helping make sustainable and environmentally friendly menstrual products accessible and affordable.” This event is only the beginning of the Merkle-dentsu partnership with Pinkishe!
At the end of the event with the girls and Pinkishe, we asked a very simple question; "What do you want to be when you grow up?" All of their hands immediately went up. They each had goals of being doctors, teachers, police officers, working for the government, etc. These young girls aren’t thinking about dropping out, or at least not yet. These events, and the incredible work the Pinkishe Foundation does, provide the education they need to never have to consider it. If you can change one taboo in your mind, even in the smallest way, you can start a ripple effect in yourself and others.
23 million girls drop out of school annually due to a lack of proper menstrual hygiene facilities, low availability of sanitary pads, and poor education about menstruation. Menstruation remains an undiscussed subject in many communities. Families, friends, teachers, etc. do not speak of periods. Some are never told about what a period is until they find themselves bleeding for the first time. This leads to social exclusion and cultural taboos of what happens when a girl is on her period. Examples include: not being allowed to shower or bathe, not being allowed in the kitchen or temple, not being allowed to sit on furniture in the home, and in some cases having to sleep outside of the home for days.
Pinkishe’s education and awareness programming is vital to spreading the word about the false narratives around menstruation. They focus on education for teachers and live presentations in schools to inform young girls and boost their confidence about their bodies. They also provide reusable pads which become one of the best ways for young girls to maintain the flow of their periods while being at school. Seventy percent of women in India still use old rags, since sanitary options are not widely available.