Leading from the front: a diversity & inclusion podcast series

In the Robert Walters Group Workplace Inclusion podcast series we discuss key learnings and successes with the UK's leading businesses who are paving the way in diversity inclusion. 

We explore what structures, policies and frameworks they have governed and how it has accelerated their change in the workplace. 

From leadership to real-life case studies, we explore all angles of diversity in the workplace. 

In this episode Dominic Horne speaks with Deepa Shah. Deepa is a multiple award-winning CFO including 2020 Technology CFO of the year and 2018 CFO of the year at the Women in Finance Awards. Throughout her career Deepa has been actively involved in multiple initiatives that drive change for a more equal and diverse work place with a considerable amount of time spent helping women progress in their career.

Deepa reflects on her involvement as part of the Omniwomen committee, and then as Chair of VivaWomen! - an employee-led Gender Equality community whilst at Publicis. She also addresses the issue of the lack of representation for BAME talent in the Creative industry. 

graduates as an asset to your company

 

Deepa Shah
Chief Financial Officer
Founder of Lab Eight

graduates as an asset to your company

 

Dominic Horne
Manager
Robert Walters

Transcript

Dominic Horne:
Welcome to Leading from the Front - A Diversity and Inclusion podcast series by Robert Walters. Over the coming months, we're going to be speaking to a number of industry guests and discussing all things diversity & inclusion. I'm Dominic Horne, manager of the tech, media and telco team here at Robert Walters London and joining us today we have Deepa Shah. Deepa is a multiple award winning CFO, including the 2020 Technology CFO of the Year and 2018 CFO of the Year at the Woman in Finance Awards. Throughout her career Deepa has been actively involved in multiple industry initiatives that drive change for an equal & diverse workplace with a considerable amount of time spent helping women progress in their career. Welcome to the podcast Deepa.

Deepa Shah:
Hi Dom, thanks for having me.

Dominic Horne:
It’s alright, how are you?

Deepa Shah:
I'm good. Yeah.

Dominic Horne:
So jumping straight in then, where would you say that your passion for D&I stems from? Because it's obviously something that you've had throughout your career, and you've had some pretty influential positions within it, it is obviously something you care so deeply about, I was quite keen to see where that started and what's led you to where you are today?.

Deepa Shah:
For me, it started actually only four years ago in 2016 when I won my first Award, which was for the Asian women of achievement awards and I won the award in the business category. I guess, previous to that I hadn't really been aware of the awards or about women in business and not only that, but just ethnicity and careers and my industry in particular when it comes to, you know an ethnically diverse workforce and how underrepresented it was. I think that Award platform and all the things that I went through with it kind of opened up my eyes and gave me quite a big shock and then when I started digging into things like the IPA stats, I realized how bad it was and then I realized how bad things were from a gender perspective in my industry. So I think it kind of opened up this massive can of worms for me where I was like, Ah, OK. Before that, I was just in my own Bubble happy in my job, happy in the in the company. Because I felt I hadn't really experienced any of the things that clearly so many other people are. I had been incredibly fortunate in my career that I've worked with some great businesses that have chosen to support me to, you know, really pushed me to help me excel in my career. So yeah, 2016 was the starting point for me on that journey.

Dominic Horne:
Amazing. Do you think that it's still a little bit almost disheartening in a way that we're still having to talk about it and people are almost kind of surprised that it's still happening and almost maybe a little bit closed to the fact that it's still happening.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah, I mean it is disheartening, but I think we also have to remember that a lot of the work that is being put behind it hasn't been happening for that long. It's been a few years I think any sort of significant change will take time and you know D&I such a vast space, there's so many strands to it. I just think that it will take years for us to get to where we need to get to. But I think the positive is that we've all started and everybody is having the conversation and businesses are being challenged and having uncomfortable conversations, which I think is really important. But I do think any big change. You know, they are big changes to businesses and ways of working that I do think it will take time.

Dominic Horne:
I think so, yeah. I think you hit the nail on the head that I think people have to get used to having slightly more uncomfortable conversations that 10 15 20 years ago they just weren't being asked to have and weren't being asked to consider, you know, do we need more women on the board? or do we need a greater BAME representation? I think it's a tough first few steps for us, but I think it's much better that you know now it is very much at the forefront of people's agendas really. You've been involved, certainly in the last couple of years while you were at Omnicom, the Omniwomen committee, and then you actually chaired VivaWomen! as well over at Publicis. What was the main driving force behind them being founded? was it something that you were kind of part of did you see that it was already existing and stick your hand up, or was it something that you actually said come on guys, you know, we need to do something here.

Deepa Shah:
Well both committees, both inclusion sectors within those group they were fairly new so they’d only been around for a few years and I joined Omniwomen committee, I think when it was about three years in and VivaWomen! had been going for a couple of years and when I joined I decided to formalize it into a proper board rather than having a committee and that board was much smaller than the Committee. The board was men and women, and we had subcommittees for each different parts of Publicis. I guess for me, it was about creating a community for women both at Omnicom and in Publicis. Being able to network having that sense of community, making sure that people didn't feel they were on their own they want to talk to others who might be in the same boat as them about whatever was going on and I think it was also the benefit of sharing knowledge and through you know other women, through speakers that we had at events, through training sessions. It’s all about how to build confidence around having conversations, how to build confidence around building careers. It was all of that, but it was just the fact of being part of a network and feeling like you’re not by yourself was the most important thing I think out of all of them. We did some great things, you know, like I said, we held lots of events, we celebrating International Women's Day, we held training events, all sorts of things throughout both groups and they were always met with really positive feedback afterwards and the difference that we were making you could really tell. So definitely successful. I know that they continue to be successful to this day. I was actually on a Omniwomen panel on Thursday which was quite nice. They're all they're both still going strong.

Dominic Horne:
Great. You mentioned there was both men and women involved in it. How important do you think that we have a conjoined effort from companies and from both men and women to A) admit the fact that there has been a gender imbalance and to B) try and really push through this change that we're all hoping to see?

Deepa Shah:
I think it's really important, you know, it goes back to the point around having allies. You need allies, if you have a women's only board, and this is this is where my thinking really changed when I went to Publicis. Right, we’re going to have a women's only board. But then, isn't that making it divisive already. Actually what we're trying to do is promote inclusivity. So actually what I would like to do is have some male champions on that board who are going to help us promote the gender diversity issue across the whole of the group. How do we make it better? We need their input. You know, we need to understand what the challenges are, what the barriers are and actually how we can overcome them together. So that's, that's why I decided to go a bit off-piste and actually it was actually so successful that they kept it going, one of the co-chairs as I was leaving one of the co-chairs is a male.  

Dominic Horne:
I think it's so important to have that as an educational piece because I think that probably a lot of people out there that almost, not necessarily have their head in the sand, but just don't know that it's going on and I think, if they can attend meetings and attend seminars and events on these things that actually they know what to look for in a certain situation or actually might understand how one of their female colleagues might like to be treated slightly differently, for example, they’ve never felt strong enough to stand up and now feels kind of empowered to do that.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah, exactly. It is that it is understanding. It's the understanding why certain things are happening. It's understanding how women are feeling In the workplace. It's all those things. And it's the sharing of the knowledge I think is really important, but just making it feel like it's not just a female issue or a women's issue, it’s a shared issue that we're trying to make positive changes for.

Dominic Horne:
I think so. With creating these networks and setting it up into the driving this change, where do you think responsibility lies? is it more at top board level? is it kind of people who are down in the trenches living and breathing it every day? You know, what's your thoughts on that?

Deepa Shah:
I think to drive it, it has to be done throughout the entire organization. I do believe that if the senior leadership of the organization is not living and breathing it and leading, it makes it incredibly hard for the rest of the business to believe in it. I do think there needs to be some responsibility at the top. Then it's a culture throughout the whole business. That's my view on it and i've seen businesses where it isn't being driven from the top and then it kind of falls down and it's leaving everyone else a bit confused. So yeah, I think that leadership do have to take responsibility for it to an extent.

Dominic Horne:
Definitely. Yeah, I agree on that, I think they have to set the tone but then it probably has to be picked up by the rest of the staff to sort of run with, I guess. Obviously we've spoken quite a bit around sort of gender equality and supporting women into senior roles and pushing themselves forward. I think another massive issue is the total lack of representation of BAME talent within the industry. That’s obviously something you're clearly, clearly passionate about. Have you seen much change in this area? Is it behind where the women's equality is coming along?

Deepa Shah:
You know, it's still a problem through the industry that I work in. The representation stats are not getting any better and I think it's to do with bringing people in and retaining them, nurturing them. So it's not improving unfortunately, I'm not seeing any real change, it's a real shame. I'm hearing things across the industry where people are being brought in hires but then are seen as a bit of a token hire and that’s my view. I'm sure other people might think differently, but my view is  there's still a huge challenge around recruiting people from black Asian ethnic minority backgrounds. Where they're coming from, retaining them, bringing them in, not making them feel like they’re a token hire. I think there's a huge piece of work to be done around that and how do we get better at it, you know, how do we bring people in? How do we get to them? How do we get them in senior roles?

Dominic Horne:
Probably a case of trying to bring them in at all levels, really, so that it's normality as opposed to a oh look we've just hired somebody because we needed to.

Deepa Shah:
I think a lot of the work needs to be done at school level as well. I think when i've been to sixth form schools to talk about careers and things they don't even know, 16 to 18 year olds don't even know the opportunities available in the creative services industry. I think maybe that's where we need to start targeting now so that they know what opportunities are available to them once they finish uni or leave school. I don't think we're doing that or doing enough of that. I think it starts from there and maybe even younger than that, maybe from like 11 to 15 or 16 year olds, we need start going to schools and talking about the opportunities available, the careers available. I just don't think that's happening. And I think that's part of the problem.

Dominic Horne:
Perhaps even almost setting up some kind of work experience maybe purely focusing on possibly BAME students upping the number of applicants that you might see at the agency level.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah, exactly. Unfortunately, it remains a challenge, and I'll be delighted once the stats have gone up again. I don't know how, I really don't know how long it's going to take.

Dominic Horne:
Do you think, have there been any kind of major challenges that you've certainly seen with businesses, trying to implement these D&I initiatives so that they can create an awareness of this within companies so that then hopefully further down the line they will look at, perhaps, you know what, we're just talking about there, the kind of under representation of BAME and think hang on a minute, we really need to take a proper look at this. We really need to invest some time and some money into this.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah, I think there's two things. I think one is around investment and it's always felt a bit like it’s a bit of a discretionary spend and not something that's absolutely needed, not a critical business spend or expense. The other piece, I think, is around the whole D&I strategy, the program, sometimes what happens is that they bring in D&I Chief D&I officers or have a nice team, but then really kind of leave it up to that team to lead everything and it feels like it's their responsibility only, but it's not. So I think that that's another challenge area. Investments a big one and sometimes businesses don't have the investment available or are not willing to put the investment into D&I initiatives. Because it does cost money to do things. Recruitment costs money to do, training costs money, all these things, but they're so important so I guess it's about how do they create budgets, how do they create pots of money that they can put the investment in to help them longer term. But that's an area that I've seen that has been a challenge, and particularly in areas that I've worked with as well.

Dominic Horne:
I think businesses might be more so thinking about they've made that sort of hire that's fine you know that's a box ticked for us that we've got somebody who's looking at D&I which will automatically fix everything. But actually, I think it's something that takes years and years for business to truly be able to come together, get a handle on.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah, it's not going to happen overnight. I honestly believe it is a journey and it's going to take years. We’re talking about the fact that businesses are taking it seriously. But I think it's about how seriously, you know, put your money where your mouth is sort of thing. And other things like you could have a D&I policy great, but when you walk into your business, if I'm walking around and I'm not seeing people like me or whatever your policy is saying, then your policies ineffective. It doesn't meet mean anything. A friend of mine says if you can't see it you can't be it and I completely agree with that. I think the policies have to reflect the actual culture, for living and breathing in that. I think that's important for recruitment as well, you know candidates are going to want to see how diverse your business is when they get there.

Dominic Horne:
They probably also want to feel like you know being hired, not for a tick box exercise but on merit. I think you touched on a point there, if you can see it, you are it and I think that actually if you walk in and you see a 100% white male environment, you might feel a little bit nervous about joining said environment.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah. I think the question if you ask them for a D&I policy and then you're like, well, hang on a minute this doesn’t reflect the reality.

Dominic Horne:
It is more than just a bit of paper, I think.

Deepa Shah:
Exactly. Sure.

Dominic Horne:
So if you've got a business that kind of comes to you and you know wants to set up a initiative, a network, be it for BAME or D&I or for kind of everything. What are your three main tips to them?

Deepa Shah:
Firstly I'm by no means in the professional space of D&I. There are companies that can help with this. I’m only going by my own experience and what I've seen, and obviously I'm passionate about it. So I'm speaking from my experience, my point of view. What I would say to businesses is identify which areas are the biggest issues in your in your business because diversity & inclusion is such a big topic. So immediately. What are your priorities? is it around gender balance, is it around ethnic minorities? is it disabilities? And think about that. Then what I'd say is have a clear strategy and an investment strategy around it. Think about how much you want to invest or how much you can afford to invest in it. You might not be able to do everything all in one go, so I think it's important to have that plan. Then thirdly, what I would say is that, I think I've said it a few minutes ago in that if you have an internal D&I team, that team is not solely responsible for your D&I. Okay. They'll help build plans, they'll help think about initiatives, they'll pull training sessions together, but the responsibility lies throughout the whole business and it can't just be dumped on one D&I officer and a team of people that are trying to champion it. That's not how it works. That's my advice. I think, you know, it's the responsibility of everybody and everybody needs to care about it.

Dominic Horne:
I think so, yeah, again this comes back to what we were saying at the start that it has to be a cultural shift throughout the entire business and can't just be one person.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah, exactly.

Dominic Horne:
What would your advice be to hiring managers who are listening to this, who are trying to build a more inclusive team. How can they go about that?

Deepa Shah:
Well inclusivity is about being included. So I think it's about as you're building the team think about how each individual is contributing. Think about the talent that you'd like in the team. What's missing? What areas of experience are missing? That's the whole point, to build a diverse team it's about the different experiences, different skills that are coming into that team. So think about that then think about how each person is contributing. One of the things about inclusivity, particularly right now where we're pretty much working remotely. Is how do you make everybody feel like their voices are heard? The ones that are super quiet, the ones that are a bit introverted. How do you bring them in. It is about creating collaboration, creating a more collaborative team. So, have a think about how is your team operating now and actually if it was truly collaborative how would it operate and what are you missing? Are you making sure that everybody's being heard and is there talent that's missing that you think actually the next hire could look like this. So there's lots of questions I would ask.

Dominic Horne:
Definitely. Okay. Then I guess if you sort of build on that, if you're interviewing at a business how would you advise somebody to find out if they've got the inclusive and diverse culture that you want to join?

Deepa Shah:
There’s obviously going to be some hires that don't care but for the hires that do I would suggest asking for company stats if they're available around whatever it is that you know that you're concerned about most. Is it gender? Is it black Asian ethnic minority representation? Ask to see their policy as well if they'll share that with you. Ask in terms of the stats, what percentage of each staff level does that make it up to, do they have a black person on their senior leadership team? Do they have women on their board? I All those things I would ask for and also ask what D&I initiatives they have in place and are actually actively driving. Those are some of the sorts of questions that I'd ask. Do they measure gender pay gap?

Dominic Horne:
Yeah, definitely.

Deepa Shah:
Be curious. I mean, the other thing you can do, which it can be a bit hit and miss is looking at things like Glassdoor reviews of the company. Because there's, I mean some of them you have to take with a pinch of salt but I think it does give you a good view of the business broadly as well. So just do a bit of homework and ask the right questions about things that would concern you most.

Dominic Horne:
Yeah, I think so. I think it's something that hopefully as time goes on businesses will be more and more forthcoming with information. Hopefully there'll be things in place where they have to record it at all levels and disclose them.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah, another question is asking the company if they've actually had any challenges around diversity and inclusion, if they've had challenges recruiting. They might be honest with you, they might not. But it's a good questions to ask, what the challenges are that they have around diversity.

Dominic Horne:
Yeah, definitely. I think it's all part of what we started the conversation with is that everyone now knows or hopefully, the vast majority people know that this is a thing, it's a problem. It's not going to go away, you have to kind of stand up and face it, and address it. I think the more people that do stand up and face it and talk about it, the better it will hopefully get in time.

Deepa Shah:
And it not just being a tick box exercise. I think there's a lot of companies still out there unfortunately, that still don't think it affects them or it's their problem. And actually don't know how it affects them, but the businesses that are truly driving diversity and inclusion are doing so well and are really thriving. I think that we are seeing that happen. I think if you're not doing it. If you're not promoting it. If you're not actively driving it through your culture. I think you're going to struggle in the future, right now things might be okay. But going forward it's going to be incredibly difficult for you to remain competitive. So, I think it's only a good thing.

Dominic Horne:
So do I. I think it's one of those as soon as businesses, sadly associate it with profitability and making more money and being better than the competition. I think they’ll leap on it. It's a shame that it has to be that way, but I think it's something that actually if it means that we end up with a better society and a better way of working and a diverse and inclusive culture, then I think it's ultimately a good thing.

Deepa Shah:
Yeah, and hopefully one day, you know, it's definitely not in my lifetime, but one day we won't need to use the word diversity and inclusion, because it would just be one holistic culture of people from different backgrounds. I think that's ultimately what we're trying to get. How long it's going to take, I mean, who knows. But I know so many of us are on a mission to drive that change and I'm certainly going to do my best to do as much of it as I can.

Dominic Horne:
It's a bit of a snowball effect. I think as soon as people are a little bit more aware of it. More and more, they'll have a conversation with a few of their friends have a conversation with a few of their friends and it just becomes more and more built in to topics of conversations that we're having. I think from that it will then hopefully drive the change that we all really want to see. I just wanted to wrap up and say thank you so much for your time. It's definitely been a pleasure to speak to you and very, very insightful.

Deepa Shah:
Thanks so much for having me. It's been a lot of fun talking to you today. My pleasure.

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