Women in Leadership Interview, in association with IWD 2018
Deepa Shah, CFO for Europe & Singapore at Hall & Partners
Deepa is Chief Financial Officer for Europe & Singapore at Hall & Partners (a subsidiary of Omnicom Group Inc.). This wasn’t where she expected her career to go when she joined them in 1999 as an Office Junior, a role she thought she would “give six months”.
Deepa surprised herself a few months into life with Hall & Partners, with how passionate she became about the business and her job. She attributes her career success to always putting her hand up, always asking to take on more, being ambitious and working hard.
But she feels she has had some luck along the way too. Her first boss, former Global CFO, was a great mentor and personal champion. He helped Deepa to understand the nature of business, to be fair, kind, assertive but diplomatic, professional…but most importantly, how business was really all about relationships. “Build good ones [relationships] and people will want to work with you”.
On Mentors and Mentoring
So Deepa had a great first mentor. Fast forward a few yearsand now has several people she calls upon as mentors; different people she can go to for different things. She thinks it’s really important to have these people in your life. “Finding a mentor should be a natural, organic thing…someone you’ve connected with, met at a networking event, feel you can learn from. Seek them out”.
Deepa now mentors others in a number of settings; externally with young people in business; in her role as an ambassador for theWomen of the Future foundation; and internally within Hall & Partners.
So what inspired Deepa to get involved in mentoring?
In 2015/16, she was nominated in the ‘Business’ category for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards. Going through that process opened her eyes to the amazing potential of underrepresented talent, and the issues that so many people had experienced in their careers, which she hadn’t. She was honoured and surprised when she won the award, and found herself passionately inspired and motivated to use it for good. She got in touch with the Head of Diversity at the IPA to understand what the issues in her industry were and how she could help to tackle them. She engaged with the D&I team at Omnicom to understand the issues around recruiting and retaining BAME talent within the marketing services sector and she joined the Omniwomen Committee to get involved with promoting tomorrow’s future female leaders.
She’d heard the narrative around the need for role models but until this time, hadn’t really appreciated just how true it was. “It’s rare to find senior female leaders within finance; but it’s even rarer to find senior Asian females within financial leadership”.
Deepa feels lucky to have had mentors in her career that have pushed her to take steps and progress that she may not have felt ready for, but more importantly, feels very strongly that she wants to give this back. Show people there is a place for them at the table, further up the ladder.
When she looked into the stats around BAME representation within the communications sector, she realised it was very poor. While they attracted a diverse talent pool at the entry / junior level, they don’t retain this talent into middle management and beyond. “The role models don’t exist; people can’t see where their face will fit in the future. And it’s up to management and leaders of businesses to nurture this talent”.
So, as we can see, it isn’t just female inclusion that Deepa is passionate about, but inclusion across the board.
“In the absence of abundant female and BAME role models at senior level within our sector, through mentoring, you can push people up, show them how and where there will be a spot for them”, providing that help and guidance which she so valued when coming through herself.
If you are considering becoming a mentor, one thing she can guarantee is that during the process, you will learn a lot about yourself. Helping and guiding someone in their personal and professional life is incredibly rewarding and it’s really only sharing your experience, to help someone see the opportunities available to them.
Advice to a younger self?
“Confidence is such a big issue, for me and many others. Trust in your journey”. Deepa is a great believer in things happening for a reason. “Trust in the direction you are going. If I had really trusted in my journey, it would have help immensely with my confidence”.
Deepa feels passionately that mentorship is more important than ever, particularly among school aged children. It’s not only about career advice, as we will all recall not knowing what to do and what opportunities even exist out there. But with the growth in social media, it’s about coaching people in “how to engage in the real world and understand what’s real, what’s achievable”.
On Diversity & Inclusion
Deepa is passionate about truly building a diverse team, but also really understanding the benefits and seeing the value in doing so; not doing it as a box ticking exercise.
On box ticking, we shared our experience on the other side of the recruitment fence with many clients devoting a great deal of time in the pitch process to challenging the recruitment supply chain on matters of diversity and inclusion, which in 99% of cases, is never followed up.
She feels the marketing services sector needs to recruit more broadly, and recruit from different places, backgrounds and experiences. “ “Businesses need to think about how a diverse talent pool can enrich the work that we do, making it more innovative, and ultimately offering better strategic solutions to our clients.”
You can read more about Deepa’s thoughts on diversity and inclusion here:
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