With over 27 years of rich and diverse experience in public relations and communications, Deepshikha Dharmaraj is one of the most respected leaders in the industry in India. As the Chief Executive Officer of Genesis BCW, she oversees the organization and implements its growth strategy. She is also a member of the BCW India Board.
A firm believer in conceptualizing measurable and impactful campaigns, she champions creativity and measurement across the organization. People-centricity has always been at the heart of the diverse roles she has taken on at Genesis BCW. Before taking on the role of Chief Executive Officer at Genesis, Deepshikha served as the Managing Director, Chief Business Growth Officer, Chief Talent Officer as well as Head of learning and development at the organisation.
An active leader in India’s public relations industry initiatives, Deepshikha is a founding board member of the India chapter of the Global Women in Public Relations (GWPR). She also served as President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI) in 2008. She has been a jury member for numerous prestigious award shows, most recently for Cannes PR Lions 2019, SABRE South Asia Awards 2019 and Campaign PR Awards India 2019.
Deepshikha holds a master’s degree in business economics from Delhi University and is a firm believer in nurturing new talent.
In this exclusive interview with People Matters, Deepshikha talks about hybrid working being a permanent shift that employers world over are accepting, the biggest challenges prolonging sustainable DEI and the three areas CEOs need HR to put the most effort into.
Here are highlights from the interview.
What are your key learnings as a CEO from 2021?
We began 2021 with a lot of optimism, with the vaccine just out and recovery on the horizon. However, as we all know, the second wave hit a devastating blow on that. For a couple of months, work almost came to a halt and as a CEO, not only was I worried for our business and our clients, I was also extremely worried for the well-being of our people. But our people bounced back stronger, giving it their all, to affect a recovery that we had only hoped for. This entire experience taught me a few lessons.
First, that people are more resilient than we give them credit for. After almost two years of relentless challenges, I am amazed at the commitment and enthusiasm many people continue to bring to their work every day.
Second, that if you prioritise your people, the business can take care of itself. As I mentioned, there was very little work happening in the two months of the second wave. During that time, we had also reached out to our clients and asked them to only focus on critical work so that our people would have time to cope and recuperate. When things got back on track, our teams were raring to get to work and appreciative of the support they received.
Third, that collaboration is the key to growth. Whether it was through the 24/7 COVID Emergency Support Team that we created in April to help our people, or in the way that everyone has been stepping up to help cover each other’s resource gaps.
And four, that nothing is possible unless you have a growth mindset. In this mindset, you are curious, creative, looking ahead and solving instead of dwelling on challenges.
What key workplace shifts shaped 2021 for Genesis BCW? Which of these shifts do you think leaders are yet to truly embrace?
The biggest one, of course, is towards hybrid work. If 2020 was about work from home, 2021 was about hybrid. In the second half of the year, most employees were looking to come back to office, but there are ground realities, like the fear of new variants, elder and child care and so on, that have necessitated hybrid work.
I feel this is a permanent shift that employers world over are accepting.
The other big, and related, shift is towards digital transformation. Many roles that have traditionally not been digital have also had to adapt. This is where a lot of leaders have some work to do. The key to successful digital transformation is not just taking a task and putting it on a virtual meeting platform. It is about using digital platforms to create new and more efficient ways of doing something. For instance, take learning and development. In the beginning, it was just about taking a regular training and putting it on Teams or Zoom. But later, we evolved to do virtual trainings with more interactivity and participation.
Among the many elements of talent strategy that drew global attention this year, one key element was DEI. How has the spotlight on DEI influenced the cultural ecosystem within Genesis BCW?
For us, DEI is not a new concept. It may not have been named as such, but our culture has always been open and our people know that they can bring their authentic self to work. From gender to sexual orientation, family and home situation to socio-economic backgrounds, our policies have always been organic and adaptive to changing situations. In the last couple of years, we have also adapted to the realities of everyone’s home situations—from parents with infants and small children to elder care givers, from single people living alone to those living in joint families, from metro cities to small towns and even tiny hamlets. We also had the highest number of people on maternity leave in the last seven years. The point is that for us, inclusivity is a part of life.
What are some of the biggest challenges prolonging sustainable DEI? How can organisations overcome these?
Organisations are made of people, and people live in the society. They carry their perceptions everywhere, including the workplace.
One of the biggest challenges to sustainable DEI is inter-personal prejudices. It is not enough to have inclusive policies. You also need to create an inclusive environment.
The number one barrier to that is lack of awareness of the ‘other’ point of view. That is where real impact is needed. Organisations must look at building awareness to break barriers of stereotypes and prejudice.
With the waves of 'Great Resignation' looming over employers, how is talent retention evolving?
The pandemic has obviously led to a big change in how people look at their lives and what they want to achieve. This is a global phenomenon, and just as with everything else, this too will settle down. As I mentioned before, you have to foster a growth mindset among your people. Growth doesn’t happen by staying still. It happens when you take on challenges. When people leave, there are also greater opportunities to grow people from within and for expanded roles.
In enabling a hybrid workforce, what digital essentials came to the fore in 2021? How crucial are these in light of the delayed return to the workplace following the spread of the new variant?
Whether we return today or six months later, there are some digital shifts that have happened for good. We are far more agile in collaborating in different environments.
For us, specifically, the media becoming more digital is also a significant shift. That’s changed the skills we require, since earlier, we would look for people who could engage with the media through media rounds, etc. Plus, it has changed how people consume the news. So for us, one big stakeholder has changed significantly. Influencers and how to work with them is also an area relevant for us, and a lot has happened there as well.
However, engaging virtual and physical equally is a skill that we are all still learning. We will get better at it when there are more opportunities for putting this into practice.
What do CEOs need most from the HR function in 2022? As a leader, what are you most looking forward to in the next year?
The year 2022 will be very critical from a people point of view for every organisation. With recovery in mind, but the world continuing to be pulled in different directions by COVID, climate change and many other pivotal issues, organisations need to rally their people more effectively than ever before.
Guided by that, there are three areas CEOs need HR to put the most effort into—hiring, engagement and development.
In hiring, they need to take a new look at the job profiles and evolve them into more relevant and interesting profiles to incorporate new realities, like shift to digital. For instance, traditional public relations jobs are evolving into integrated communications roles. Hiring also needs to be more nimble and creative.
In terms of engagement, HR needs to figure out ways to normalize hybrid ways of bringing people together. This will continue to be our new reality, so we need to equally engage people who are continuing to work from home as well as those who have returned to office. Also, given the fraught environment we live in, DEI needs to continue being a focus area.
Training too needs to get more engaging. We need to develop people to be better equipped to grow in the new environment. For instance, better digital dexterity even in traditionally non-digital roles.