Ep. 91: Deepika Chawla - Women in Finance

October 08, 2020 | 21 Minutes

Deepika Chawla, VP Finance in a Fortune 500 company in India, joins Count Me In to talk with Rouba Zeidan about how she has built a successful career in the finance sector over the past two decades in India. A well-known professional in the industry, Deepika shares her journey to the top and discusses the various challenges women face in the accounting and finance field in India. Download and listen now to hear her inspiring and successful journey!

Deepika Chawla is a business woman, presently serving as Vice President of a Fortune 100 company. With 27+ years of rich and diverse work experience in Financial Shared Services and Banking Industry, Deepika believes She believes “Your legacy is in the leaders you create and the knowledge you share”. She is a Qualified Chartered Accountant who is extremely passionate about supporting women and the community she serves. Deepika has won various recognitions for promoting Diversity in the workplace & society.  She has been named as one of the 25 most inspiring women in the Coffee Book ‘Big Dreams Bigger Achievement’s and has also been decorated with the Champion Award from ‘We Are The City, Organization in collaboration with EY, for her passion, resilience and tenacity in supporting diversity. She is actively involved in mentoring youth / next generation leaders across organizations & colleges and has attended a number of events at various universities and colleges as a speaker and panelist. A TEDx speaker, Deepika supports multiple NGO’s of Cancer, Education & Thalassemia and is also on the advisory board of two of them. A mother of two children - boy 24 and girl 20 - she recently celebrated 27 years of marriage.
Contact Deepika Chawla: https://www.linkedin.com/in/deepika-chawla-181a319/

Adam: (00:00)
 Welcome to episode 90. One of Count Me In, IMA's a podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson, and I'm here to introduce you to our next featured guest Deepika Chawla. Deepika is a senior finance professional and qualified chartered accountant in India. She currently serves as the vice president of a fortune 100 company and has over 27 years of diverse work experience in financial services and the banking industry. In this episode, she speaks with my cohost Rouba Zeidan about her journey to the top, and the challenges she and other women face in the finance industry to hear Deepika’s, perspective on how women can make the most out of their careers and finance, keep listening as we head over to the conversation now.

Rouba: (00:55)
So good afternoon, Deepika, thank you so much for joining us.

Deepika: (01:01)
Hi Rouba, thank you so much for having me here to talk something, which I am so passionate about.

Rouba: (01:09)
Same here. I'm looking forward to your thoughts and your experience. So, women in Asia occupied just 1.1% of CEO and CFO positions and country held positions, according to a 2012 capitalist study, why do you think that is?

Deepika: (01:29)
Yeah, good question, and really close to a lot of women's heart. So, most of the people feel that women spend more time performing unpaid work in childcare and housework and may not be able to handle a senior position. Remember they feel that they may not be able to handle this a senior position. Not to shatter the unconscious bias that assumes women should be the sole caregiver or associated with housework organizations should really create a safe and inclusive workplace where men feel comfortable being with [inaudible] and do duties and household activities, giving both men and women an equal opportunity to look at their by supporting each other. Now, really from that perspective, it is so very important that that comfort should be there to the women that they can go and work or, you know, they could be CEOs and CFOs because somebody else can do the caregiver job. Now, secondly, as you go higher women themselves have self-doubts and this will come into our conversation very often because whether they can do the job or not, and they hold back because that is very, very important. They have this self-doubt. Should I be perfect before I applied to a job? While men, at the same time even if they are at a 60% at that job, they convince you that they're the right candidate. And thirdly, and lastly, in my mind, you know, unless the top leadership does not drive the message, this may still go on as these numbers, only what you shared with me. Whichever news you're hearing today, whether it is Uber, Fidelity, lots of companies or, you know, otherwise senior women positions are coming up. When you open the LinkedIn these days, you would see one announcement or the other coming. Now that's primarily because the top, you know, the top leadership approach is to focus on the, the women candidate on the CEO positions. So, I think that's really important. And in my early career, I have seen women having children and taking promotions in the same year. So, you need both the women and the company, and of course the men to believe in that they can do it. So really that is what I think.

Rouba: (04:07)
Makes a lot of sense, actually. I mean, that's, that was a, I'm going to ask you a bit more about your personal experience as a seasoned professional who's been at the forefront of your sector throughout your career. How do you find the industry has changed over the last 20 years? And what are some of the plus points that you've noticed, which mark positive elements of change, evolution and progress.

Deepika: (04:34)
Yeah. Good question, you know, because, let me share because it's important to let people know, and they say, you know, women shouldn't share the age and I always feel very proud of sharing that. So 27 years back Rouba, I'm 51 now this year, but 27 years back when I completed my chartered accountancy, I was really one of those few women who was trying to enter the finance field and not to an MBA, but see basically like a CPA from US, right, or a CA in India. And when I went on to do my first job, I landed up in a different city from my hometown, and trust me, I went through interviews where they actually called me to say, we don't hire women, and I was in shock.  Big, big financial companies. And, I had just completed my CA. I was one 22 and a half years old, and I was in shock. I thought I was like super. And it had really hit me hard, but really, I'm not going to get a job up to doing such a qualification. And from there to where now the plus points, which I noticed to the journey, which I had, and now where we see, we are creating flexible and adaptive operating models, right? We, as companies, we are actually saying focus on diversity. In India, diversity primarily is gender that, right? And then you go on to other things, but primarily first you're looking at women because that itself is a small number. And today we actually have our own focus, making sure that you have equal number of CVs on the table so that you give an equal opportunity to them, right? You ensure that at least they get a proportion to be interviewed, and then you keep tracking till the end to see how many people were hired and was there, you know, some biasness of making, you know, not having always  men into the positions. So that's the second piece. The first one was creating flexible and adaptive operating models that, which never existed that today you would have a daycare center in a lot of cities, right? Under the place of work, where you can think in nuclear families that I can leave my child and pick it up. Virtual has become a very big reality. This is a good opportunity also that I can work, and I can take care of also.  Third is really drawing on nontraditional resources and partnerships. Where I really want to bring the focus on that, you know, we never used to look at secondary means where we want to get women back, but a lot of finance companies are looking at women coming back, from there, after childbirth, or if they have taken a break for getting married at or whatever. It is promoted, it is really well accepted. Adopting a growth and innovation mindset. Which is from the company's mindset, also a woman's mindset, also, a man's mindset. That, you know, innovation or any kind of growth is not limited to a gender. Innovation comes from a creative mind and women do have creative minds. How do we make sure we get them on the table? So, you know, that's something which is really, really, changing over the time and the way the companies are focusing, which never happened at that time. If you went for an interview, or even after I joined, you know, HDFC bank, one of the biggest private banks, I was the first woman hired in that branch. And I had to make sure by the end of it, I really felt that we need to have more women here. We can do this job great. And by the time I left that branch in two years, we had hired some seven more women. I didn't even know I was supporting diversity. I just knew that people needed a portrait because there was no topic of diversity at that age, right. I'm talking about 25 years back.

Rouba: (09:15)
Well what do you think triggers this kind of gender discrimination and inequality? For example, in the finance sector, something that you've experienced personally, what is the trigger for it? Where did it come from?

Deepika: (09:30)
Sure, I think it does come from the fact,-one is of course, I think a big one is from the kind of stereotyping which we did or the culture we were born or brought up in, it is very big one. So, from the beginning, we tell the daughters that, you know, these are numbers are not, you know, this is not stuff for you. Why don't you take something simpler? When I wanted to do chartered accountancy, my grandmother was more concerned, Will I pass the exam, and if I don't pass the exam, who will marry me. She was not concerned if failed, she was more concerned how like it married. So I think it's the culture, you know, the way we distinguish between that, we want to give softer things to the women or the men, or from the fact of the way the children saw how the parents were. Today, when my children are growing up, my son's 25 and my daughter's 21, they've always seen their mother working. I'm a little doubtful if my son would not understand how to support his wife when she's working, because he seen it in his house. It's very important for me to train my son better than my daughter, because he'll not be happy, Rouba, I'm very clear. Because women are finding their space. But that's one piece. It's the society, the culture, I think the second piece is the organizations don't create, equal opportunities, you know, While many leading financial services have created, you know, active steps to promote gender diversity. This behavior has to become a norm throughout the industry. For example, I can give you a very good example of Fidelity, I was reading. That in the United States has found that women want to totally understand what the company's products mean for them, as opposed to receiving the condensed version men commonly want. And you would understand Fidelity gives financial products. So we've always designed the products, keeping men in mind,  they are spending their time with their women colleagues to make them understand what the products are and take the inputs to design the products in such a way. Just look at the 360 degree, how an organization is creating inclusiveness. So, I think that's the piece. And of course, I keep coming back to the fact of women's on, you know, their own ability to put themselves forward. As long as you're good at job, you're approachable, would work well in the team, then you can work well everywhere and whether it's men or women. Now, what becomes the biggest challenges that women in general tend to strive to achieve perfection. Like I shared earlier a little bit more than men do. Now, this results in a lot of insecurities and fear that if can I do this, will I be able to do this? And I start bashing myself up, and I used to do this quite a lot in the beginning of the, you know, career and when I wanted to take a plunge and yes, I can do that. I had to really teach myself, and there was a women's senior leader [inaudible] who once shared with me and you can look it up on LinkedIn, wonderful thing she has shared with me. She said long are the times are gone, when you have to just look down at your work and think that somebody is going to give you the credit for that work. It's okay to raise your head. Know what's happening on your left and right. Raise a hand and say, I want to do this project. I am good enough to do this. These are my strengths. Talk for yourself. Don't shy away. There is no such thing that you can't share your strengths with people, and it's in a modest way. And half of the time we think, Oh, am I showing off and am I holding back? So really three things, society, the culture we are brought in, organizations themselves, how they define it and third women, how they should do it. 
Rouba: (13:56)
These are very, very sound pillars, actually. Would you say that the finance industry is progressive enough to welcome gender equality? And if not, where do you think those limitations lie? 
Deepika: (14:10)
A direct answer? Yes, it is progressive. Is it enough? No, there is a lot of work to be done. And, really, I feel that there's a lot of focus which has to be there real focus. So, if I put some numbers to you in 2017 world economic for global gender gap report, female talent remains one of the most underutilized business resources. And in some of the industries and especially finance, it is especially clear that career as the career level rises, the female representation declines. Although,  45% of the financial services, employees, women at the executive level, it's only 15%. And as I shared with you, you know, in 1993, when I wanted a job that was an entry job, and they were saying that, you know, we don't hire women. We just want to be making sure that, you know, you are a woman. My CV said, I'm a woman. And I was like, really mocked about it. Joining a bank and being the only woman in there was something which I really wanted to challenge. And, you know, really taking perceptions, which I shared, which becomes stereotyping. These are the limitations. Women are not good with numbers, right? That's something we've always talked about that.


 And I really, exactly picking that up. They, they are the best managers. They are so organized. They can multitask so well. They can look at multiple funds at the same time. What have you seen? And if you look at the results, the numbers results in any of the examination, you will see them in topic. It's only when you are trying to reach the higher levels. I think the, the marketing standard, you need to really get up and say, I can do this, hold some back. So, the second is that, you know, in the society, women really should have more responsibilities at home. If we can make that equal and we can let the talent come out and work on with the site, I think it will make a huge difference. And a big lesson page really thinks that they may not be able to do higher roles. Like I shared with you. They don't ask for the project 100% sure and it's really not an ambition game, but it's a perspective game. Women need to reframe their own unconscious bias to say that I can do it. I'm a strong person. I don't have to shy away or feel bad. And I read this very often for myself, you know, and if I can do things and I don't have to sit late, it's okay. And a couple of things, you know, and we were really looking at it from the fact of what you talked, you know, the perspective, what are those limitations? I would like to really, really call that out that things are changing in this COVID situation, and we, women should take advantage of that also, and not feel anything about it from a negative way, because there are no football clubs now. Everybody works home from home. It's virtual, so make the most of it, because now it's an equal playground. Network the way everyone networks.  I probably missed a point, a while talking to you, and it just came, and I talked about networking. Today there are so many forums Rouba, that go beyond diversity. The star in me, there are so many organizations who are out there to support you, help you create that, like work for you. I think we should use it. We should really use it.
 Rouba: (18:13)
 There's kind of a perception that women have a tendency to not push themselves forward as ambitiously as say, you know, their male counterparts and you know, what would you say? Is this a cultural thing? Is it a historical, progression that just remained with us as women in general? And you said you questioned yourself and whether you were capable of doing certain things that limit your, your, your thrusts forward.
 Deepika: (18:42)
 Yeah, it does. Because every time, if you are going to judge yourself, if you're going to judge yourself, trust me, they're going to be many people outside there judging. What you have to do is you don't have to judge yourself. You have to have faith. See, you've got to be aware whether you're a woman leader or male leader being aware is so important. So, you'll have to know your strengths and your development areas. If you know your strengths, you can push yourself any way through. Culturally, yes, it is because everywhere, I think it'll change with the generations coming, Rouba, the culture part, but we still try to make it more comfortable. No, you know, it's okay. And I’ll share one example with you. When I was trying to grow in the last 10 years, there were a lot of my male colleagues who said, come on, you have a great life. Your husband's working great. You are earning so well; your children are doing so well. Everything else is going great. Does not mean that I can't grow. I mean, that's not a compensation you're giving me for what I am driving myself, and I always say, besides loving my family, the other thing I do great. As I work very well and I'm okay with that. So, I think there is a big piece cultural, and the second piece is our own self-doubts, which I spoke about the fact that I feel I have to be perfect. No, you don't have to be perfect. It took me lots of years to realize that that if I'm 80% there, the balance 20%, I can learn that. I have to have the confidence and I'm going to work strive towards it.
 Closing: (20:22)
 This has been Count Me In IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.