Deepshikha Dharmaraj, CEO of Genesis BCW, talks about her journey, the importance of communication in turbulent times, women's leadership and the outlook for the post-COVID world
Communication has become an indispensable part of the scenario in the times of COVID-19. With communicators being the torch bearers of the process, women leaders are at the frontline in paving a way out. Among all, one of the most credible names being Deepshikha Dharmaraj.
A seasoned communications professional, Deepshikha Dharmaraj, Chief Executive Officer, Genesis BCW comes with more than two decades of experience in the industry. She has numerous successful brand campaigns across sectors under her credit and she is a trusted name when it comes to providing strategic counsel to the firm.
Being a firm believer of nurturing new talent, Dharmaraj also spends time teaching and providing workshops. In today’s edition of our Women Achievers Series, we talk to Deepshikha Dharmaraj on her journey, the importance of communication in such turbulent times, women's leadership, the outlook for the post-COVID world and more.
How has your journey been in the industry? If you look back, what would be the most defining moment of your career?
There is no moment per se, but the most defining aspect of my journey has been the choices that I have made which gave me the opportunity to work on every facet of the public relations consultancy business. I started my journey with client servicing more than 25 years ago and moved to Mumbai in 1996 to lead the regional expansion of Genesis BCW in the west. After several years of leading and growing the western region, I then went on to head the talent function for the firm. Subsequently, I started leading the growth and marketing function where I was responsible for bringing in new business and building new service lines and strategic partnerships to manage our transformation into an integrated communications firm delivering creative solutions to our clients. I was then named the Managing Director in December 2018 and the Chief Executive Officer this January. At every step, there was a huge learning and immense opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Along the way, many people joined me in my journey and many left, but together, we will always be part of the extended Genesis BCW family.
The Coronavirus pandemic has presented a plethora of challenges and opportunities to businesses. How has it impacted the PR business? What are the opportunities that it has created for you?
With our clients’ business impacted, ours has obviously felt the ripples as well. In the short term, there will be an impact on the business as clients recalibrate their needs and strategies. However, there are two factors to consider. One, that communications is a core function during this time, with organizations continuing to engage and rapidly communicate with multiple stakeholders. And the second, that there is an increased need for differentiated services like crisis management, employee communications, trend-spotting, creative content, public affairs, advocacy, digital marketing, CSR communication and more. We are also noticing that a lot of innovation has been crunched into a very short time and clients need to engage on digital platforms. So, the ask from us is to step up and think creatively for our clients to partner them in their quest to communicate effectively with their multiple stakeholders.
How important has communication become now in these unprecedented times?
I would go so far as to say that communication is a lifeline in these times. It connects people with information that can lead to saving lives, managing crises, providing access to resources, connecting people with experts, and many more vital needs. Whether it is the government communicating with its citizens or organisations with their multiple stakeholders—customers, employees, partners, the community—never has communication been more mission-critical.
Why do we observe attrition in women leadership as we go up the ladder?
It actually depends on the organization's culture and its leaders. When there are women leaders to inspire those at the entry- and mid-levels, there are higher chances of women continuing to pursue their growth and reach the leadership level. Young women leaders need guidance and mentoring on gaining confidence to make the right choices for themselves. We see that very clearly at Genesis BCW. Given that majority of our top leadership team—with Prema at the helm—is made up of women, our emerging leaders include a lot of women. So, the key clearly is an inspiration and an example for others to follow.
Women leaders are paving the way forward now. How have you contributed to this?
One example is what I have already mentioned—demonstrating how to be committed to your own growth and setting an example for others. Secondly, it’s not enough to be a leader and inspire. You also need to actively mentor and guide people so that they can pave their own path. I am lucky to be able to do that in many ways. The first is to mentor the people in my organization. Secondly, as part of WPP’s larger initiative to mentor women leaders, I have been able to connect with and support other emerging leaders. Thirdly, I am able to meet and guide the next generation of professionals in my capacity as guest faculty and advisor in several communications institutions. And most recently, as a founding board member of the India chapter of the Global Women in Public Relations (GWPR) initiative, where we offer cross-border support, information on best practices, knowledge sessions and networking opportunities to female talent in the PR and communications industry. In each of these roles, I interact with both, young professionals—men and women—as well as other leaders of the industry and I am able to learn from and share my own learnings for the growth of the industry. Eventually, it is about moving people’s mindsets and I am committed to encouraging more women to take on leadership roles with confidence and capability.
Have there been instances of gender bias towards you?
I wouldn’t call them gender biases, but pre-conceived assumptions of my capabilities. In the early part of my career, there were times when people underestimated me because of my age. But once you demonstrate the depth of your understanding, things are smoother from then on.
A lot has been said about the pay gap but is there something called value gap to be talked about?
Yes, absolutely. The disparity women face is not just visible in their income but also in other opportunities they get because of their perceived lower position in the value chain. From promotions to growth-enhancing learning programmes to interesting secondments, many organizations reserve the best for the men. This is obviously short-sighted and overall limiting for the organization.
How do you see the post-COVID world to be?
Without wanting to sound idealistic, I would say that the post-COVID-19 world would be one where we would be re-thinking our priorities at a personal, organizational, industrial, national as well as global level. At each of these levels, we have all been getting a crash course on identifying what matters the most to us. And how far we have come from that. We have also found reserves of resilience that we didn’t know existed and that when push comes to shove, creativity and innovation can come from the unlikeliest of places.
In the short term, we have to put together a plan to prepare for recovery so that we don’t waste time, effort and resources when it comes. As social distancing norms continue, a lot of information and resource-sharing will continue to happen through the individual connected devices. Therefore, campaigns will continue to be digital. From an overall communications point-of-view, the thinking and preparedness have to be even more comprehensive, because this is what will drive most of the business and lifestyle choices in the new normal.
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