Growing up Deepa was incredibly timid. “I couldn’t even ask for extra ketchup at a fast food counter. I was that shy.” Deepa’s teachers saw beyond that. They knew she had potential and encouraged her to run for student government. While out of her comfort zone, she soon realized there were no limits. In school, this meant being the only girl on the boys’ soccer team. Today it means she’s a busy woman, both as a partner at Deloitte and also as a board member for Avasara, a school she and her sister started in India. Deepa believes leadership can be cultivated and taught.
Here are Deepa’s tips for using your drive to make a difference.
Tune out unhelpful critics
One of my first experiences as a recently promoted partner was walking into a new client’s office and being told I looked young. He said, “If I had a daughter, she would be older than you. What could you possibly have to tell me?” I took a deep breath and responded, “Give me fifteen minutes, if I don’t tell you something you don’t know, I’ll give you the rest of your time back.” We spent an hour together and he ended up being one of my biggest clients.
Find your impact
We saw a clear need to help Indian girls. Only 1 in 100 girls in rural India makes it to the 12th grade. My sister Roopa had an amazing opportunity to go to India, and her interest has always been education. I am fascinated by topics on leadership. Avasara, which means opportunity, is the first leadership academy for girls in India. Finding a way to focus on things you care about while being able to merge your professional life with your personal interests is a real key to success. Deloitte has been very supportive of Avasara and that matters to me.
I’m 5’1 and an introvert. But, as I’ve advanced, I’ve learned how to become more assertive. I used to get feedback about the need to have more executive presence and whether or not the partner path was right for me. I took what fit and worked on it. When I made my first partner presentation, most commented that it was powerful—it was strong. Decide where to place energy, and know your strengths and leverage them. You cannot fix everything or change everything, so don’t try. You have to be authentic.
After I made partner, one of my mentors said, “Now that you have a seat at table, you need to create a voice at the table.” At the time I didn’t completely understand that, but now I’ve realized there’s so much I can do with my platform at Deloitte. Once you have your seat or a leadership position, what you do with it and how you use your voice is almost more important than simply having the role.
At the school we talked about what it means to be a leader. We want to show the girls that leadership is finding your voice and being assertive about what you believe in. I try to live that at Deloitte every day.
Passion is power
The process of building and getting permits in India is not very linear—it’s taken 10 years to build the school. But if you have passion and fortitude you can make your dreams a reality. One of the core values at Avasara is “fortitude.” We hope to teach the girls that careers and life are not simply about the path, nor are they solely about the destination. Know what you want the end goal to be and never give up your passions or your convictions as you get there.
For more information about careers at Deloitte, visit the Careers section of their website.
For information on Avasara, visit http://www.leadershipfoundationindia.org/
What advice would you give to your younger self knowing what you know now?
Breathe a little bit more and don’t worry so much. When I was younger, I fretted a lot about my career and personal life. Things just worked out when I stopped worrying so much.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in getting the school off the ground?
It’s been hard getting the parents to trust us, because we’re an unknown school. We met with them one-on-one. They were doubtful, but they came to orientation, saw our conviction and agreed to send their daughters.
Decide. Make a decision. Don’t waver.
I had a unique opportunity to sit down with the Chairman of the Board of one of my clients. He shared a ton, but his most important piece of advice was to not be afraid to make a decision. He said, “You don’t always have the luxury of waiting. Good leaders know when to decide.”