Deepa M Thomas is a corporate communications professional with 19 years of expertise over external & employee communications. She is leading the communications mandate for Mahindra Group Companies – Mahindra Holidays, Mahindra LifeSpaces & Mahindra Partners.
Media Cell had the opportunity to interact with her while she was on campus for IIC’s flagship event Horizons 2016. Below are excerpts from the interview:
1. With a wide exposure in established conglomerates like Mahindra to relatively new e-commerce companies like eBay, skin clinics like Kaya, channels like MTV, Nickelodeon, what are the major differences that you have noticed across industries when it comes to corporate communication?
Multinationals around the world have this very strong belief in communication, because it’s a proven science. Companies like Kaya and Marico did not have any established communication function before I joined. So there was a lot of work that we had to do to evangelize the role of communication and the benefits that it could bring. Whereas in eBay, let’s say when a communication person is employed for the first time there already was a belief around the world that it made sense. So it was much easier to get a buy in from the leadership that communication would play a major strategic role and we should invest in it.
2. Your specialties are as varied as Consumer PR to Pop Culture to ecommerce. How do you keep yourself updated about the latest development in all of these interest areas?
I network with my peers in various forums, I read newsletters and news articles, and I am currently jury for 30 under 30 for PRmoment. So what happens is that when you do all these, you see some of the best practices and some of the good work that is happening and you can keep yourself as informed as you can. I don’t think you can keep yourself informed about everything, since one is only human and you cannot spend your entire time gathering information but the more informed you are and the more thoughtfully you are able to process that information, you can perhaps connect it to what you are doing and bring the best practices to your work or you can share your best practices with somebody else.
3. Since CSR is also one of your interest areas, so what’s your take on companies having mandatory CSR activity, do you think it rightly addresses the issue like it is supposed to?
I think this comes down to company’s philosophies: do they see that they must serve the community that they work in, or do they see that they want to make a better impact. If the company sees that than the CSR funds whether mandated by the government or not will be invested in the right way. But there might be some companies who will perhaps not see value in it, therefore they will perhaps do it in lip service, or put money behind established non- profits and not help grass root efforts. So I think the best fit is when the company has identified a few causes like education, environment, old age that they want to stand by, find the connection with the company and locate CSR programs which are long term and make impact but also involve employees, do not just have a separate CSR department run it quietly. See how you can engage employees as mentors, volunteers, awareness creators, and social media advocates. Then they can make reports and pay it back to the community and the various stakeholders associated. That’s when CSR becomes very holistic and the community sees the real impact and the company enhances its goodwill.
But then the benefit received by the mandate is that a lot many companies are having to put their funds for good. So it’s an opportunity for non-profits to find their partners and if companies are not doing the thinking then they need to present themselves in the right way to company and help that company make an impact for a cause.
4. What is your take on women in management when it comes to issues like work life balance, maternity leaves, power politics and improper working conditions for women?
Men and women are both equally good leaders and they bring different facades and perspectives and I think diverse organizations, in terms of gender, age, race, sexual orientation etc. benefit primarily for these. Today our target audience and consumers are very diverse, so whether we can actually reflect the diversity in our board room or our leadership team, becomes a major question.
About maternity leaves, I think the increase of the leave from three months to six months is a welcome move allowing the new mother to return to the workforce once she is fully ready and has been able to develop a right infrastructure to look after her baby. However, the lady should integrate herself as quickly as possible to her company (depending on her and her baby’s health condition) or at least keep herself informed even during the leave so that she is not out of the knowledge loop. Even if she can’t work she should find ways to communicate with her organization using HR functions (who are also taking appropriate measures so that these ladies can make a seamless comeback and add value to the company soon).
Work life balance comes down to settling with the fact that women in society tend to be the caregivers, therefore younger people, senior citizens, sick relatives all need to be attended by the women employee. Today, however there are options that women can explore to set up a good infrastructure at home, but there may be times when they have to work out of home and companies need to be flexible out of it. At the same time, the onus comes down on the ladies, or for any employee for that matter (in a gender neutral company) to show their commitment and delivery and prove that their work is not getting impacted. To manage visibility related issues that might turn up (out of sight, out of mind), the employees need to be connected by emails, phone calls or at times when physical presence is required one needs to prove that he/she is just a phone call away. This will validate the value of that particular employee in his/her organization.
5. All of us here aspire to be leading managers someday, any suggestion that you have for doing well in the corporate life, since we have many preconceived ideas about surviving the corporate rat race.
You need to have passion, integrity, persistence, collaborative attitude to survive the corporate life which according to me is a jungle gym and not a ladder. You also need to find a supportive group of people, the supportive board (comprising of family, friends, significant partner etc.), with whom you can share your moments of frustration and success. And over a period you will have enough people like this who’s make the organization a comfortable workplace for you. A part of how the corporate life is, depends on the company’s performance. If it is going through bankruptcy then the employees will definitely have a tough time because the company itself is in a position where its existence itself is questionable. From the employees’ angle, there can be three groups: one, the energy drainers who choose to play power politics, second, who choose to just do their work without getting their hands dirty and third, the ones who bring positive energy in their workplace. Irrespective of which group you choose to belong, you need to have passions and interests outside of work, along with a support structure comprising of a close group of people and these will help you vent your corporate anxieties and frustrations and de-stress. If you can align yourself and your work with the company’s goals, work will be less stressful. Plus an amount of equanimity and composure will definitely help make life comfortable. Don’t let noise affect you, choose what really matters and prioritize accordingly.
Interviewed By: Noel Roychoudhury
Picture Credits: Ravi Mohan Bhola