Deepali Vyas is the Head of Global Markets and Hedge Funds Practice at Heidrick & Struggles, New York, a worldwide executive search firm, specializing in chief executive and senior level assignments. Vyas, who moved to the US with her family at the age of two, is a strong believer of mentorship and diversity in the workplace. In this interview, she stresses the importance of inclusion and empowerment at one’s workplace, speaks about the kind of sexism she has endured in the financial services industry and her most memorable achievements as a leader on the professional front.

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Tell us a little bit about your background and growing up years.

I was born in India, but emigrated to the United States with my family when I was 2-year-old. My family moved around quite a bit when I was younger, but most of my childhood and young adult life was between Chicago and Denver. The most distinct part of growing up in an Indian household in the US was that I kept my American life and Indian life completely separate until I got to college. I never appreciated my diverse background and worked hard to just “fit in,” only to recognize that my cultural background and values make me who I am in both my professional and personal life.

You are a big advocate of diversity and women empowerment in the workplace. What is the roadmap to get there?

“Women need empowerment because we normally do not ‘lean in’ and ask for what we deserve.”

There is never a straightforward roadmap; however, I am a strong believer in mentorship and sponsorship. I have sought out genuine mentors that can help me navigate challenges in my career and I like to pay that forward to anyone that I am mentoring. Women need empowerment because we normally do not ‘lean in’ and ask for what we deserve. I find that most of the women I come across are often questioning themselves on whether or not they deserve it or if they ‘check all the boxes’ to move ahead. We, as women, need to take risks – that’s the only way we will learn and grow, both professionally and personally.

As a woman helming a leadership position in your workplace, what are the challenges or instances of sexism have you faced over the years?

I have been in the financial services industry and as a whole, it is dominated by men. I am faced with being the only woman in the room on most occasions. It works for me at times, given that I would be the easiest person to remember; however, there is the proverbial “boy’s club” mentality at the top. The blatant sexism, I encounter is mostly not getting the invitation to certain meetings or being in the inner boy’s circle when making decisions for the firm or client. Heidrick & Struggles continues to work hard to not have these behaviours permeate through the firm. There are many female leaders at the firm that serve as role models for the broader firm. As we advise our clients on diversity and its benefits, we are doing just as much introspection to promote better, inclusive behaviours firm-wide.

Tell us about the work that you do at Heidrick & Struggles and about your most memorable milestones.

One of the milestones was being a Principal and running 2 sectors – heading the global markets and hedge fund practice. Being the face of those sectors for the firm has been a huge milestone for me and being seen as the subject matter expert. Sitting in client meetings and serving them as a true advisor is the best part of my job and my continued milestone development.

A lot of young women are hesitant to occupy positions of leadership. Why do you think that is the case. And what can be done to help support them?

“Every woman should raise their hand to take on a leadership role and figure out whether or not it is something they can grow into and learn from the experience.”

Most women are apprehensive to step forward and take a leadership role if they don’t think they match the requirements exactly. They want to check all the boxes before they apply. This is simply not the right mentality for a leader. You have to be forward thinking and risk taking as a leader. Leaders learn to fail fast and learn from their mistakes. Every woman should raise their hand to take on a leadership role and figure out whether or not it is something they can grow into and learn from the experience. The biggest support a woman can have to come into a leadership position is strong sponsorship and mentorship, along with enough runway to make her successful in that role.

The current US administration is quite hostile towards immigrants and minorities. From a position of leadership, how are you trying to combat that?

While there are some difficult political decisions being made by the current US administration, we continue to advise our clients on the benefits of diversity and getting the right team in place. Finding the right talent for our clients is a construct of having a qualified slate of candidates that are diverse in every sense of the word. Advising our clients to appreciate diverse talent pools and hire the right candidate based on all facets of their experience.

How do you maintain a work-life balance in your life?

I will not lie – it is tough to achieve and it often ebbs and flows; however, the weekends are completely dedicated to myself and the family. I do not look at my phone or email and make sure that I create those boundaries so that I have a consistent balance between my professional and personal life.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am truly an entrepreneur at heart and I may create an opportunity for myself in a different capacity at Heidrick so that I continue to round out my leadership experience.

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