An army kid, Deepti Varma started her corporate career in 1997. Varma is the mother of an 18-year-old boy and a pet who keeps her on her toes. The tea lover is a senior HR leader who wants to dance till the last day of her life. SheThePeople recently caught up with her to talk about her current role, women in leadership roles and how we can stop women from dropping out of the workforce.
Deepti Varma currently Vice President, People and Experience Technology (PXT), Amazon Stores India & EM. She has been working with Amazon for the past ten years.
Varma is deeply influenced by her mother, who initially, due to marital duties, tagged along with her husband and family wherever he would be posted. At the age of 40, she took a job in a school and later retired as a vice principal. Enabling women to stay in their careers is very close to the leader’s heart.
At her current workplace, Varma has started various initiatives for women who have taken a break and want to rejoin the workforce. She shares that there are a lot of junctures in life when we need to balance our family and work every day, which seems like a struggle, and most women think they should “I quit to take care of my family”. According to Varma, women need to go on one day at a time and not give up on themselves. We deep-dive into her journey as a corporate leader and what needs to change in Indian corporate culture to make sure more and more women remain part of it.
Looking back at corporate India, she feels there have been radical changes in embracing DEI or Diversity Equity and Inclusion. There are sincere inclusion efforts now at a corporate level. There has been a significant change in the last five years, primarily since the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things. Corporates are now looking and hiring diverse talent and not just women but members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people with disability. Varma says this makes her very enthused to be part of the corporate world in India today. For her, diversity means bringing people with different skill sets, backgrounds and thought processes into the corporate folds.
Are there biases that still need to be addressed?
Varma feels the most critical exercise is to look inwards and rid ourselves of biases. She says, “When I look into my journey, I realise that there were biases in my mind, not just in the system.” She gives an example of a program in which she was the only female participant. But once she could overlook this fact interacting with others wasn’t a big deal. She believes that one should try to make the most of it in any situation and not let internal biases govern our actions. She tells women to break the prejudice for themselves rather than wait for the media or the corporate to do it.
Varma’s idea on mentorship is slightly different; she doesn’t believe that mentors need to be older than you always. It should depend on your skillset and should not be restricted by gender. She shares that her son has mentored her in taking risks. She suggests that corporates should develop ecosystems where people can find mentors based on their required skill sets.
Women dropping out of workforce
According to Varma, when women go through different life stages, the corporate world needs to support them. It doesn’t mean increasing the maternity leave and giving them an additional month. We need a return to work policy with a ramp back or part-time options for women. Parental policies should be implemented to remove the burden from just the mother. In Varma’s experience, having these policies in place has been positive for her organisation.
She also suggests that women need policies that support them across their life stages. While maternity is life-changing, women who are moms to teenagers may have different issues, and women who are caregivers to elder parents may have other challenges. It is also essential to offer sabbaticals, so if an employee needs to take time off and come back, they can do that.
Importance of having men as Ally
Varma says that sometimes we forget what an ally can do. She says men need to also be sensitised about what they should expect and what they should do. Only then can they emerge as allies. Organisations should also look at creating affinity groups where women going through similar life situations can freely share their issues. Varma says it is essential to have men as part of these groups so that they can understand their co-workers better. Varma shares that these practices have helped her create a better workplace environment.
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Varma believes there should be work-life harmony when balancing things, and they often go off balance. She thinks everyone needs to have an ecosystem at home and work to create that balance. But before you ask your ecosystem to support you, you need to clearly define where you draw the life between life and work.
She says while men and women both need to embrace their physical age, their mental age should be that of a child regarding their curiosity, enthusiasm and risk-taking abilities.