I’m Jaya Virwani, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Ernst & Young’s Global Delivery Services, and this is how I Lead from Within
Jaya Virwani heads the Diversity and Inclusiveness strategy and agenda for EY’s (Ernst & Young) Global Delivery Services (Argentina, China, India, Poland and the Philippines). She has been with the firm since June of 2004 and took on the role of Diversity and Inclusiveness leader in March of 2012. In her role, she focuses on initiatives that promote cross-cultural teaming and inclusive leadership, eliminate unconscious biases, and create an ecosystem that supports gender equity in senior leadership positions. This is her story, and how she leads from within…
I am a late starter. I got married really young, at 22, had my first born when I was 24, my second born when I was 27 and I walked into the workforce only when I was 30 years old. A couple of reasons that made me want to work was that I was looking to find purpose in my life, and I was looking to find financial independence – both of these together culminated in what today EY means to me and the whole reason why I wanted to have a career. EY, at that time, was looking at somebody who could come in and lead their Learning and Development team. I was hired by the India Shared Services Leader from the U.S. practice, who was in India setting up Shared Services, which is now called Global Delivery Services. I remember she was consciously recruiting to ensure fair representation of both men and women at the time, and when this opportunity came up she hired me to help 200 people back then to communicate more effectively with the U.S. There has been no looking back since, and in hindsight, I’ve experienced great inclusion: I was a stay at home mom and I was brought into the workforce and mentored and coached by the best. So what better than to finally lead the whole Inclusion and Diversity strategy and agenda for Shared Services for 25,000 people out of five countries.
My Core Values
It would be persistence; it would be the ability to build relationships and the third would be respect.
As a woman in India, and I’ve had to refer to myself today as a senior woman leader, leading a global organization out of five countries and doing what I do in terms of D&I work, which is a lot of influencing and change management, it’s a lot of being persistent about the outcomes and goals that you set for yourself. It’s being persistent and intentional about what you wanted to change professionally and personally. Despite the cultural context where I feel there are so many demands made of you and what you represent, it’s about being very clear about what is it that works for you, what is it that you will negotiate for or not negotiate for, and what is it that you want out of your life just persist with that. I think we tend to keep everybody else happy but don’t think about ourselves. I always tell women that you have to be able to keep yourself happy, take care of yourself for you to be present and fully functional for everyone around you whether it’s your work or whether it’s your children, your parents, your siblings, your loved ones, anyone. That’s what I would say about persistence.
In terms of building relationships, have those advocates and sponsors in your personal life and your professional life and support other women. I think those relationships are the ones that see you through the many ups and downs. I believe that we don’t do enough of it. I believe that we don’t invest enough of our time in these relationships and I think it needs to be something you do deliberately from the very start to be able to nurture, invest, be there for each other, support each other through the hula hoops that we all go through.
Finally, respect I believe is integral to the success of any relationship or any equation that you have and I think that if you’re not respectful everything else fades into the background. Respect for individuals, for what you do, for what you represent, for equations that you share, for the work or just for life, is very integral to who we are as individuals and I feel the lack of respect can damage not only relationships but can damage a whole lot more than you ever could actually impact.
One is the ability to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously. If I’ve made a mistake or if I have done something that I may think “oh, my God, I shouldn’t have”, to just find humor in life – that is my super power for sure. You will never see me frazzled; I don’t get frazzled easily. I could be in the toughest situation and I’ll say you know what, it’s okay, I’ll be fine because I’ll see myself through it. My second super power is just to climb out of any deep dark hole and come up shining on top despite all the odds.
I have another amazing super power also where I disconnect myself from the situation very easily. I guess it’s resilience, conscious resilience. I don’t take things very personally. I tend to look at it from an outsider’s point of view, saying don’t take everything so personally, you know, move away from the situation, try and be less emotional. Be practical and just move on because it’s very easy to play the victim card, play the pity card, to play the card of “oh, my God, it’s happening to me, what am I going to do”. I think you have to take control, and you constantly have to just keep moving forward. Resilience is something we all have, especially as women, and in India. When I speak to my colleagues here, I admire each one of them for what they are able to do and achieve on a daily basis. It may be a super power we are all gifted as women, but it is still something we need to consciously practice.
My Role Models
As clichéd as it might sound, my role models are my mother, my sister and my closest buddy – they’re the three people I think I have looked up to and when you talk about strong female role models I think each one of them have been those for me and that’s where I gain my strength from. I also have a 17-year old daughter who I really want to be able to be a role model for, so all of these women sort of drive me collectively.
My sister works with women in the north of India – she supports villages and she supports children of those villages by providing employment. She runs a conscious clothing brand out of Amsterdam. She’s been amazing in what she’s achieved so far, and she started her journey only about six years ago.
My mother was a working mother right from the time that I remember. She ran a salon and she was her own person and I remember her managing a joint family, managing us and running a salon all at the same time and smiling through it all.
My closest friend has been my biggest support and inspiration. She’s an entrepreneur, lives in Bangalore, is somebody who I look up to for her conscious effort to always try and do the right thing and to always be there for everyone around her.
These women are my source of strength, backbone, support system and I gain all of my courage and the ability to just keep going, on a daily basis, from them.
On Balancing Life and Work
I love what I do, I love working and I love EY – I think my work reflects who I am. A lot of what EY stands for is what I stand for too, after being here for 13 plus years. All of that has helped me manage the various demands that people have on our time or in terms of expectations. I’m very fortunate to have kids who respect and understand that, and never put me on a guilt trip. They understand it’s a necessity for me, it defines who I am, what I represent, and my personal brand. I’m very transparent with my kids. We have very grown up conversations. I think that has served me well – the transparency, the honesty, the sharing everyday moments, the talking about what happened at work, and exchanging stories about the many amazing people that I come across here. Equally, we talk about some of the things that didn’t work well, or when I’m having a bad day – just sharing everything with my kids has really worked well for me.
I love to travel, I’m happy to get on a plane as often as I can. I try and take out some time for yoga. I love watching movies in the theatre. I am a die-hard foodie. I get joy from the simple things. It doesn’t have to be an exotic vacation. I just get joy from hanging out with my family, with my parents, with my close friends. My inner circle is extremely diverse and I’ve been blessed to have very, very nice people in my life.
The Importance of Self Care
I think it’s become even more important to represent and understand what your brand says about you; and basic things like making sure your nails are done, making sure your hair is clean, and that your footwear is nice. You don’t have to be wearing expensive clothes, you just have to wear things that work for you, and get guidance on that if you don’t have it. Investing in yourself is very important. It’s not only gaining skills or technical abilities – you have to be good at that, but you have to be able to take care of yourself as well.
On What Excites Me About Our Diversity Goals
This is our second year of being in the top 10 companies for women to work in India. Continuing to ensure that we can build a pipeline to take women up to senior leadership positions is a big priority for us. Women in technology is something I’m focusing on and ensuring that our ecosystem and our policies are inclusive, as we grow rapidly and as the demand for machines and humans to be working together increases. We are looking at reskilling women, and ensuring that they have a seat at the table and that they’re intentional about their careers. We’ve done intentional career path programs and programs for helping them build their personal brand. We want to continue on that journey, and continue to make progress while looking for digital platforms wherever we can.