Deepali Naair, who comes from an army background, discusses gender diversity in the workplace and the critical need for women to manage their own money and grow their wealth.

Interview with Deepali Naair

In an engaging chat with TomorrowMakers, Deepali Naair, Senior Partner and Head - Marketing, IIFL Investment Managers, talks about her love for numbers as well as the English language, the challenges she faced in her career, and a lot more. 
Naair, who comes from an army background, discusses gender diversity in the workplace and the critical need for women to manage their own money and grow their wealth.
Some excerpts:

What does your role at IIFL Investment Managers entail?

Ten years ago, IIFL started a wealth management practice for ultra HNIs. I like to call it a top-of-the-pyramid business. 
Two years ago, IIFL Wealth Business was looking for a marketing expert to help them plan the brand. I was brought in to look after multiple brands, marketing, advertising and digital. I handle these functions for four different legal entities of the company. Few of them are very big businesses which is the AMC and the wealth practice; two are small but highly profitable. Infact I was on the board of one of the legal entities. 
For the first six months, my role just involved setting up the team, getting the right agency partners on board, setting the identity-architecture for the brands, etc.  The websites required a complete revamp and the customer journeys needed to be recorded and revamped.

How has your journey at IIFL Investment Managers been so far?

My journey has been very interesting. The most interesting aspect of my work so far has been figuring out my team structure; understanding what kind of people to hire, and defining their career path so they can succeed. I have people as diverse as a techie, a writer, in addition to people with core marketing expertise. We have together launched award winning websites, multiple microsites, 100 video content pieces and built the pipeline for some very innovative announcements.

Have you faced any obstacles or challenges in your career up until now? If yes, what kind?
I have taken two breaks in my career. The time periods that lead to the decision of taking these breaks were most challenging. Such decisions are not taken overnight; they can take four or five months. Thinking through all scenarios in terms of career and personal-finance were very tough for me. They happened at different times when I was in very different life-stage. The first career break was after I gave birth to my son in 2004 and the second one was 12 years later. They were both working sabbaticals, where I continued doing consulting work. 
I’m very grateful to people in the marketing fraternity, my ex-bosses, and fellow CMOs who gave me projects and made my transition seem relatively comfortable. Their recognition of the “value” I bring to the table has been a major source of strength for me always. The projects given to me during my sabbaticals were challenging as well as rewarding as they helped me explore my love for numbers as well as content. 

What’s your take on gender diversity in the workplace?

In my two decades plus experience I have worked with both MNCs as well as established Indian conglomerates. I have also worked with start-ups.
My observation is that multinational companies have a fantastic understanding of what gender diversity is all about. Therefore, their policies are well thought-through and ahead of the times for India as they are benchmarked globally. At HSBC, as back as in 2007 I enjoyed flexible timings and work-from-home options in the finance sector. 
Secondly, if you look at the number of female CEOs and CXOs in India, we are doing as poorly as any other country in the world. This makes me believe that women in India face similar issues and challenges as women abroad. And this was ratified when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.
My third observation is that life is much easier for young women entering the workforce now. Female millennials have a very bright future, because there is focus on gender diversity. I used to be part of the Mahindra Group Diversity council and also the anti-sexual harassment committee of L&T Financial Services where I realized that I belong to a different era. Let me explain. When I graduated from my MBA course in 1993, I was one of only two management trainees hired by Tata Motors. There were very few women (if at all) in management roles back then. There was no conversation about gender diversity. I think I first heard the term ‘gender diversity’ only after a couple of years of working. 

Does IIFL Investment Managers have a different approach, in terms of marketing and communications, when targeting female customers?

We deal with ultra-high networth individuals (UHNIs) and there’s a phenomenally high degree of personalisation and customisation that comes into play with every customer, whether man or woman. Our business structure and marketing efforts recognise each customer as an individual; so obviously when we have female clients, we have a different approach. 

How important, in your opinion, is it for a woman to manage her finances independently?

I think it is extremely important. Having worked with an insurance company and now with a wealth management company, I have seen numerous instances of women not taking a proactive interest in the family finances and then landing in trouble when the husband passes away. I believe it is crucial for women to participate in the wealth management aspect of the family. 
Women need to be highly aware and be responsible for understanding financial stuff. It is easy to blame the culture, upbringing, or conditioning by family if women are clueless, but they are equally to blame if they pass on the ‘boring’ job of finances to other family-members; 
Another point I want to make is that the average urban Indian’s overall IQ of wealth management needs to go up. This includes men at all socio-economic strata. The fact that we still have huge amounts of money lying in fixed deposits, or don’t understand how equity investments are done, is proof of the same.

What advice can you offer working women on maintaining a work-life balance?

I believe maintaining a work-life balance should not be a very big challenge for working women professionals. They face the same issues as men. But it is really challenging for working mothers as they truly have to balance two different worlds. I would like to tell working mothers that they do not have to be a martyr by setting a goal of being a 10/10 mother and the best employee at the same time. It is not required. 
My advice is to talk to your reporting boss and pick suitable flexi-times, and choose projects that help you accommodate both your worlds. The ideal balance never happens – just take every day, week, and month as it comes while the kids are younger.
Secondly, don’t have any guilt about taking help. You don’t have to do everything on your own. Don’t think your husbands cannot parent or do household work. Please make them your equal partners. Insist that they are also the primary caregivers to your children. Take help from your mother, mother-in-law, brother, sister – whoever is willing to give you a helping hand. 
Lastly, keep your house help very, very happy. All the management principles you learn at work; apply them at home as well. Think of them as your team. 

Based on your experience, can you suggest any money management tips to help women become financially independent?

I have a few tips.
1. Put aside 40% of your salary as savings and then think of what you can do with the other 60%.
2. Do not think of jewellery as an investment. It is not.
3. Rethink real estate as an investment. It is a reassuring asset, but it may not be the best investment tool. So, don’t put all your money there. You need to diversify the asset classes you have.
4. Think of technology as an investment and not as an expense, as it makes your life easier. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article by Deepali Naair are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of or its owners or her employers.

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