IIM Americas

Ms Debjani Mukherjee Biswas

Author: "Unleash the Power of Diversity", "#UStoo: Bridging the Global Gender Gap"

1. Tell us something about yourself?

Where does one start? I was blessed with a phenomenally supportive family from the very beginning.
Loving parents, grandfather and sisters, who believed so firmly in my success that it was impossible not to succeed. Their confidence, that unconditional love, is a huge part of who I am today.
At 15 I finished High School at an all girl’s convent school, and at 16 wrote JEE.  I joined IIT Madras for my BTech in Chemical Engineering, and looking up in class, saw 39 boys… and no other girls. Talk about diversity!
After IIT, I went to IIM Bangalore, then worked in Tata Administrative Services (TAS).  Married my IIT and IIM classmate, Abhijit, in 1986. We then moved to the US (Indiana), where Niket, our son was born. Worked part time (teaching in the local Community College, soil analysis at Purdue’s Agronomy department) and focused on Niket until he started going to school.
When we moved to Dallas, I completed my second Master’s (in Organizational Strategy and International Management).  Then joined TI (was there for 17 years) working in the wafer fabs, then executive coaching, business consulting Organizational Development (OD).  Eventually managed the OD team.
Later moved to PepsiCo (first as Senior Group Manager at Frito-Lay North America, then Director of Organization and Management Development). Took the plunge and went independent as a leadership consultant, executive coach and diversity strategist in 2012.

2. You have had an amazing corporate career (21 years at PepsiCo, Texas Instruments and Tata Administrative Service). How difficult or easy was the decision to quit everything and start fresh in the domains of executive coaching, consulting and as a published author?

Thanks for that comment! It has been quite a ride…
It was incredibly difficult for me to take the plunge and completely change career direction after over 20 years of working in corporate.  Having a steady salary is such a comfort!
For years, it was a ‘life goal’ to write a book. Traveling to different countries, would email myself about interesting customs, learning, and concepts and put them in a folder. One day, my son, knowing about this decades long dream, asked a pivotal question “What are you waiting for?” That, combined with some critical life events, gave me the impetus to make this change.
If I had known how enjoyable and satisfying this phase would be, would have taken the plunge sooner! Of course hindsight is 20/20.
Just came back from presenting two sessions on Unleash the Power of Diversity at IIM Bangalore. Looking out into the sea of faces in the auditorium, a thought popped into my mind:  Is this really my life or will I wake up and it’s all a dream?

3. What inspired you to write “Unleash the Power of Diversity: Multi Cultural Competence for Business Results”? Please share an experience from your own professional life which inspired you to write a book on this topic?

What has inspired me most through the multiple stages of authorship is the amazing support of my son Niket. He was one of the editors for the book, designed the cover, thought partnered on technical aspects, brainstormed marketing avenues, and was, and continues to be, a rock.  Added to that are all my relatives, classmates and colleagues, of course: TI, IIT, IIM, UTD, ICF and PepsiCo.
In addition to this amazing support, the following events occurred which spurred me on to write this book. When I used to teach Statistical Process Control in the US, an engineer came up to me and said “I really don’t like Statistics. But I love to hear you speak so much, that I enjoy the class, and end up learning as well.” At another event, a certifying trainer said to me “You need to learn how to speak clearly, so white guys like me can understand. You’re not just hanging out with your Indian buddies any more”. These two experiences, both so different, yet based upon the same topic (how I spoke) raised some fascinating questions for me:
Does being different work FOR us or AGAINST us?
What are the (often hidden) costs of stereotyping in the workplace?
How do we leverage diversity so that it is a competitive advantage?
The objective of this book is to bridge the chasm between cultures, and make it OK for us to be ourselves at work and at home.  The other thing I realized, only after starting the book, is what an amazing joy the very act of writing can be. There would be times when an idea would pop up at midnight, and I would start typing till 4 am… with zero fatigue! That flow, that ‘being in the zone’ is an indescribable feeling.
This book is actually the first in a series of diversity topics. First is on Multi Cultural Competence, the second on Gender, third on Generation, etc.
A huge bonus was the book’s endorsement by Marshall Goldsmith, Thinkers50 Award Winner for Most Influential Leader Thinker in the World and New York Times bestselling author (What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and MOJO):  "Diversity - it's been a buzzword in corporate and political circles for about a decade. But most books on leadership and management simply don't address its importance to an organization's ability to survive and thrive. Enter Mukherjee-Biswas' Unleash the Power of Diversity. After reading her thought provoking book, few executives will be able to ignore the relevance of diversity to their company's growth and success.”

4. The books talks about some of the frameworks to increase effectiveness through multicultural competence, can you please talk about one of the frameworks in detail which could be broadly used by everyone be it a manager leading a small team or a CEO? (Diversity Foray)

Over the years, I noticed that there were some techniques in diversity work that were helpful, others that escalated and worsened the situation. From that, I developed a new Framework called the “Diversity Foray”©. This is a mnemonic since they were ‘four A’s” which sounds like the work foray. A foray is a journey of exploration, so it all fit nicely. The Four A’s are: * Ask * Accept * Adapt and * Appreciate. There is also a list of  don’ts: * Shun * Patronize * Assume * Crumble or * Escalate.
And, as you rightly observed, these techniques are universal. They apply regardless of level in organization… and in fact, people often email or call me and tell me these tools have helped them in their personal lives and relationships as well.

5. Please talk about Coachieve, explain a little more about what the organization does and what objectives did you have in mind while establishing it?

Coachieve’s motto is “together, we can”.  Since I just started this venture, it is largely independent consulting, coaching and workshops. I have, in the process, formed strategic alliances with corporate client groups and targeted nonprofits.  One of the objectives is to increase the presence of women and underrepresented groups in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) careers. 
Executive coaching is targeted towards business performance and leadership for CEOs and C-Suite executives, in addition to succession planning and communication.  OD Consulting is in Strategic Planning (Mission, Vision Values) and Organizational Design, while Diversity Strategies focus on Culture, Gender, Generational and Style. Coachieve also offers Customized Workshops on multiple leadership and diversity topics.

6. To conclude, we ask all our esteemed guests for a general word of advice especially for the upcoming generation of IIM alums who are in the early stages of their professional journey.

The second new framework is called The Five Judgments©. In this, I analyze the costs of stereotyping, by examining different judgments people make, based on physical impact, reputational currency etc.
“Distinguishing Markers” is an original concept in the judgments; a combination of USP (Unique Selling Proposition) used for products in Marketing, and Genetic Markers in DNA studies. A Distinguishing Marker is something that stands out about you; that people associate with your presence and brand.
My advice to the upcoming generation of IIM Alums would be understand and leverage your ‘distinguishing markers’ wisely. Are you remembered as the person who interrupts everyone and always wants to move ahead, even if it means stepping on people in your path? Or are you remembered as the person who is steady as a rock in a crisis?  Know and understand your “distinguishing markers”.
The final piece of advice would be ‘look back with gratitude, in order to look forward with success.”
We (IIM alums) are almost all successful, but sometimes we forget to acknowledge those family members and friends on whose shoulders we climbed. When I was 12, the Advanced Mathematics teacher left. The school decided, therefore, that I would have to take Biology instead of Advanced Math in High School. Hearing this news, my father said nothing. However later, he went to the boy’s school, found out who their Ad. Math. teacher was, and arranged for him to teach me (and two other girls). Without the Ad.  Math, there would be no JEE, no IIT, no IIM, and so forth. So even though my father has passed away several years ago, I will never forget that my current success has come from riding on his (and my mother’s and family’s) shoulders.
So I ask you: Whose shoulders have you climbed on to get where you are now?
And do they know how much you appreciate their support?  Make sure you tell them while you still can, would be my final piece of advice.  As Maya Angelou said “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel”.

Here’s wishing you much success, both personally and professionally.

Read more about “Unleash the Power of Diversity” at Amazon.com