“The key word here is honest”, Karthik Ganesh and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Have a real and honest national conversation on what we stand for as a society and country. The key word here is honest. Our conversations around human rights, and racial and gender equality must be mirrored by our actions. This isn’t about saying the right things. This is about respecting people and their choices. We […]

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Have a real and honest national conversation on what we stand for as a society and country. The key word here is honest. Our conversations around human rights, and racial and gender equality must be mirrored by our actions. This isn’t about saying the right things. This is about respecting people and their choices. We need to have an honest conversation about whether any of this is important to us as a society and country. If it is, then we need to be deliberate about doing something about it.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Karthik Ganesh, CEO at EmpiRx Health. Karthik has built EmpiRx Health into an Inc. 5000 company and a certified Great Place To Work, while transforming it into a diverse, high-growth and high-innovation engine. Each of these successes as a result of deliberate actions and choices — as Karthik believes diversity does not happen by osmosis — all decisions should be made with deliberate intent and outcome in mind.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in Mumbai, India. My dad was in the Navy, and my mom was a banker. They were both fantastic role models for me personally and professionally. While my dad had a great career and retired as an Admiral, it was always clear in our home that both their jobs were important.

There was an affordability and quality of life element to this understanding, but more importantly, there was a high degree of clarity that both were equal partners in the relationship.

As a result, the notion of gender inequality was non-existent in my childhood. India also had a woman Prime Minister during my most formative years and as a result, it never struck me until much later that there was something special about a woman having the top job anywhere — at home or running the country.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I’m an avid reader, and constant reading is arguably both my greatest vice and deepest passion. The one book that towers over all others for me is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

There are so many things to take away from that book: Chase dreams and give them your all. Be grounded enough to realize that all you control are your actions, not the outcome. The book talks about the universe coalescing to create the most viable path towards our destination, whatever that destination might be.

We spend way too much time in our lives beating ourselves up, which is pitted against embracing the notion that the universe is fundamentally rooting for our success. With that being said about the universe, the book also takes karma to a more fundamental level. It tells us that, while the universe might coalesce around our deepest aspirations, it is the choices we make and the lessons we learn when confronted with obstacles that define our character and lead us towards our destination.

It talks about truly listening to ourselves. The greatest thing we fear as humans is having a real, honest and intimate conversation with ourselves. The book refers to it as the language of the soul.

There’s a lot that’s been written about the fear of death, the fear of public speaking, etc. It is my firm belief that our greatest fear as humans is having a real conversation with ourselves; listening to our innermost fears, desires and dreams. What if we don’t like who we meet? On the other hand, what if all the answers to the eternal questions around happiness and inner peace reside squarely in that conversation?

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

As mentioned, I’m an avid reader, and philosophy is arguably my favorite genre. I should probably share a quote here from a really deep thinker. Interestingly enough, the quote that I believe resonates closest with my personal philosophy and thinking was spoken by Professor Dumbledore to Harry Potter. He says, It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Life is a mixed bag and filled with dualities — happiness-sorrow, wellness-sickness, profit-loss, etc. How we respond to those dualities defines the quality of our life and showcases our resilience. Everything in life is about our attitude and the choices we make.

When suboptimal things happen to us, embracing them with an attitude of gratitude diffuses any angst. That attitude is a deliberate choice. Our response to life’s dualities are deliberate choices. We can label them as good or bad and dwell on them, or we can accept them for what they are, course-correct if needed and move forward.

That acceptance or surrender is a deliberate choice.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Strong leaders showcase the following key qualities:

  1. Self-awareness — They possess a deep understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses and the ability to act appropriately based on that knowledge. The lack of self-awareness and resulting inability to be introspective is painfully obvious at key and highly pivotal leadership positions these days, resulting in the inability to distinguish right from wrong.
  2. Integrity — They take purpose-driven and deliberate actions that are never about cutting corners and always about doing the right thing.
  3. Dispassion — They have the ability to take a step back, look at the big picture and course-correct appropriately if needed. While passion is a great leadership trait, I see dispassion as being more critical and demonstrative of a higher emotional intelligence.
  4. Resilient — They do not let natural ups and downs get in the way of steering things in the right direction. The ability to transition from a ‘what?’ to a ‘so-what’ seamlessly and then refocus on the road ahead. Resilience as a key leadership trait is also the natural culmination of the prior three qualities.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I don’t really get stressed very often. This wasn’t always the case. Getting to this point has been a process and a part of my journey towards finding mental quietude in the midst of stress, anxiety and high-pressure work. Do things get to me…yes they absolutely do…but then I deliberately recognize the fact that something is getting to me and make a deliberate choice to course-correct, address the situation or move on.

I’m a firm believer in giving everything I do my 100%, which includes prepping for high-stakes meetings or stressful aspects of the job. If my team and I have done everything I possibly believe we could do to prepare for a meeting or event, then all we control is the execution and not the outcome. The acceptance that all I control is the journey and not the outcome has come from consistent deliberate practice over the years.

At this point, that level of acceptance or surrender regarding the outcome is built into my psyche, which takes the pressure off and lets me completely focus on the preparation and the execution.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Earlier in this conversation, I’d shared that I grew up in India where we had a woman Prime Minister leading the country for the greater part of 15 years across multiple stints as the premier. I don’t think anyone would confuse India with firmly standing for the empowerment of women. But here’s the important thing, India for the most part understands its challenges and is constantly working towards becoming a better version of itself. The equality crisis in the United States is fundamentally because we have failed to take a step back, identify major flaws in our system and then strive to live up to the ideals that we talk about.

We would like to believe in the US that we treat men and women equally, but that is not playing out in our society. The percentage of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies remains at 7.4%, women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 layoffs, and we still have yet to see a female president.

In addition, the nation has yet to address the current state of race relations. The issue here is also one of lack of desire to fully understand the current environment. There needs be deliberate actions to ensure that Black lives are treated on par with others. Having elected a Black president doesn’t suddenly mean we have solved the challenge of systemic racism. Racial-bias and gender-bias continue to be huge issues for this country. Unless we’re able to take a step back and have a real conversation with ourselves about how this country is treating the population, we will keep perpetuating this behavior.

This is where the parallel comes in from the standpoint of The Alchemist. We need to have a real conversation with ourselves and ask ourselves what we truly stand for as Americans. We need to ask ourselves as a country if we truly see equality as a cornerstone of humanity and whether equality is truly important to us.

If the answer is yes, then nothing is too much to make that happen.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

Creating organizations that are truly focused on diversity and inclusion (D&I) doesn’t happen by osmosis. D&I isn’t going to happen just because an organization hired a new leader charged with addressing it either.

D&I needs to be fundamentally driven into the core of the organization. At EmpiRx Health, we have embraced the perspective that diversity has to be a part of our organizational being and then need to be constantly nurtured as such. We’re a New Jersey-based company, and the employee mix reflects the highly diverse nature of our state.

Our recruitment and retention practices are extremely deliberate. 62% of the leadership team and 65% of the overall company are women. In light of recent events, we released a D&I manifesto within the organization reiterating our organizational commitment. D&I can’t be something that’s adjunct to the corporate strategy; it needs to be an intricate part of it for it to truly be effective or real.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Diversity of background, upbringing, perspectives, etc. are critical to a thriving organization’s executive team. There are numerous studies that have drawn a direct correlation between diversity and company revenue/performance.

Quite simply, having diverse ideas at the executive table equates to a greater chance that the company will think differently, challenge the status quo and grow effectively. EmpiRx Health’s senior executive team is made up of 62% women and represents the perspectives of individuals who grew up or spent formative years in four countries.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society?” Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Have a real and honest national conversation on what we stand for as a society and country. The key word here is honest. Our conversations around human rights, and racial and gender equality must be mirrored by our actions. This isn’t about saying the right things. This is about respecting people and their choices. We need to have an honest conversation about whether any of this is important to us as a society and country. If it is, then we need to be deliberate about doing something about it.
  2. Embrace equality as the cornerstone of humanity There is more work that needs to be done to ensure racial and gender equality. We must focus on what we have in common rather than our differences. I think when we shift the focus, we will find that we’re more alike than we thought.
  3. Teach our kids the value of empathy. We must teach our kids that at the end of the day we are all one. Empathy is a win-win where we can be there for another person, while feeling good about ourselves. Every single one of us is fundamentally good, and empathy for others helps feed that inherent goodness.
  4. Deliberately practice compassion as a society. Society is a living, breathing organism like humans. Society has muscle memory as well and responds positively to deliberate practice. Deliberately practicing compassion and fairness will help start the shift towards a more accepting society.
  5. Getting the media together for a common cause. We continue to be on media overdrive and there’s enough evidence that our perspectives can be altered by continual exposure to a set of content. What if the media collaborated on the importance of an inclusive, representative and equitable society? What could that kind of exposure and resulting mental stimulus do to the psyche of our society and country at large? One would think, it would be really good.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

There’s a reason I came to this country and why I’ve spent over half my life here. We have an inherent desire to be good. We have lofty ideals as a country and society, and truly believe they are achievable. I believe in what our country wants to stand for, but we still have real work to do. If we don’t deviate from our intent and become more deliberate with our execution, there’s really nothing we can’t do as a country. The right intent supported with the right execution would allow us to achieve our goals. I do believe we can make movement towards a real and deeper solution that helps us begin to heal.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Bill and Melinda Gates. I know that’s two people, but what they have done through their foundation to improve the lives and livelihood of millions of people around the world is nothing short of incredible. They have shown that godliness begins with us as humans. We have all been given the ability to make a difference, whether it is for one person or millions. Improving the lives of others and having a natural compassion for those who are less privileged than us is the essence of humanity. Bill and Melinda epitomize humanity.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’ve published a book called The Happiness Model, which is intended to be a roadmap to inner peace and personal resilience, based on an ancient eastern philosophy and my own journey. I’ve been told by a number of people that it has helped them in their own personal journeys. I write a blog called Your Inner Attitude from time to time and contribute as a community author on Thrive Global. I can also be followed on LinkedIn.

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