Dr. Bijna K. Dasani is the Head of Architecture & Innovation at Lloyds Banking Group. With 19+ years of professional experience, she has worked across EMEA, the Americas and Asia, and has a robust track record of delivering successes for global Banking and Financial Services across the verticals of Strategy, Innovation and Technology. Bijna serves the Boards of FinTech Connect, CIONet, IPQC CDO Exchange, and the Inclusive Companies Network. She is a FinTech Mentor and has co-hosted the Women in Business TV series and films videos on Mentorship, Leadership & Technology.
Can you tell us about your career progression into your current role?
After work-experience with the Royal Bank of Scotland Group (during secondary education), my first tangible role in Financial Services was with Credit Suisse; I was instantly inspired and intellectually stimulated by my colleagues and the working environment alike. I later moved to Goldman Sachs in New York, transitioning from Operations into Change Management and later Strategy roles. As my career has since taken me to different roles and locations, Strategy has become my core skill set and Innovation my secondary; which encompasses verticals of data, core innovation, fintech, and applied sciences – all of which have been the pillars underpinning career over the past decade.
Looking back at your career to date, can you pinpoint when you first noticed an emphasis on diversity and inclusion around you?
This is very circumstantial at times; there have been moment of gaps and moments of emphasis; personally, it’s always been a priority throughout my career. As a graduate entry into Financial Services, I was an equal in terms of gender parity and an evident minority in terms of culture and religion. I’ve observed labelling and globally, the statistical evidence on the lack of parity for women in Financial Services, as well as other sectors; women are typically 10%-20% of the C Suite in most sectors across geographies. A few years ago, I chose to write a paper exploring the reasons behind the lack of parity, particularly within the Financial Services C Suite. While historical, environmental and economic factors play a role, my research showed distinct attrition at the middle management level, when women’s priorities often change at home and at work simultaneously; which has a fundamental impact on women reaching the boardroom. For the past decade, I’ve been sharing views about the importance of shared responsibility at home and at work, particularly through those increased responsibility phases. While things are improving with regards to awareness; the fact remains that we are still 200+ years away from gender parity when it comes to salary.
You have worked across EMEA, APAC and the Americas - what are the cultural differences, and have they affected your management style?
There are cultural differences not just between these regions, but also within them. One of my roles covered both North America and Latin America – both provided completely different experiences during the same tenure. In fact, no two states in America are the same. It’s critical to understand the value-system of colleagues in any region, and thereafter understand how it drives their decision-making, thought-process and communication - and then it’s really important to adapt your own style as necessary. My own leadership style is therefore adaptive; it supports this strategy and has served me well.
What is your approach to innovation?
Start small but think big. I see innovation as a series of small, incremental steps that lead to impactful change. My approach is to focus on a problem, develop a solution (often through technology) and create a business model around that solution.
How can we encourage people to be more innovative?
Encourage an innovative spirit and provide colleagues with safe environments to test-and-learn and experiment; if they can fail-fast, learn-fast and incrementally conquer challenges over time - these learnings underpin the makings of a solid foundation.
How has your field evolved through technology and innovation?
I often quote “Banking is necessary, banks are not.” Banks are not simply competing with other banks today, they’re competing with technology, apps and start-ups that often don’t even play directly in the Financial Services spectrum – take WeChat for example! As non-financial services players are absorbing slices of the Financial Services pie, the banking industry is responding with rapid change. For example, we are seeing lots of transitions to cashless society’s in the developed World and in comparison, 25% of the World’s population in the developing World remains in the ‘unbanked’ or ‘underbanked’ segment. Innovation and technology are simply disrupting how we have traditionally done business.
Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
Many; there are a lot of people who have influenced my leadership style over the years. I’m a people-watcher and I like to observe and understand why people make certain decisions or act in a certain way - so I’m always influenced by people who I observe doing things well and who have a sound value-system; these could be members of my personal or professional networks. Integrity is at the heart of everything I do. I have had some excellent managers over the years, who are now (informal) mentors from whom I can seek guidance as needed and at times they are my best sponsors.
How do you balance long hours with your personal life successfully?
Discipline. When I was 16, I started working 9am to 5pm whilst simultaneously studying at night school between 6pm-9pm. I learnt the value of time-management, multi-tasking and living a disciplined life early on! It was challenging to begin with, but it was also one of the best experiences as the routine really prepared me for the Investment Banking industry which I later joined. It is very important to have a healthy work-life balance, where one keeps you engaged with the other. Emotional, physical and mental wellbeing are all extremely important personally and for the teams I manage; they are always factors’ I talk openly about and encourage colleagues to focus on. Building the foundation of my career was absolutely key in the early years, and my time was weighted towards that, I have become more aware of the balance over time and encourage it in the workplace – the industry has also evolved to more proactivity in this domain over time.
In your experience, what are the benefits of diverse teams and diverse organisations?
The key measurable is impact. The more diverse the thinking and representation around the room, the more diverse and creative the outcome is likely to be. If you hire people who look and sound like you, your results are limited (as the studies show). If you hire people who do things differently, there’s learning for everyone. I’ve been hired because I do think differently, and to positively disrupt the status quo! There is power in inclusion. We’re in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a time of disruption and new technology; the emerging economies (E7) are catching up with, or in some cases surpassing the developed economies (G7) because they are agile, less regulated and can often adapt much quicker and harness their diverse thinking.
What is your advice to leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?
Think broadly and adopt a lens beyond the day-to-day to understand the world from different perspectives like political, economic, technological, and sociological alike. Times have never been so interesting! Leaders today are in a position to shape the future of Banking and Financial Services and beyond, thereforeit’s important to consider (beyond the status quo) future consumers and workforce trends and start to be inclusive of their needs, thinking and culture in order to survive and thrive.