Women in banking are often frequently encouraged to focus on getting promotions if they have their sights set on the executive suite. But according to TD Bank's Nandita Bakhshi, the path to a corner office is not always a linear one.
Bakhshi was in New York City recently to offer lessons gleaned from a career that has propelled her from a part-time bank teller in upstate New York to head of the consumer bank at the $236 billion-asset TD.
The secrets of her success include a series of globe-trotting and diverse career moves over the course of more than 25 years in the industry, she told attendees of the New York Bankers Association's Women in Banking conference in November. Not only has Bakhshi worked for U.S. banks including Bank One, FleetBoston and Washington Mutual, she spent several years in Europe heading the mobile commerce division for payment processing company First Data and took a four-month, pro bono microfinancing gig that helped women entrepreneurs in India write business plans.
"We were fortunate, being 10,000 miles from our birth home, so there was no home here [to need to stick close to]," the Calcutta, India, native said in an interview about the peripatetic professional trajectory she's forged with her husband. "I don't think that's true for most couples, who have parents and in-laws and want to stay close to them. … But what I say to people is to move within the organization. Don't only look at linear moves, look at lateral ones-it broadens your horizons and lets you do something you never thought you would."
Women who take positions across various bank business divisions develop a comprehensive knowledge base that makes them better bosses in the long run, Bakhshi said.
"The further up you go, the less you actually do," she said, "but you have to know enough to know something that could get [you] in trouble. You develop that instinct because you've worked with different people and organizations, so you get to know cultures really well."
Women who are willing to take calculated risks with their careers will also come out ahead, according to Bakhshi. Her own big break came in 1994 when she decided to leave Bank One in Columbus, Ohio, for a temporary position as head of product management at Home Savings of America in Los Angeles.
"That's what catapulted my career," she said. "But it was a risk that I was taking, because after it was over 18 months later, I didn't know where I was going to land."
Since Bakhshi finally landed at TD five years ago, she said, she has been heartened by the efforts her employer takes to help all types of people advance their careers. She cites TD's speed-mentoring sessions, in which executives rotate through a series of short one-on-one conversations with up-and-coming staffers, and the bank's group events for minority staffers, people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.
Diversity is "a business imperative," Bakhshi said. "We need to look like and speak to the communities we serve."
"We need to have people who customers can relate to," she continued. "So we're all about creating an inclusive environment where people are not just hired, but can prosper and do well in the organization."