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Macquarie Capital’s Kalpana Desai’s seven steps to career success as a woman in banking

Last week the top-20 women in Asian banking and finance were celebrated at a lunch in Singapore organised by FinanceAsia and The Financial Women’s Association of Singapore.

One of those honoured, Kalpana Desai, Macquarie Capital’s head of Asia, honed in on career issues. During the panel discussion, Desai, who took on her current role in 2009, shared the rules that have governed her working life.

“I was fortunate enough to be given these seven pointers 15 years ago when I was at a relatively early stage of my career. Whenever I’m stuck, or feel like I’m losing my way, I always come back to them,” she said.

1) Prioritise

“Work out what’s important to you. Investment banking, for example, is a very demanding career and it’s not for everyone. The first thing you have to do is find out what is truly important to me – what do I want to achieve, and what am I prepared to pay as a price for that?”

2) Be adventurous

“Stretch yourself, take risks – you’ll never progress if you stay in your comfort zone. So look for the next challenge, look for the next risk opportunity.”

3) Become a manager

“Take on a line job. You need to be able to be measured and the best way to be measured is in a line job where you’re directly responsible for revenues and P&L – that’s the best way to show objectively that you can perform.”

4) Stay buoyant

“Have resilience and confidence. You will get setbacks; nobody has a career that goes one way. You will go backwards as well as forwards, but the key is to believe that there is upside, and have resilience.”

5) Find yourself a sounding board

“The fifth – and I think women are reluctant to do this – is to ask for feedback. Don’t be shy, you will learn from having constructive criticism, so ask for feedback from your colleagues and your bosses.”

6) Don’t be too humble

“Don’t hide your light under a bushel. I think women naturally tend to be less vocal about themselves, their strengths and tend to be more critical of their own abilities – gross generalisation – but on a relative basis. So you should really think about that when you do something good. When you’ve done the analysis, when you’ve done the work, make sure your colleagues and your bosses know about it.”

7) Invest in support at home

“I have these wonderful people, as well as my husband, to help me at home to look after my three children. I couldn’t do the job and travel as much as I do if it wasn’t for that. Whether it’s assistants, nannies, domestic helpers: have whatever it takes to build that support network that allows you to focus on your job and your work. That’s critical and I think that we are all very fortunate in Asia that we are able to do that so much more easily than you can in Europe or in the US. So I think that’s one reason why you see women progress so much more in Asia.”

Comments (1)

  1. This article doesn’t have to be about how to succeed as a woman, the points are relevant to all.

    I am not a great fan of ‘positive discrimination’ – women, men and all races should be judged on their merits. Initiatives inside or outside organizations to promote or improve the profile of women, or any other minority is potentially predjucing the majority or other minorities.

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