FeForte: Conversation with Subha Barry

Dr Jacqui Leaman Grey and Georgina Gorman had the pleasure of speaking with the wonderful Subha Barry. Subha is CEO of Seramount, the leading strategic professional services firm in the US dedicated to advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace. Her career spans 33 years, with experience in front-line business, and operational and leadership roles. Subha has held many senior D&I roles including Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Freddie Mac, and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Merrill Lynch. Subha spent 20-plus years at Merrill Lynch after starting her career in Finance as a Commodities Trader, and at Merrill Lynch she worked with, and built a solid friendship with, Jacqui. In the session, Subha shares her experiences of growing up in India, building her career in Finance as a woman of colour, and her tips on bouncing back from adversity.

Transcript:

Georgina: Intro to FeForte.

Jacqui: Introduced Subha.

Subha: Thank you so much Jacqui. Jacqui and I have stayed connected after we both left Merrill Lynch. The one thing you realise from these relationships is, its not just for women but for both men and women who begin to look at their lives in a very blended way. You don’t have separate tranches for work friends and personal home friends. Those two things blend together and these experiences that we each bring to bear really impacts these relationships and Jacqui and my relationship is one such relationship that actually straddled the Atlantic.
A little bit about my background so you can get a sense of where I came from I grew up in a very conservative S Indian family where girls essentially left their parents’ home to go to their husband’s home so you were essentially ‘under the care of a man’, whether that was your father or your husband. Lucky for me I was raised with a lot of male cousins and a certain amount of freedom around what I could and couldn’t do in life and, what happened there, growing up as ‘one of the boys’, in early childhood, and then when you hit puberty being asked to become this feminine being was something that I simply wasn’t able to do and what I did was, I rebelled, I wanted all the things that the boys wanted, I was not allowed to go away to college but, you know, I pushed and pushed, to be able to do the kind of things they did. As things evolved I learned that we learn the art of negotiating, early early in life and if we can look back in our childhood for those of us who really honed that skill, that skill that actually came from childhood, wanting what you want and learning to negotiate with your parents to get it. Whether in this country maybe it was about going on a sleepover somewhere which the first time your parents let you do it was almost impossible. In my case it was things like going unchaperoned, out shopping with friends as an example. Those things actually stand you in very good stead as you get older and come into the workplace. But the way my story evolved was that I was lucky enough, with the help of some wonderful male cousins who had already come to the US, who paid my application fee for my admission to the universities here for my MBA without my parents knowledge – it really allowed me to get a scholarship and an admission to RICE university and my parents were unable to say no at that time, they had nothing to hold me back with other than guilt and pressure which didn’t work.
And so here I found myself in the United states in 1983, armed with a scholarship and a few hundred dollars, I decided I was going to conquer the world and become a CEO somewhere and I didn’t quite know what that meant but I knew it was big and that’s what I wanted for myself, I was 20 years old. What I didn’t realise was that having grown up as part of the majority population I did not appreciate what being a part of a minority would be like and so when I came to this country, and I came to Texas of all the places, Houston Texas, and when people sort of treated you differently I couldn’t quite understand why and I think that was my first experience of being ‘the other’. And I will tell you I drew on my strengths and skills as someone who was rebellious, who stood up and spoke out, that negotiated and asked for what I wanted, all of those skills played a big role in helping me be able to navigate the world of being the other and I always tell the story of how India didn’t have television until I was 18 and in those early days of programme television was not very good, it was about government affairs and farming shows. I did not know anything about pop culture in this country, I had never watched any of the popular tv shows here or even heard of them, so it was an immersion into in the dorm, common room, watching all kinds of shows and I will be dating myself when I talk about you know Star Trek and Chew Bunker and Cheers and Hill Street Blues and the kind of yesteryear shows so I would have enough to enter conversations. The other thing I realised that whilst I was I did not know much about sports, growing up in India and learning how to memorise things was going to come in really handy because I would open the newspaper every day, and yes it was a physical newspaper, and I would memorise the box scores of every baseball team and it was quite easy for me to do that so I could enter conversations speaking fluently about baseball, a game which I had never been to, which I didn’t know what it was, but which I knew the box scores and they thought it was the cat’s miaow because they had this accented Indian girl with frizzy hair speaking about baseball.
So that gives you a sense of how early on I figured out how to be part, how to insert myself in and become part of it and we can say that one shouldn’t have to do that but that’s what I had to do to start to be accepted, became a commodities trader, became a wealth advisor at Merrill Lynch and I had a very successful career as such because I was one of the top 100 out of 16,000 advisors at Merrill. So it wasn’t the money it wasn’t that success. In 1997 I faced my first of six bouts of cancer and when I did that it really ground me to a halt because I realised that all my success, all the money I made would actually amount to nothing. I had two young children and all I wanted to do was look at my life and figure out what I had done that was truly meaningful other than make a lot of money. Not that I underrate that at all money is important, especially for women money is important, but it was for me telling that I had not focussed on legacy, on doing for others, as much I thought that serving my clients was job enough. That’s what started me on my D&I journey where I began to look at how few people that looked like me were actually part of my company and I asked my manager and he said ‘Subha we got lucky with you, we’re not pushing our luck again’ and so what he did was he took everything I had done and put into this nice little package that said ‘lucky lucky’ and that was not enough and I thought what are you missing out on, and that changed what I did after that. I built a multi cultural business, I became global head of Diversity at Merrill and Jacqui and I will have a conversation about that, and ultimately went on to really figure out how to teach the world around me that Diversity was not just about a bunch of people who looked different or talked differently.
You know it was so funny, early days trading commodities, it was a very crass world and they would insist, even though I didn’t cook and eat Indian food every day they would insist that I smelt like curry. And that was the constant call out, that I smelled and I became so conscious of it, it was interesting but you know, it was the equivalent of, have you ever been to a basketball game and seen how they trash talk on the court, for those of you who have been aware of that, they say nasty things to each other. And part of it you realise is to get the other person off their game its to get them to feel uncomfortable so they are not focussing on shooting and dribbling the ball. So I realised, now I realise, I didn’t realise then, that their way of putting me down was really to get me off my game so that they would be better in comparison and I was really doing well I was a phenomenal trader. That’s what you need to learn to realise, that’s the kind of thing that will help you build resilience. Because you realise this is not something they are doing to you, they are doing something for themselves and you are just collateral damage. If you can take that attitude to anything that’s directed at you, chances are you will literally be like a duck, letting the water roll off your back. I believe that is one of the fundamental reasons for my success because I don’t let that penetrate under your skin I just let it roll off and say I am who I am and I know who I am.
So I’m going to stop with that and would really like to ask Jacqui, I know she had a number of things she wanted to talk to me about and so I would love to begin that conversation.

Jacqui: Yes I’ve got some questions but you’ve just brought something up for me, did you find the ‘smelt like curry’ shocking comment, did that come from other women trying to put you down as well or was that a male/female thing?

Subha: It was purely male, Commodities trading is a very male dominated environment as you know Jacqui, you and I have been in male dominated industries, yeah, it’s the guys, they don’t think twice before doing something like that and if that is going to give them a little bit of an edge or a competitive advantage they are going to do it.


Jacqui: How did you manage the whole business of creating a family, having children, being this superstar banker?

Subha: Well it was interesting because in India, in Indian families, if you have friends who are Indian, they will tell you that there are literally no boundaries that you have between your life and your parents, so I got married, I met my husband Jim in business school, I married young and literally a month passed and my mother wanted to know when we were going to plan a family. ‘Don’t delay it’ ‘Don’t put it off’ ‘when are you starting?’ It was not ok for me to say ‘mum, mind your own beeswax, we’ll get to it when we get to it!’ It wasn’t part of the culture but in retrospect I look at it and think to myself, I got sick with my first bout of cancer when my son was not even 2, and I became sterile after my first set of treatments, those were the days when they still hadn’t thought through ‘ok let’s freeze her eggs, lets do xyz’, they just treated you with the chemotherapy, they blasted your body with it and there I was sterile after that. So I think to myself maybe my mum pushing me, maybe my decision to have children early was actually a smart thing because if I’d waited long enough, I would always have adopted, but I wouldn’t have been able to have my own children. I will tell you it was not easy. I didn’t appreciate how important it was to build your support network and structure, did not always have good nannies at that time, I had a lot of turnover with nannies and that was really difficult. I had friends but many of my friends were stay at home mums in my neighbourhood and schools, and so I felt it was an imposition to ask them to do something, I felt compelled to do my ‘fair share’ so if it was my turn to pick up the kids from girl guides then I made sure that that day I was available to do it. It didn’t matter what important meeting I had or where I had to be, I turned up to pick up the girls or whatever needed to be done. So I felt a lot of pressure to do my part, to not be seen as less than other mums. Full disclosure, I have been known to go buy cupcakes, bring them home, put them on a nice plate with a doily on it and sprinkle some extra sprinkles on it, pretending it was mine except when people peeled of the wrapper and found out it said ‘Wagmans’ that kind of gave it away and I have been known to do that and I look back and think you know I didn’t have the confidence at that time to say to the mums ‘this is the best I could do, these are not home baked, I just didn’t have time, so hey it is what it is! We make do with what we can do. I always wondered if my children felt short changed. There is a lesson there. In my family, I have always been the disciplinarian. I was always the one who did the homework, who called them out when screwed up etc and Jim was the kind who went to every game, he was this amazing, devoted, incredible father and husband because I would say to you that for every professional women one of the most important decisions in life will be who you marry. Be really wise, choose wisely. The right one will honour you, celebrate you, and support you and the one who isn’t the right one will take you down every time and deplete you. But looking back what I would say to you is I wish I had been a little less the disciplinarian, I wish I had been that one to let that bed be unmade, I wish I had been the one who didn’t call out every single thing, they didn’t need to fix everything. Even if they did I didn’t need to be the one to do it. I wish I had asked before I critiqued them, as to when was the last time I actually celebrated something positive and I think if I had paused to do that I think the kids would have had, it wasn’t the fact that I was a working parent, it was the part that I was the critical parent that they remember. So for those of you who are young and having children, think about when you are going to critique them, when was the last time I actually praised them. Try to get a balance there and remind yourself to be conscious.


Jacqui: So you said not the working, one of the things I’ve noticed with senior women in business is that they often have this ‘working mother guilt’. I cant be there for certain events or I cant be home on time to make them tea or whatever it is. And whenever I leave work early I feel guilty there, there’s like this pull in two directions, have you not ever experienced this?

Subha: Oh Jacqui I experienced this all the time and I still experience it. But the reality is I see my daughter who is a surgeon now, make decisions and I know that her, the direction of her, the choices she makes in her life have been shaped by my role modelling. So im not saying I got it all right, and I don’t think she’ll get it all right but at least she has the courage of her convictions to try. To be bold to speak up to stand up when she thinks something is unfair or wrong. And I think the impact is even greater if you have a son. I have a son and a daughter and with my son, its very interesting. I look at how he treats women. Women colleagues, his friends, his girlfriend. I really believe that that example that you set really does translate into impacting the lives of your children. And my nieces and nephews who very often turn to me, those nieces and nephews whose mums have not worked will often come and ask me for guidance and advice on things and I do help them. So I do think there is an important role to play.


Jacqui: Something Georgina and I have talked about recently, how do you bring up boys? What’s your view on that generally. Have you treated them differently, the same.


Subha: No I have treated them the same but they are different children. That’s where my daughters paediatrician gave me the very best advice that I have ever received when she was born and I would ask him a million questions on what to do and how to do it. He said ‘You do realise she has never had another parent before’, the set of experiences around how this should be done – she may be your first child but you are her first mum. If she’s uncomfortable she’ll let you know. Dont worry about it and it was really interesting to think about it from that perspective. I think I eased up a lot more after that. In bringing up daughters and sons I think that you bring them up in the same way with the same set of values and beliefs but I think its where you notice transitions for them for instance for my daughter when she was in 4th grade I think, she decided she was really good at Math – so she comes to her school classes, were divided into groups. You had the advanced group, you had the on level group and the ones which were lagging which I happen to disagree with, I think a mixed group is a much better way to teach. Anyway, so she comes to me one day and says mum I’m really struggling with Math I want to drop down to the on level group and I said to her I’m surprised, you always been good at Math what happened and her response was interesting she said ‘well I’m not doing as well on my tests, I’m not scoring straight A’s as easily, homework is taking me longer and I just didn’t buy so I went in digging and realised there were only 3 girls in the advanced Math group and the other group were not ‘the cool girls’. This is the age girls start to want to be attractive to boys it starts that early, and she was already starting the process of dumbing herself down. If I hadn’t noticed and picked up on it, talked to her teacher and advisor, and I decided to take the tactic, Jim and I decided, that we would essentially say to her, ‘its going to be OK if you only score B’s, even an occasional C is fine!’ but you are staying with the advanced group, and besides, genetically you are incapable of not being good at Math, your father is an undergrad statistics major, I was a Math major in my undergrad, Math and Economics major, your grandfather had a Masters in Math, your other grandfather was an accountant, your great grandfather also had a masters in Mathematics so we are a mathematical family. Genetically it’s impossible that you didn’t inherit some of those so you are staying with it.

Jacqui: There’s lots of great research about that Subha that women do live down to the stereotype that women are no good at Maths, we talk about that on our programme quite a bit, Georgina could probably go into it more but its certainly very common and that desire to fit in, to be cool rather than clever is quite common.


Subha: Think about the number of girls who may actually do that and don’t give themselves an opportunity to excel at science and Math. So something needs to be done in schools systems to really start to look at the end of grade school, to say ‘how do we keep the pressure on to say to the girls you can be just as good, don’t give up.


Jacqui: Absolutely, could you tell us if there were any moments when you were actively bullied or harassed? And if there were was that because you were a woman or because you were a woman of colour? Did that intersectionality affect how people treated you or did you just not experience that at all in your career?


Subha: I faced plenty of that and I would say sometimes it was because I was a woman and often because I was different. My accent now is very muted, you’d be hard pressed to say to me you have an UK/Indian accent. But for a long time that accent was pronounced and I looked the way I did before the age of flat irons, the frizzy hair was the norm. There was nothing much you could do about it. Looking different, speaking differently, the fact they knew you were an immigrant, there wasn’t so much an anti immigrant sentiment in the country, there was almost an ignorance around the unknown. It usually played out in humour. The crass humour that they would use. They would imitate the accent. There was a character called Arbu in one of the cartoon shows on television that was this Indian 7/11 storeowner and they would imitate that when they spoke to me, exaggerated imitation and you could either take umbrage and challenge them on it or you could just let it roll over your back and let the numbers and the results speak. And that’s what I chose to do. I would say to you that being left out – an example was as a Wealth Advisor at Merrill Lynch, if you among the top 10 or 15 in your office there were a number about 200 of us, based on your production for the month in terms of what you put on the board as revenues you produced for the company, they used to get a box at Yankee stadium and they would get a bus and take all of you for the game, and senior leaders from Merrills corporate leadership would pop in and sit and talk to you etc and because I was the only girl who ever qualified to go there they would often say to me ‘you know Subha we’ll give you am Amex gift card to go to dinner with your husband, I think you’d prefer that much more than coming with us’ and when that didn’t work and I would say I really did want to go to the game they would say things like ‘you know we may stop by a bar on the way back and it would really not be appropriate for you, etc etc. You know, it hurt then, it hurt because in that moment they were not including me and that’s like when you have a bunch of friends playing and they leave you out, or they don’t pick you to be on the team, that hurts. But again, they were not thinking about me. I always talk about this one man who stood up and said ‘guys, do we have to stop at the bar on the way back? Why don’t we just go to the game and come back?’ Why cant we include her? It took one of them and that male ally made all the difference. This is when you realise that you need a combination of, a sense of justice and fairness that needs to be accompanies by courage. When these two things come together, immediately what happened is this man changed how others behaved because there were probably many other people who thought this was unfair but didn’t have the courage to speak up, but when he stepped up another 4 or 5 or 6 of them stepped up and said ‘why not? Come on guys and Subha was included after that. So I always say that I learned early that there were many many good men and you need those men with a combination of sense of fairness and courage to come together and then things change. It changes from within, it isn’t something that’s mandated that HR says its something you have to do, it isn’t a lawsuit, it comes out because of a culture within an organisation where one person is willing to stand up and speak in a way that may not make them popular with their colleagues, there may even be a couple of people in that group who say ‘what’s with you and Subha, what are you sticking up for her so much, what’s going on ?’ You have those kinds of insinuations but this person had the courage to say, you know what, it doesn’t seem fair, she needs to come, she qualifies month after month, why shouldn’t she come.


Jacqui: Yes its actually systemic racism isn’t it and male allies really do need to step up and work with women to affect the culture. One thing you said resonated with me there which is you just get on with it and I think that is common in women who’ve been around in corporations for quite a long time, that was my strategy and I’ve heard women on tv say the same thing but I think things have changed over the last few years. The example that came up for me was a journalist saying ‘well I just got on with it’ I’d make a joke and move on, and the person she was interviewing was probably half her age and she said ‘yes but it isn’t acceptable that you had to modify you’ that you have to accept this covert racism really. Or sexism against you and we all have these stereotypes that are so strong that we cant even hear a voice unless it comes from someone who is similar to ourselves and so your description of the man speaking up and they could all hear the argument is so classic isn’t it? I mean how do you feel about the generational difference between our sort of age group who just got on with it or laughed it off or carried on and actually standing up in the moment and saying what you’ve just said is unacceptable what do you feel about that now?


Subha: I have to tell you that once I decided to go on this journey of being this change agent -it started when I built the multi cultural business unit at Merrill, there’s so much money in multi cultural communities we need to be doing business, along with that I also changed my whole approach. I became a teacher and ad nauseam I would take every opportunity when this happened to not stay quiet. To not adapt to not adjust. The thick skin is great but I use my podium to teach people after that. So I would say that even women who early in our careers learned how to develop that thick skin, when we have arrived at a place of power and position, I think its incumbent on us to call this out and you can do it in a nice way where not only do you call it out but you can begin to engage your male allies who are part of it. You become better at identifying those male allies. You get better at saying to them ‘I’m going to speak out about it and I could really use your support to reinforce it. So it becomes a 1, 2, it isn’t just you every time. So that’s one, I am enormously proud of this younger generation who just stand up, speaks out about what they believe in and are willing to accept the consequences of it. So what do they do? When they find that they are not in a company or a culture that is not as inclusive/ they stand up against it and if the company is not willing to change they vote with their feet, they leave. They go to another company that is more embracing, so I will tell you that they are showing in action, with courage, all the things that are really important to create sustainable change. I used to say that ultimately with DE&I it cannot just be a woman of colour, a diverse individual, be the one to champion it, you need the white men to stand up and champion it. I would also similarly say generationally, you need everybody irrespective. It used to be ‘you are young what do you know?’ What experience do you have around it? The reality is they know right from wrong, they have a sense of fairness and justice and to me having that shine through is going to be one way you create change. Another example of that is when did maternity/paternity become parental leave policies in companies? That’s when young men started to say they wanted to take time off, I’m not just going to take 4 or 5 days off. I want 3 months, I want the same as my spouse does because I want to be there. Because that created a change in the mindset in corporations that all of a sudden don’t have maternity or paternity leave they have parental leave. So that’s how change happens and we are seeing it, right now.


Jacqui: I totally find that my learning is coming from youth. I’m learning every single day and am on a complete journey. Because the perception of the world is different and better. And if we are going to save our planet we need to have the strategies and humanity to be willing to put our heads above the parapet in ways that we weren’t able to or didn’t feel brave enough to. Just as a final round up as I’d love to get some questions from everyone on the call and Georgina, what are your basic coping mechanisms for when you feel stressed? You’ve had some really hard life experiences like cancer, you’ve had the intersectionality experiences of bullying, and all those early experiences that you described, what is it, what do you do, how do you calm down, how do you bounce back?


Subha: Part of what you say, there are 2 ways to do it for me – I’ve always felt and learned early that your breathing or your breath is something that you have, you don’t need something from outside in to help you, so just being able to modulate your breathing is one way and people call it a breathing meditation but I would say its as simple as just breathe to a count of 4 or 5, hold for 2 or 3 and breathe out for a count of 4 or 5, if you do that it immediately brings you to the moment and the present – that’s one. The second one is I have so much to be grateful for. I note those down and when in doubt I pick up and look at it, its almost not a gratitude journal but it’s a list. Its almost a list of affirmations that I can repeat to myself. The generosity that I have received in my life, that gratitude brings me to a place where I feel good about me as opposed to feeling stressed. That’s second. And a third one and this is really a funny one, I like to watch mindless home building tv shows. That is my go to and theres a whole bunch of them. I can just sit and watch. It probably comes from a great need to have order in my life. I have a touch of ADD, ADHD and OCD so I will fully admit to the fact that I get out of bed I need the bed made every day, in the morning the first thing I do I need the towels folded away nicely after the shower. All of the things in order to get order in my life. So I also feel that watching these home building shows brings me to that calm and that sense of order. So those are my ways of coping. The breath is the immediate one I can do anywhere at any time and all you have to do is do 10 breathing cycles at any time and before you know it you’ve calmed down and are able to look at the issue aa little more objectively as opposed to drowning in the pressure of what its doing to you and it doesn’t mean I don’t lose it once in a while I surely do but I have ways in which to bring myself back.

Jacqui: OK, gosh, I could talk to you for hours Subha but lets open it up to the floor. Georgina did you want to manage this part?


Georgina: Yes I’m just going to interject with everything we’ve had coming into the chat so far, Suba, lots of solidarity from Meghan for the cakes, she does this now. Anne-marie when you were talking about being the strict parent wanting everything tidy and beds made etc ‘I think since the pandemic a messy house is the norm now.’ I think that’s something we can accept is the new state of play. Another question which you did touch on after the question had come in but just to go back to, when you mentioned people putting you down and saying those awful things, did you address them at the time, I know you said later that you had the male ally, was there ever a point where you tried to address it to the person individually?


Subha: You know I have to admit to you that I would say to them ‘you’ve got to find a better joke than that’ it was almost using humour to push back as opposed to really letting them see my pain. I didn’t realise then but I do now, that it was just ignorance and I would have liked for a manager or somebody else to say ‘why would you say that, come on don’t be nasty, if she smells like curry you smell like fish?’ The person used to love going fishing. There are ways in which it could have been done but I couldn’t, I usually just pushed back with humour. It didn’t feel satisfying enough, I never walked away feeling like, I would have liked to have punched them out after a few times but I never did. It is what it is and I was not a wallflower by any stretch of the imagination I was not a wallflower. But I felt that was not the battle that I could fight to win, that I knew I would get too emotional and I didn’t want to go there.

Georgina: Fair enough. Is there anything you would do differently now?


Subha: Well I’ll give you an example, I encourage and mentor a lot of women, specifically women of colour, and in doing that I always say to them, think through the issue, you may not have the answer the first time but you’ve got to be prepared to have an answer the second time and I usually tell them think about what it is you are going to say, rehearse it, use someone as a sounding board and then make sure that the next time it happens that you do deliver that message ‘you know, I know that you mean for that to be funny but I have to tell you that it hurts me. When you say that it hurts me and I know you are not the kind of person who wants to hurt me. It isn’t funny to me and it hurts me so would you please not do it again. What is someone going to say when you say that? So I would say to you that you need to have a response, you need to actually be able to frame it and be able to deliver it in a way that they are actually able to hear it and if you do it a couple of times and they still don’t hear guess what that’s not someone you are going to change. But I will say to you 9 times out of 10 people will say to themselves ‘oops, I never realised I did that, I thought it was funny, I got a bunch of laughs from everybody around’. And you can say you know guys if you didn’t laugh at his jokes he wouldn’t think it was funny, he wouldn’t do it again. So call them out on it also.

Georgina: So what I’m hearing you say is to share with them how it makes you feel? To be a bit vulnerable and say it is hurting you cos you could so easily go down the route of that’s not appropriate or not right go down the values route, but I think what’s powerful about that statement is ‘it hurts me when you do that I’m sure you don’t mean to, you are a nice person why would you do that, I’m sure they wont do that again and hope that it works.


Subha: Well, when you personalise it, that is your truth, no one can argue your truth. You can argue the facts about I feel this way versus you feel this way but if this is my truth and I’m expressing it to you all im asking is for you to show consideration to my truth.


Georgina: Another question that’s come in from Katie, as leaders, having a personal board of directors is so important to our growth, who is on your Board and are your accountability partners on your Board and how do you select them.


Subha: I do, you know throughout my life I’ve had them, Ive never called them my Board of directors but they have always been there. In early, in my youth it was a lot of my male cousins because I wanted to learn from them. It felt like they had figured out how to get to what they wanted and so essentially your Board is a group of people who you admire for qualities they possess that are able to get them you know on your journey that you would wish to get for yourself. Then coming to school and college, it was very often not always someone who was senior to you, I found that some of my peers, my friends had qualities that I really admired and I would situationally achieve their guidance. Fast forward coming into the workplace it was a combination and I think the best example I can give was one of my earliest mentors was an executive assistant, who once said to me very early in career, she said, ‘you know I’m really good at what I do, you got to learn to trust me. When you do your work and you try to do my work a) You are not letting me do what I have to do, and you are not very good at what I have to do so trust me with this. It actually happened because I would make appointments and I would have given her instructions to make them and then I would make them myself and she would say to me ‘why do you bother either do it yourself or give it to me and if you think that you time is best spent scheduling your appointments then be my guest, but I have a gut feel that you have a load of other things that you should be focussed on’ To have this assistant who had the gumption to say this to me, and she is actually a dear dear friend, somebody I completely trust and respect, she became one of my early mentors and I gave her full permission to look at my behaviour and critique me. So you build your Board of Directors 1 by 1 by 1, picking people out. Some were situational mentors, some were people you have continuity with. I have an ex CEO who was a client, who became a mentor who became a good friend, who remains a mentor and sponsor, so you build them piece by piece. Some of them continue for the long run, some of them come and go. So when Nancy and I talk, this was the assistant, my assistant at Merrill and I always say to her ‘you taught me more about being a leader than any other person’ because she chipped away at all the pieces that I didn’t need to do. Things I didn’t know I didn’t need to do. So these Board of Directors can be superiors, peers, and subordinates, their rank and title doesn’t matter. What they teach you and what you learn from them isn’t important. I think there was a question about accountability partners, well, again I haven’t had a formal accountability partner, I think at Merrill when I was there I developed these close friendships with 3 other women, 2 of them remain my very close friends, we were all mid career women at that point in time, we had achieved a certain amount of success, but we had not been known widely across the organisation, we decided on a women’s event, a group of 4, one from Trading and Sales, one from Investment Banking, the third one from the commercial bank, and I was from Wealth Management. We met once a month, we met for a two hour lunch, and each of us had half an hour to brief us on what we were doing, successes, failures and challenges, and at the end of it we walked away with a good sense of what the other 3 were doing and, you know you always talk about how women are not good at bragging about our successes, we each made it our business to brag about the other 3. I realised that women are so generous about being able to speak about other women than they are about themselves and what that did was it elevated all of us. So I would say to you that you can have a peer Board of Directors – they each held me accountable and I held them accountable. I maintain very close friendships with them today. Its been 20 years. So you realise they come from all different directions and unexpected places. You just have to be open enough and have a radar to let that come in.


Georgina: Pause for other questions.


Jacqui: I’d like to ask one final question if no one else – you mentioned your scholarship and your parents not wanting you to go to Uni and you went anyway. Was that a major trauma in your family or did they just accept that you now had to do what you had to do?


Subha: Traumatic! Very traumatic and if there was one trauma worse than that it was when I married a white man. Sacrilege, how do you ever do that? I think deep down my parents were proud in one way and they were enormously worried and concerned, that had never been done before. Till my grandmothers generation girls were married so early that they actually lived in their parents home till they hit puberty and were then sent to their husbands home when they hit puberty. In my mother’s generation they were at home until they hit puberty and then they were married, when you hit puberty is when you got married. My married was the only girl in her extended family to be allowed to go to University and get a degree and that was because my father had wanted a wife that had a degree. That’s why she got the degree. I was the first girl in my extended family to go away to University, no girl had ever left her parents home – you realise how generations of women had been held back. I always used to say you know my grandmother is one of the smartest women I know, had a sixth grade education because she hit puberty, no eighth grade, she hit puberty and got married. So when you really think about that, you say to yourself generations of women who have been held down and oppressed, in many ways I feel like I stand for them. I speak for them, I do for them. I feel this enormous obligation and debt of gratitude to pay forward and grateful that I’m able to do it.


Jacqui: Thank you, great stories.


Georgina: Thank you so much Subha, I think there are so many interesting takeaways for Jacqui and I and everyone on the call and who will be listening to the recording, to hear about coming from that childhood and breaking those boundaries and expectations. Something that’s really sitting with me is that really strong belief in who you were, what you were doing and your abilities. You haven’t wavered, when your family were saying no, when people were saying horrible things, when you were having other challenges in your career and health challenges, you’ve always stayed true to who you are. I think that is an incredibly powerful lesson for us all. Thank you so much for your time.


Subha: It’s my pleasure, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to spend this time with you and I hope that from your stories, other people will take heart and learn to move on from this and use it in my life and I hope that’s what this segment does for people who may listen to this recording – thank you so much.


Bye from all.

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