Not many colleagues looked like Nandita Bakhshi when she started her career in banking.
Nearly four decades ago, Bakhshi, an Indian immigrant with a master’s degree in international relations and history, took a job as a part-time teller making $4.25 per hour.
As a newcomer to the U.S. and an outsider to the banking profession, Bakhshi says she felt “conflicted about my own self-image” and unsure about how to answer the complex financial questions that customers asked.
This week, at American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking NEXT Awards ceremony, the former Bank of the West CEO spoke to a room full of women early in their banking careers.
She told them that “my story is an immigrant story.”
Bakhshi moved from India to Albany, New York, when she was 27 years old. After working as a teller, she moved with her husband to Ohio, where she was hired by Banc One Corp., as a salesperson in the branches.
She later became a regional manager before being recruited in 1996 to join Home Savings of America in Irwindale, Calif.
Bakhshi kept rising, moving to FleetBoston Financial Corp., First Data, Washington Mutual and TD Bank before becoming Bank of the West’s CEO in 2016.
That tenure ended earlier this year when BMO Financial Group closed its purchase of the California bank. Since February, Bakhshi has been serving as a special advisor to BMO’s leadership team.
Bakhshi’s address capped the first day of American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking Conference 2023.
Earlier in the day, speakers from across the industry discussed topics such as the changing career landscape, negotiating compensation and promotions, and building inclusive workplace experiences.
In a keynote address, Mary Callahan Erdoes, JPMorgan Chase’s CEO of asset and wealth management, offered career advice and described how working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a paradigm shift for women in the workplace.
“It’s a much better Wall Street than the one some of us grew up in,” Erdoes said.
On Tuesday evening, 15 female executives at financial institutions were honored after being selected by their employers as “rising stars” who have the “potential to ascend to the C-Suite.”
During her speech, Bakhshi shared simple wisdom with the audience of younger executives.
“Believe in yourself,” she said. “Bring your authentic self to work.”
Bakhshi also encouraged the honorees and others in attendance to keep striving.
While the banking industry has made progress in diversifying its workforce and leadership ranks, Bakhshi said, “we have not made the progress that we’re supposed to and should.”
The concept of a “leader as a boss” has evolved, she said, adding that now is the time for more women to “break that glass ceiling” by reaching banking’s senior management ranks.
It took Bakhshi a while to be “confident in my skin” and to say “this is who I am, and that’s okay,” she said.
“Today our colleagues demand that leaders have empathy,” she said, “that they lead with their authentic self.”