Piano teaching is not the skill you would expect a CFO to have in their arsenal, and yet for Vineta Bajaj, it has been a corner stone of her success.
Bajaj, former group finance director of online grocery and technology solutions business Ocado Group, now runs the finance team at Rohlik Group. From a young age, she discovered she had a passion for piano and went on to hone her skills to teach younger students.
During this time, Bajaj learned to tailor her teaching approach to meet the individual needs of each student, instilling in them the same love for music that she had.
While Bajaj could have continued along the path of music, her sharp mind and natural talent for numbers meant she decided to pursue a career in finance, first at KPMG as an auditor. At this early stage in her career, Bajaj recalls using her spare time to mentor students in the lead-up to their accounting exams.
“When I finished studying, I tutored and mentored students at my university and later at my work who needed help and guidance because it initially kept me fresh. Secondly, it also helped me find different ways to explain things to people,” says Bajaj explaining how her desire to give back led her to mentorship and coaching.
She joined Ocado in 2013 as a senior financial reporting accountant, quickly rising through the ranks to become Group Finance Director in 2019. She joined Rohlik in January 2023.
Despite her busy schedule, Bajaj continues to remember her roots as a teacher and sets aside time in her calendar to mentor up-and-coming finance professionals. With first-hand experience with the value of a good mentor, she is committed to guiding the next generation of financial leaders and creating inclusive teams in finance.
Why DEI is vital for business success
Having settled into her role at Rohlik, Bajaj tells The CFO that diversity and inclusivity are essential to any successful finance team. She says teams can develop better solutions and make more informed decisions by bringing together people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.
“You don’t want tokenism because there’s so much negativity associated with it,” she says, adding that it is commonly said that one in every five needs to be an ethnic minority. I have often been referred to as a “wildcard candidate” and this mentality, to treat me or those with a diverse background automatically uses words that signal tokenism. And is that okay? I don’t think so.
“But that’s just not the way to do it,” says Bajaj. “I believe a mechanism to do it is to make sure that there is diverse recruitment,” she says.
Talent pipelines for most businesses have become more competitive over the past few years, with employees holding more power than before. While universities remain a top source of talent for finance leaders, Bajaj says organisations should consider alternative sources when looking to build their teams.
“You don’t need to come from the top 10 universities in the UK,” she says. “It would be best if you came from different backgrounds for perspective. So, the mechanisms of how to do it would be, having a diverse candidate portfolio.”
Diversity of thought should not be forgotten
Bajaj firmly believes that showcasing the diversity of thought within finance teams is critical and can be achieved through hiring people with different backgrounds.
She emphasised the importance of celebrating differences in the workplace. “It’s really about celebrating the differences,” she stated. “And it’s not difficult celebrating that everyone has a different perspective.”
Bajaj said says an example of how different perspectives can bring value to a team is when finance leaders in significantly large businesses choose to rope in a candidate who had worked in a far smaller organisation for a different perspective.
“It is the same regarding diversity and bringing women into the workplace. It’s about coming from different backgrounds; they have different experiences,” she says.
Still more to be done
Progress has been made towards more women occupying senior roles within finance. Across the UK’s top 50 private companies, there are 10 women who occupy the role of CFO, according to the FTSE Women Leaders Review 2023.
Bajaj notes that change takes time and that increasing diversity in leadership positions generally will help. “I think the only way this will get done is with time as we see more numbers,” says Bajaj.
“I have seen changes in the workplace; when you bring more women in, you naturally bring more empathy and sympathy into the workplace, creating a more caring and considerate environment for individuals,” she adds.
“This why diversity of thought and having people of different backgrounds is essential for any successful team.” Bajaj also explains that studies had shown that a more balanced or diverse board can lead to higher shareholder returns over time.
According to Goldman Sachs, companies with diverse boards of directors are better positioned for stronger financial performance and improved governance.
Goldman Sachs announced in 2020 that it would only take a company public in the US or Western Europe if it had at least one diverse board member. In 2021 this requirement increased to two diverse board members, one of which must be a woman.
As of December 2022, 296 companies that complied with the policy were taken public.
“When you have a group of people with different perspectives and experiences, it brings other ideas to the table, which can benefit the business”, says Bajaj.
There is also a stability benefit. “What we have observed is that having more women lowers your risk of a crisis or exposure to financial sector risk,” Martin Cihák, adviser to the International Monetary Fund’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, said following the release of new research in 2018;.
“Based on the data we have, countries which had more women at board level within their financial institutions were more isolated from stress.” The findings are the result of a study conducted by ?Cihák and his colleague Ratna Sahay, into why women are underrepresented in all areas of the global financial system.