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Everyday super heroes: Meet Malini Raj

She introduced the hijab into the corporate wardrobe at CBA. She’s had brain surgery twice. And she manages a superhero schedule on only five hours of sleep a night. Meet the woman on a mission to change the world in a dozen different ways: Malini Raj.

1.    Tell me about your company

I wear a number of different hats, including Head of Strategy for CBA’s Multicultural Community Banking division, Non-Executive Director of the Australian Pituitary Foundation, volunteer for Starlight Children’s Foundation for the last nine years.

But I’ll talk about my day job at CBA. Within the Multicultural Community Banking division, I get to engage with people at a grassroots level. This is genuine, authentic, grassroots engagement at community events and initiatives. Not just with the leaders of the community,but with the actual people. A lot of it is on weekends and nights because that’s when the community is doing their thing.

This is a very different model of engagement that engenders real trust and goodwill in the community – much more so than giving out a$50,000 or $100,000 sponsorship where we can slap our logo on something.

As the largest corporate employer, the bank with the most migrant customers and a large number of customers in vulnerable situations,it’s our social obligation to get involved and do our part. There are no commercial drivers behind what I do – this is not about getting business. It’s about improving financial wellbeing, and the financial literacy of customers and communities.

The way we see it, if you’re improving the financial wellbeing of the people, you’re empowering them in a way that they’ll be able to contribute to society and support their families.

2.    What is your role and what do you love about it?

I love having the opportunity to engage with communities at a grassroots level. Seeing the impact you can have with education and teaching people to be empowered to make better financial decisions or making people feel included is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

This includes anything from introducing the corporate hijab into the corporate wardrobe of CBA to ensure our Muslim employees can bring their whole selves to work, and providing employment opportunities to members of marginalised communities, who then become pioneers and role models in their community, and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Delivering financial wellbeing workshops to refugees and education on financial abuse to women is another example that makes me aware of the small difference you can make for one person – which can have huge ripple effects.

3.    What is a piece of advice your parents gave you that sticks with you to this day?

Don’t be ashamed to be different. Growing up, I was embarrassed to be from a different cultural background. I wanted to be the same as everyone else – look the same, take the same food to school etc. I wanted to blend in, not stand out.

Now, working in the sphere of cultural diversity and inclusion, I understand that diversity and difference is actually a strength and something to be valued. I now realise that I should have embraced this from the beginning rather than wanting to be someone else.

4.    What is one thing you credit your success to?

I have a deep-seated desire to help people and make a difference in their lives. I’m no stranger to adversity – as well as being a woman and from a culturally-diverse background,I’ve had a lot of challenges in my life from having a rare disease (Cushing’s disease).

But I didn’t want this to define me. I was determined to make a difference, engage with and support people, and make small contributions that impact peoples’ lives in positive way. At the end of the day, if even one person can look at me and say, “Because of you, I didn’t give up”, then everything I would have done would have been worthwhile.

5.    What technologies/innovations are you particularly excited by?

I’m excited by the potential for technology and data to make more tailored solutions for customers or communities. In banking, there used to be a lot of merit in the local bank manager. He knew your family, he knew your dog’s name, he knew your grandmother’s name. With an at scale business, it is hard to maintain that personalised service.

But we can now utilise data to create and return to that personalised touch at scale, whether it’s on your app, online, or even the ATM machine, you can feel like a service provider is actually listening to you and tailoring solutions to your needs.  

Obviously, there’s a balance required. You don’t want to cross over into being Big Brother. But from what I’ve seen, people think it’s okay if their data is being used in the right way. So long as it’s being used to create tailored and personalised solutions, and making sure we continue to be relevant to our communities, then the right balance is maintained.

6.    What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

I would say to be more open to opportunities. Taking measured risks is okay, as it might open doors you may not have even realised were there. It’s good to have a plan, but don’t be so rigid as to close off other opportunities. If you’re too rigid with your planning, you might miss out on something amazing.

7.    What does your morning routine look like?

I get up between 5.30 am and 6.00 am. I’m an early riser, but also a late sleeper, so I don’t actually get a lot of sleep. I’m trying to pack a lot into my day! But the first thing I do is hit the snooze button. Then I get up and start getting ready for my day. If I have time to eat breakfast, then I will, but I don’t stress if I can’t fit it in.

8.    What do you do to blow off steam?

I enjoy catching up with friends. I volunteer at The Starlight Foundation over the weekend. And I am in a choir every Wednesday. I do personal training, but not often enough. I like travelling as well, but I don’t get a lot of time to do that. I need to get better at switching off. I don’t do that very well.

9. Do you have any personal experiences of gender inequality/bias/discrimination in the workplace?

Not with my current employer, but when I was in my investment banking days, I had been working on a deal with a client via teleconferencing. The first time I met the client in person for a meeting, I turned up with a male colleague. Since I had done all of the financial modelling, I was going to be running the meeting, but the first thing the client said to me was, “Can I have a flat white please?”

In investment banking I saw a lot of double standards that males and females have on the same flexibility. Guys were superheroes if they go pick up their kids. Women miss out on promotional opportunities – I’ve had a boss assume that I don’t want to get promoted because I’m a female from a cultural background, so I might want to have a family, which would be more important than work. Other erroneous assumptions include that because you’re female, you’re not ambitious or you can’t travel, or do this or that or the other.

I also experienced a lot of gender discrimination when I was working in the investment banking industry. There was a drinks night where only the men were invited, but a couple of men who were invited didn’t drink at all. I also saw that things men said were better received than when I said them. I’ve done experiments where I say something, then he says the same thing, exactly the same way, ‘Oh, what a wonderful idea’.

I also think it can work the other way. I was on a board previously and I was 100% I got the role because I was young, female and from a culturally diverse background amongst older white males. But in the meetings, whenever I would talk about digital and online or a progressive strategy, they weren’t interested. I felt my presence there was tokenistic, not inclusive. There’s no point in having diversity if you don’t have any inclusivity, so I stepped down.

10.    What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I was in the Qantas Choir once, singing “I still call Australia home”. And I’ve had pituitary/brain surgery twice to treat Cushing’s disease.

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