Bhavini Shah, who reluctantly admits having shortened her birth name to ‘Bev’ in the past to improve her employment opportunities, has over fifteen years’ experience working in the City as an Investor for some of the world’s biggest financial institutions.
Following some soul searching after the birth of her children and loss of both her parents in close proximity, she found herself questioning her own legacy and felt a strong pull to give something back.
This inspired her to set-up City Hive, a women’s network with a true vision for change: uniting, supporting and championing her peers but also challenging attitudes towards gender diversity, and ultimately attracting more women to the asset and investment management industry through a re-think of its entire culture.
As a British-Indian, dyslexic, mother, she embodies true diversity.
School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family?
My husband, Jonny and my children Jack and Kareena. We are a tight family unit who enjoy PJ weekends watching movies squashed together on the sofa and larking about.
What were you like as a child?
My mother always said I was a content child happy to get my hands dirty making mud pies. She’d pick me up from school and I’d insist on keeping my coat done up, I’d say “Mum don’t look at my clothes and shoes” so I could get them straight into the washing machine – I didn’t want to disappoint her! Jack, my young son, is always breaking stuff and I remember that I was a bit like that. I’m still like that now though – I don’t have an OCD compulsion that lots of people have, striving for an image of perfection.
My teachers branded me a ‘chatter-box’ who always pushed myself to the front of everything to see what was going on and to get involved. I found it easy to make friends but didn’t need to have any. I was always quite a loner as a child, not in the sense that I couldn’t make friends because I’ve always found it easy to befriend people, and talk to people. But I’ve never felt comfortable in big groups; particularly groups of girls. I tend to stand on the edges and because I stand quietly around the edges people tend to underestimate me – it doesn’t mean that my brain isn’t ticking, though.
In my culture, Indian Mothers are revered as the goddess who gave you life. She is the heartbeat in the household. And for me as a child, my mother was my greatest role model who constantly filled me with love and affirmations about how I can do anything, that I should be proud of who I am and how as women we have to be strong.
To what extent do you think this has shaped you as a businesswoman and mother?
Hugely – I think I am the same now. I still like getting messy and am still a chatterbox who is happy in my own company. I am like this in business too. I’m ‘me’ and won’t apologise for not wearing a mask in the office. The affirmations my mother installed still resonate. When I have doubts I remind myself of who I am and where I came from. My mother never let me believe my learning disabilities were a barrier to me. As a mother, I want to be just like mine. I am only sad she is not around for me to ask her advice and now my job is to listen to my heart and listen for her ‘voice in the wind’ telling me I am doing the right thing.
What was your experience as a woman in a male dominated industry like?
From the age of 8 to 11 I was the only girl in my class at a boarding school with only a handful of girls so I have always been comfortable in male company. Not being someone who needs to be surrounded by a big group of girlfriends has also meant it was a good working environment for me. I tend to stay on the fringes of big groups – like when I have gone on hen parties. I am someone who likes to make one to one connections with people and if I do connect you have to be an equal to me. So in the male-dominated environment I worked in when I did meet an amazing woman we formed tight bonds very quickly because of our shared experiences but also our deep desire for support.
In what ways, if at all, have you been punished/celebrated for being a strong woman?
I was made redundant from my last position in the City after returning to work after my second child. My replacement was a nice young man who we had seconded to cover my maternity leave and his year on our team apparently made him more qualified for my role then me. This was certainly a point in my life when I did feel punished for being a strong woman. However, my career is just a fraction of my life. Where I feel I can say my strength has shone through is when I have been faced with adversity and continued to smile and enjoy life. In the last 5 years I have lost both my parents and had my 2 children. The path I have walked over this period was very dark at times but I did come out the other side with my head held high and this is prize enough. I think most other people would have reached rock bottom and stayed there.
What can organisations do to foster the success of ambitious women, especially mothers?
I feel organisations should stop focusing on mothers alone and genuinely allow everyone the same rights to some form of flexible working. If you give everyone the same rights to flexible working then mothers and women in childbearing years will no longer be seen as a potential subset that can be targeted. Employers should ask young men what would give them better work life balance which in turn would lead to more productivity.
Helping mothers and women foster their own support network and giving them the skills to thrive in corporate work environments, which has always been weighted in men’s favour because post-war it was a predominately male environment. However, where the sexes have moved on in our social roles, the working world has not.
In hindsight, if you had the chance again in your career, what would you do differently?
With hindsight, if I could have my career again I would have spoken up more and challenged those around me who did not respect or appreciate the work I did. And I certainly would not undervalue myself and ask to be paid my true worth. Oh and I would not have hidden my heritage. Bhavini would not have become Bev.
What made you start City Hive? What was the gap you saw?
The gap I saw, rather the gaping hole, was the lack of support women like me in the industry desperately needed. A lot was being reported in the press about women in the city and the problems they face but there seemed to be no dedicated mechanism or initiative in place to solve the issues. So I decided to build it – through City Hive.
Fast forward three years, where do you see City Hive and its members?
I hope City Hive expands globally to the entire asset and investment management industry. The ability to connect online to a local network is extremely important in this global world we live in. I want to be the go to place, the hub for firms in my industry, the gold standard for driving women’s equality and diversity in the city. I feel I am qualified to do this because I am diverse (Indian dyslexic woman) but also I have faced all these problems and fallen at hurdles. I made it to the middle and I hope this means women from the top and bottom of the pipeline have something they can relate to when I speak to them.
What four words best describe the ‘show reel’ version of your Motherhood? And the ‘behind the scenes’?
Showreel – Bright, pragmatic, nurturing, optimistic
Behind the Scenes – messy, happy, corner cutter, sharer
I’m curious, what’s your personal saviour(s)?
I have three personal saviours – three people who are my rock who lift me up when I am slumped. My husband, Jonny, my brother, Sachin, and my soul sister, Farah. All three play different roles in keeping me sane and giving me strength when I need it.
What things are absolutely non-negotiable in your life?
My time with my family. I will not miss seeing my kids grow up or spending time with my husband for work. This means I try and make every working hour count so I am not neglecting the most important part of my life which is them.
If you could have a billboard anywhere saying anything, what would you put on it?
Don’t underestimate those who smile.
From my past experience, if you’re a friendly happy smiley person it somehow doesn’t make you intelligent or it takes away from that. In the corporate world, if you’re friendly and nice then people underestimate who you are and all of a sudden you’re a “thicko”! I just think, why can’t we be nice to each other as human beings and also be smart? That’s something that I’ve always struggled with myself. That feeling of being undervalued or underestimated.
In the have-it-all-debate, what’s the elephant in the room?
Time and acceptance. Accepting that it is ok to not have it all and that you might not want it all. The key is to try and be happy with what you have. What a waste of energy striving for a false perception of perfection.
And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)
Resilience. No matter what life throws at you Mothers have to keep going. Your tiny humans need you, regardless of their age (they will always be your babies). You are their anchor to the world.
Connect with Bev and City Hive on social media:
On twitter: @TheCityHive
Bev on Twitter: @TheDiversegirl