A career is built by playing the long game, chess, not checkers, says Goldman Sachs’ Shital Bhatt.
“What I thought was most important when I was more junior, the technical and functional skills, need to be supplemented with attributes such as being resilient and having grit,” she says. “I wish I had learned earlier, especially as a woman in the financial services sector and with a minority background, how important it is to recover quickly, persevere and not let challenges get you down,” she shares.
Growing Her Career to Earn Those Two Important Letters
Bhatt joined Goldman Sachs as an analyst in 2004 in the Operations Division, and although she’s spent her tenure within this division, she’s had many different experiences, both in function, moving from derivatives to securities. Also moving geographically, beginning in the New York office, moving to New Jersey, and taking a global opportunity in Hong Kong before finally transferring back to New York in 2016.
While it was unexpected, as she was still at a relatively junior level, traveling and living abroad for work had always been enticing to her; although she had assumed the farthest she would transfer would be London. However, when her former manager asked her to join a team he was building in Hong Kong, she booked a one-way ticket in 2010 having never even visited before, and remained there for five-and-a-half years. “It was an amazing opportunity to learn many different functions, and living in Hong Kong was an equally enriching personal and cultural experience,” Bhatt says.
She considers building a life abroad one of the professional achievements she is most proud of thus far. Having always lived close to home, she found it to be a high-risk/high-reward opportunity, but she figured that if her parents could immigrate to the United States in the ‘70s with minimal support, she could take on this challenge.
Bhatt’s second notable career moment was being named a managing director. Reaching this level was always her aspiration, given the many MD role models she admired, but she also finds the accomplishment significant as a first-generation Indian American. “I was one of two daughters, and my parents wanted to give us a great education to fulfill the ‘American dream,’” she says.
“Telling my parents I was named managing director was one of the happiest days of their life, and it was a meaningful way for me to thank them for what they did to help me persevere and get to this level.” She laughs, since everyone in her family is in the sciences – and her dad always wanted her to be a doctor – that she was proud she could finally tell him she was an “MD.”
Bhatt finds that one of the best parts of the industry is seeing how technological advances will change things for the better. For example, she has been fascinated by the intersection between disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence as they converge with the highly regulated financial sector.
“We are seeing how we can incorporate the best technology available into our controlled environment at an appetite that regulators will be comfortable with. I love seeing how other industries outside of financial services are making it work,” she says.
Helping Build the Talent Pipeline
When considering the challenges of being a woman in the industry, Bhatt believes that key issues are numbers, retention and representation. “There aren’t enough women, so we need to not only attract women as junior candidates, but retain them over a long career.” She says one solution is to help women who are currently in school or graduating discount a misconception that the industry is overly conservative and rigid. “Other people have paved the way as the industry has evolved to be more welcoming, and that will only continue if we bring in even more people who are eager to ensure the industry is more diverse.”
She goes on to stress: “getting women in the door isn’t enough – it’s important for leadership to nurture and grow talent through the ranks by giving their team members interesting and challenging responsibilities.”
In addition, Bhatt believes that as firms work toward equal gender representation, typical stereotypes tied to gender – such as men being “assertive leaders,” and women being viewed as “good teammates” – will evolve.
She says it’s vital that women in top positions take care to spot talent and spend time mentoring the junior population. “Remember that you used to be that analyst admiring the MD and looking for advice and encouragement,” she says. “A good leader can listen to a wide variety of ideas and champion the great ones. It helps the team feel empowered when you listen and assess ideas, then help get the best ideas across the finish line.” She adds it’s equally important to make sure that men are also advocating for women.
Bhatt has benefitted from a number of programs offered by Goldman Sachs, notably when she participated in a program in Asia that brought women in the region together to develop their leadership skills, and provided them with the opportunity to forge connections with senior leaders and one another.
In addition, Bhatt is passionate about the firm’s affinity networks; she was a member, then a steering committee leader and now managing director sponsor for the Operations Asian Professionals Network in the Americas. “I love giving back to this community, and I am honored to be that role model, so if a junior person is hoping to go down the MD road, it will become more accessible when they see someone who looks like them,” she says.
Bhatt is a proponent of maintaining a work/life balance; including understanding when it’s time to engage in new activities to support that goal. While in Asia, she picked up a passion for wellness once she realized that the environment offered plenty of opportunities for socializing – but Hong Kong’s “concrete jungle” didn’t provide many chances for outdoor activities. Bhatt joined a boot camp and practiced yoga, eventually earning her certification – not to actively teach but as a personal achievement. She also traveled extensively in the region, visiting 20 countries across Asia.
One of the driving factors in her desire to return to the United States was family; she has two teenage nephews with whom she is extremely close. “I appreciate that I can give them a picture of a family member in corporate America, and I can help them navigate competitive waters to help shape their paths and give them guidance, such as putting them in touch with the right people and helping them engage in different hobbies and extracurricular activities. In that way, I get to serve as a life coach,” Bhatt says.