Malini Raj: Never underestimate the change one person can make

As Head of Strategy for Multicultural Community Banking at Commonwealth Bank, Malini Raj introduced the hijab into the CBA corporate wardrobe. She’s also had brain surgery twice to treat a rare disease and was once in the Qantas Choir singing I Still Call Australia Home. 

Malini Raj wears many hats. As well as heading up Strategy for CBA’s Multicultural Community Banking division, she is a Non-Executive Director of the Australian Pituitary Foundation and recently joined Women on Board’s Cultural Diversity Advisory Group.

Here Malini talks to Women on Boards about her passions and what drives her.

What drives your professional and board decisions?

My current role as Head of Strategy for Multicultural Community Banking at the Commonwealth Bank allows me to work in my area of passion on a daily basis – promoting cultural diversity and social cohesion.

In terms of boards, I’ve always been passionate about diversity and inclusion so I was involved in committees and advisory groups promoting that – both internally and externally and through that opportunities presented themselves, one of which was my first board opportunity on the Financial Services Institute of Australasia (Finsia) Board after being involved with the organisation for over 10 years at the time.

I tend to gravitate to those boards or advisory boards where I can consistently advocate for those who are underrepresented and don’t have a voice, so they have a valued seat at the table.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease (after 20 years of misdiagnosis) and because of that experience I wanted to advocate for other patients and increase awareness so other people didn’t have to go through what I went through. I joined the Board of the Australian Pituitary Foundation and subsequently the Board of the World Alliance of Pituitary Organisations.

How did you get involved in the WOB Cultural Diversity Advisory Group?

I have been connected and involved with Women on Boards since 2012 where I completed the Next Generation of Corporate Female Leaders Program, which was invaluable. 

Since then I have participated in various WOB events as an alumni sharing my experience and receive regular correspondence as a member. In one of these newsletters I saw that this Cultural Diversity Advisory Group had been set up, and given my passion for cultural diversity and inclusion, I reached out to WOB to hear more and was invited to get involved.

Why is cultural diversity on boards so important to you?

I have been advocating for cultural diversity and inclusion in organisational leadership for 20 years - you can't be what you can’t see. It became apparent to me, that unless there is cultural diversity at board level, then strategies are unlikely to be reflective of the communities that they serve, and executive leadership may be implementing strategies that don’t have an appropriate diversity lens applied to them.

Australia is one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries, with more than one-quarter (26 per cent) of the population born overseas and almost one-fifth (19 per cent) speaking a language other than English at home. Our boards need to reflect this and they don’t.

There has been a focus on gender diversity on boards in recent years and we still have a long way to go there, but cultural diversity and this intersectionality between gender and culture hasn’t got much focus to date, and I want to be a part of creating awareness and change in this area and gain progress and momentum in shifting the dial on board cultural diversity.

What do you hope to achieve? 

  1. To show culturally diverse women what is possible 

I want to create awareness, create conversation, to share stories and journeys of the very few women who are on boards so they can act as role models to show other culturally diverse women that it is possible.

  1. To create a framework to support culturally diverse women on their journey

I want the wealth of culturally diverse talent we have in Australia to recognise that they have a tremendous amount to contribute and to put themselves forward for opportunities and believe that their voice is valuable and should be heard.  I want to be able to create a framework to support them on this journey.

  1. To raise awareness of the benefits of culturally diverse boards

I want to play a part in helping organisations to understand that it's in their interests to have a board that reflects the communities that they serve.  A culturally diverse board will reflect Australia’s rich multicultural society and provide balanced perspectives around the table to create a robust, effective and relevant strategies.

What is your advice to others to promote cultural diversity?

Your voice needs to be heard! Everyone has a story, everyone has something to contribute and can add value through their experience and expertise. EVERYONE’s voice needs to be heard. 

The more voices we can hear the more profound the impact we can have. Every small action to promote cultural diversity can make a difference.  

We must not underestimate the change that one person can make.  You can do this by sharing your story, by mentoring someone, sponsoring someone, advocating for someone, by asking questions, by encouraging someone, by challenging behaviours and biases (others and your own), by being more aware or listening to someone – it all matters.

Quoting the Dalai Lama: “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into the water, the actions of individuals can have far reaching effects”

About Malini Raj

Malini Raj has over 20 years of experience working across domestic and international financial services organisations across a number of disciplines namely investment banking, corporate advisory, accounting, property, equity capital markets, merger implementation, project management, human resources, business strategy, change management, community engagement and customer advocacy in both retail and institutional banking.

She has a Bachelor of Finance and Accounting (UTS Co-Op),  Masters of Applied Finance and Investment (Finsia) and is a Senior Fellow of Financial Services Institute of Australasia (Finsia), Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD), and graduated with Distinction in the INSEAD Gender Diversity Program.

Find out more about the Women on Boards Cultural Diversity Working Group HERE

Our Cultural Diversity Survey is coming

The goal of WOB’s Cultural Diversity Working Group is to address barriers to leadership and board & committee roles for culturally diverse women in Australia. Stay tuned for our survey next week. 

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