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Saturday, 9th December 2023




Atul Shah, Founder of Diverse Ethics reflects on a historic event in the City of London 

Pictured from Left to Right: Dipesh Patel, Barclays Capital Cultural Awareness Network; Dhruv Patel, Founder and Chair, City Hindus Network; Ramona Mehta, Partner, Mishcon de Reya, Dixit Joshi, Managing Director and Head of Equities for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, Barclays Capital; Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

Last night, a mere week after the multi-billion profits announced by Barclays, their Head of Equities for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia, Mr. Dixit Joshi, hosted a gathering of 350 Hindus. Young (only 38 years old), smart, and at the top of his game in one of the most dynamic and prestigious global banks, Dixit started his speech with the sacred Hindu Gayatri mantra. For me, that was a historic event, an open and confident expression of his Hindu identity and the role of spiritual values in his success. And this was only the beginning.

Research has shown that in the British workplace, 65% of workers suffer from ‘identity stress' - they have to switch their identities when they go to work. Organisations actively try to suppress difference, and as a result, everyone tries desperately to ‘fit in' and in the process, lose their inner personality. Barclays as an organisation has strong Quaker roots, built on spiritual and ethical values, but somehow, in the heyday of the 80's and 90's, the values of modern banking and finance have strayed far from fairness, honesty and contentment. As an academic in finance in the late 90's at Bristol, Maryland and Essex Universities, I published seven research papers predicting the financial crisis, but even in academia, that was not the sexy thing to do. Little did I realise then that it was my Jain values which was arousing such deep public policy concern, and if the Bank of England had listened to my research, this country would have saved billions of pounds in losses. I too had suppressed my identity, without even realising it.

Hindu and Jain values are holistic values - they start with the big cosmic picture, and then get down to the personal detail, explained another speaker, Shaunaka Rishi Das, of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies . The Rig Veda is the oldest scripture on the planet, and has much to say about the importance of virtue and integrity - we need to practice before we preach, he reminded us. Dixit explained how in his day to day work, he drew inspiration from his faith, and this gave him the capacity to understand risk, to accept its consequences, and also the strength to be decisive and transparent.

Dixit  took the decision to expand after the crash of 2008 at a time when everyone else was contracting, leading to a huge improvement in profits and performance. Like Arjuna in the Gita, he appeared firm and resolute in the battlefield of high finance. He showed tremendous clarity of mind, and firmness of conviction, in an environment where his bosses and team would be coming from various cultures of the world - for him, diversity was the strength. He was born in South Africa and came to this country as an immigrant - evidence that immigrants do provide leadership in difficult times. Dixit explained that the Hindu values of integrity, pluralism, discipline, respect for wisdom and hard work are the values needed in the banking industry and Hindus are therefore sure to succeed in the future. His quote on glass ceilings was very apt - I never looked up! What is important is to accept that we cannot control our past, but can definitely act for our present and future to shape our destiny, and everyone should stay focused on that.

Questioned about the contradiction between bonuses and Hindu philosophy, Dixit was clear - he considered money as a resource which should be put to good use, when one earns over and above one's needs. He spoke about the charity Sewa International and their National Sewa (Volunteering) Day coming up on 21st November, the new book by Vikas Pota (India Inc - How India's top ten entrepreneurs are winning globally ) - which  shows that for none of them, money was the primary driver - and unity and cooperation among the Hindus to support and mentor one another. His very role in hosting the event with the visionary founder of the City Hindu Network, Dhruv Patel, gave the group an amazing launch pad and a new leadership voice. I was most impressed by Dixit's  precision of language, quickness to respond, and ability to unite - if there was an ego, it was not on display. Another panellist Ramona Mehta, partner at Mishcon de Reya, spoke about her work for the Hindu Forum and their active engagement with public policy issues affecting all aspects of British society. The food and refreshments at the event were vegetarian and non-alcoholic, a rarity for the city where pubs are heaving after work, and the diet is strongly non-vegetarian. In fact, Dixit actually said that he has not had to sacrifice any of his core values in getting to the top. Proof that with determination and perseverance, our values do bring success. Like Dixit, Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico in USA and one of the top business leaders in North America is a Brahmin and she sees her spiritual nature as key to her success as leader. Leadership requires courage and strength, and having faith plays a significant role and this must be recognised and acknowledged.

At the end of the event, there were groups of young bankers wanting to talk to him - he had clearly inspired them and motivated them - a role model perhaps? One of the weaknesses of British society is an anxiety to talk directly about values and character and action to reform them. This has led to our moral decline and some are already using the words ‘Broken Britain'. It is time that this liberal apathy changes, and we publicly build up the leadership and courage to promote good values head on, not as a side-line or a tentative discussion topic. And virtues like respect, humility, honesty, integrity, non-violence, selflessness and inter-dependence - are universal, not necessarily bound by any religion or culture. It is time that as a nation, we show the torch to society and encourage our citizens to enrich their lives by virtuous living. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains have a lot to contribute here. And the educated and the influential have to take a lead in this, by lived example. Nothing less will do.

Dr. Atul K. Shah is founder and CEO of the social enterprise  Diverse Ethics  and author of ‘Celebrating Diversity'. He helps organisations embrace the strength of cultural diversity and remove their ignorance and fears.

Article added on 26th February 2010 at 9:28am
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