Dr Kamel Hothi OBE rose from cashier to the companies 1st Asian Bank Manager and then Director.
She experienced first-hand the struggles of smashing glass ceilings, discrimination and gender imbalance across the banking sector over 4 decades resulting in her forming the BAME and Women’s network to help others realise their talent. This intrapreneur drive pushed her on to develop the Asian Strategy, cultural training initiatives, new communication campaigns and products for Lloyds Banking Group.
She went on to lead the bank’s award winning 250th anniversary campaign, developed various CSR programmes raising a record breaking £20m over 6 years. Her determination to change the shape of corporate values and interaction between colleagues and communities resulted in the development of a new skills volunteering strategy attracting a collaboration of universities and the Cabinet Office.
Kamel is ranked in the top 100 most inﬂuential black, Asian and minority ethnic leaders in the UK by the FT and was awarded an OBE for services to promoting diversity in banking.
Now after 38 years in Banking she sits on several boards as an Advisor / Trustee including the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust as well as acting as an Ambassador for Alzheimer’s Society where she is trying to raise awareness of World Alzheimer’s Day (21 September).
This year the charity is calling on everyone to become a Dementia Friend and be a part of the global initiative to challenge the stigma faced by people living with dementia. There are currently 3 million Dementia Friends in the UK and 18 million worldwide.
All this she balances with the demands of a traditional Indian wife / daughter inn law married into an extended family with 4 generations living in one household
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My family migrated to the UK following the partition of India and Pakistan. Having lost our former home my father heard the calling from UK to come and help support the British economy. I was the youngest of 6 and we landed in a very raciest 60’s where life was extremely challenging. for anyone who spoke different, dressed different and as Sikhs we certainly stood out! Our father was a civil engineer in India having built one of the biggest dams but here he could only find a job in a factory. This unfortunately made him very bitter resulting in not allowing me to go onto further education. My only options were to prepare for marriage and if I really wanted to work it would be the production lines in a factory. With the help of my brother I managed to get a job in a bank as a cashier.
It didn’t particularly appeal to me but when Asian customers realised, I could speak their language they really valued my help and I began to enjoy it!
I slowly and surely worked my way up – it actually took me a long time to understand that I had to manage my own career, without expecting managers to do it for me. Since then, I have been lucky enough to lead a lot of incredible programmes. I led Lloyd TSB’s development in the Asian markets, as well as their 250th anniversary, which was a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding.
I’ve also helped to support charity partnerships which have raised over £20 million.
Currently, I act as a Trustee and Advisor to Alzheimer’s Society, as well as Teenage Cancer Trust and the Queens Commonwealth Trust. As well as a NED to a number of companies including TLC Lions where we support companies on their Inclusion & Diversity and well being agenda through story telling.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
When I got married 37 years ago, my husband and I pulled together a life plan for where we saw ourselves in the future. We still use this to this day and it has been one of the key tools for where we see ourselves heading as a family.
Over time, I started using the same plan to loosely map out my career. Despite the fact that I mentor hundreds of individuals and advise them to have a five-year plan for both their careers and personal lives – this was never something I consciously thought about myself until much later in life.
Being able to look at the objectives my husband and I have for our family and the objectives I have set myself for my career has helped me foresee any clashes or challenges that we may encounter and has therefore helped me plan more effectively for the future.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I’ve definitely had my share of challenges! I’ve faced a whole host of cultural challenges both at home and work, often feeling I’ve been leading two lives. One as a traditional Indian wife with all the burdens and duty to family, honour and caring role under the shadow of senior men and women. Compared to work life where I needed to be this strong and confident woman in the corporate man’s world. All this made even harder as I didn’t have the same access to education or freedom to travel as most of my peers, which has meant working even harder to achieve the same positions as others and thus knocking my confidence about my abilities in the past.
My life continues to be complex as I live with my husband of 37 years, my mother in law and our two sons and their families – essentially, with my grandchildren, there are now four generations living under one roof! This can come with its own unique set of challenges, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I’m proud of a lot of the things I have achieved in my career. From developing the Asian Strategy, new banking initiatives and communication campaigns and products for Lloyds Banking Group, to developing various CSR programmes which raised a record breaking £20 million over six years – it’s safe to say I’ve kept my self pretty busy!
I think getting an OBE in 2017 for services to promoting diversity in banking was pretty special – it’s definitely something I’m proud of. I’d also say my work in changing the shape of corporate values and interaction between colleagues and communities, which resulted in the development of a new skills volunteering strategy, was a big achievement for me because it meant that universities and the Cabinet Office became invested in helping to achieve my vision of diversity and inclusion and helped many to find their purpose.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I believe when you arrive as a migrant to a new country – whether as a refugee or for economic reasons – you have no option but to succeed as you have experienced what hunger and poverty feel like. My parents are a daily reminder to me of where I have come from, and what hard work means.
The added pressure of being a woman born into a very sexist culture with no say at home has meant that having a job in itself was an immediate source of liberation for me. Having the opportunity to make my voice heard and challenge myself to do my best is what has ultimately made me successful.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Facing glass ceilings and never being quite right for promotion were the drivers of me founding the Women’s Network and BAME Network some 25 years ago. It was from these networks that we created the mentoring programme which has helped numerous people. I have used this method several times in other programmes such as volunteering. I have proved that mentoring not only helps the mentee but also the mentor in understanding a more diverse range of experiences – it is one of the most effective ways to move the dial on inclusion and diversity.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Challenge those who appoint CEOs to look beyond economic credentials and to value qualities such as empathy and a passion for inclusion and diversity. I sincerely feel this has to be driven from the top and the only way we will ever see lasting change is if the executive board are truly emotionally connected and understand what it feels like to be in the shoes of those from a diverse background.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I wish I had understood what my true passion and strengths were – then to take control of my own fate by shaping my own destiny by listening to my gut!
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Having only retired in 2017, I am enjoying the realisation of how much I have more to give. Be it supporting charities on their governance or corporate partnerships – I look forward to supporting companies on their inclusion agenda and new style of kind leadership.
Why did you choose dementia as a cause you would like to raise awareness of?
My uncle passed away from dementia. Unfortunately, the reality is that there is a huge stigma in the BAME community around mental health as we a) don’t recognise the condition and b) don’t seek help. This all results in real hardship and stress for families. This was the case with my uncle as it was all too late once we found out and understood what was going on.
Dementia is a global health crisis which affects approximately 50 million people worldwide. In the UK, according to Alzheimer’s Society, there will be 1 million people with dementia by 2021. There is still a lot of stigma around the topic of dementia – it’s not something we, as a society, have a good enough understanding of.
I was fortunate to on-board Alzheimer’s Society whilst heading the Lloyds Banking Group Charity partnerships. It was during this interaction that I really got to understand the challenges faced by those living with dementia. It was this partnership that pushed me to redesign how we approached charity partnerships to make them more mutually beneficial.
So when I retired in 2017, Alzheimer’s Society reached out and asked if I would like to be an Ambassador for them. I didn’t hesitate as I think it’s a fantastic charity and a great cause. I hope that my expertise can help them reach and break down the stigma around mental health and improve lives for all concerned as dementia is now the UK’s biggest killer, with someone developing it every three minutes.
That’s why this year, for World Alzheimer’s Day on 21 September, I’m working with Alzheimer’s Society to help tackle the challenge of stigma by encouraging people to sign up to become Dementia Friends.
What is Dementia Friends?
Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is the UK’s biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition.
Whether you attend an Information Session or watch the online video, Dementia Friends is about learning more about what it’s like to live with the condition and the ways you can help. Every action, however small, adds up to the great wave of change we’re making for people affected by dementia.
There are three million Dementia Friends across England, Wales and Northern Ireland creating change in their communities. But it doesn’t stop there. With more people taking action in the shops, workplaces, schools and family homes at the heart of our communities, the Dementia Friends movement is making sure that people with dementia are understood, included and respected. Visit dementiafriends.org.uk to get involved.
It doesn’t stop there. Globally, there are now 57 Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends programmes around the world, led by Alzheimer’s associations, who are working together as part of the Global Dementia Friends Network hosted by Alzheimer’s Society.
What are the types of issues people with dementia experience?
Across the world, there is a lack of understanding that dementia is a medical condition and in some countries, like India, there’s not even a word for dementia. Getting a dementia diagnosis can feel very isolating, as people do not always understand what having dementia means. There is a lot of stigma around telling people you have dementia and people often lose friends, stop working and feel isolated from their communities as a result.
In the UK too, while there is much greater awareness and better support than some countries, our social care system is on its knees, completely unprepared to deal with the growing numbers of people with dementia, leaving hundreds of thousands of people struggling to access vital care or facing unfair costs, just because they happened to develop dementia and not some other disease. And millions are being drained from the NHS each year, due to the absence of appropriate care in the community – £570 million resulting from avoidable emergency admissions and people being unnecessarily stuck in hospital, unable to leave.
By creating dementia friendly communities and eradicating the stigma around dementia, we can all take action to ensure people with dementia live better lives and are supported better in their communities, while Governments take action to ensure anyone and everyone diagnosed with dementia has access to a fair and just system of social care.
What needs to be done to support people with dementia?
This World Alzheimer’s Day, Alzheimer’s Society is urging everyone to tackle the stigma of dementia and uphold the rights of people living with the condition. Visit dementiafriends.org.uk to get involved today.
While we wait for the Government to tackle the social care crisis once and for all, joining the Dementia Friends movement is a great way to take action. Without action the world is woefully unprepared for the dementia crisis.
Unite against stigma with Alzheimer’s Society this World Alzheimer’s Day and visit dementiafriends.org.uk to sign up as a Dementia Friend.