Like many of us who want our work to contribute positively to our communities, Yasaman Hadjibashi has ambitions to impact the world. And she’s already doing it in an industry you might not expect: banking.
As the Head of Data and Analytics, Global Consumer Technology at Citi, Hadjibashi ensures the company is deploying data effectively for the benefit of its customers, many of whom are members of her local community. And she’s helping out in other ways. Thanks to Citi’s commitment to social responsibility — they even offer a paid day off for volunteering — Hadjibashi had the chance to partner with a local organization to lead a STEAM camp for middle and high school children from under-resourced areas of her home, Dallas.
But, as I mentioned, Hadjibashi has a global impact, too. Hadjibashi says Citi has a focus on driving change on global issues like the gender pay gap and creating a leadership slate that mirrors the diverse communities they serve. Hadjibashi knows firsthand that a global perspective leads to more innovative thinking, better ways of serving customers, and more interesting days at work. She was born in Iran, raised in Germany, educated in the US, and spent much of her early career in London before moving to South Africa and later, the United States.
We talked to Hadjibashi about what drew her passionate spirit to Citi, the importance of empathy in serving customers and team members (she’s an award-winning IT leader), and how women can land a dream job that combines their career aspirations and their thirst to do good.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I joined Citi in November 2017 to lead data and analytics for Citi’s Global Consumer Bank. The customer is at the center of everything we do, so my top priorities in this role are to ensure that Citi has the right capabilities and infrastructure to enhance the experiences of our customers, as well as drive a cultural transformation to ensure that our entire organization and the decisions we make are data-driven. I believe that if we truly incorporate data into our culture — which we’re striving to do — our customers will feel that we are able to predict their needs and serve them in the right way, at the right moment.
Previously, I was the Group Chief Innovation Officer of Barclays Africa Group, where I was responsible for defining and leading the group’s innovation agenda across all business units, functions, and geographies. Prior to that, I was the first ever Group Chief Data Officer for Barclays Africa Group, where I built the Data Products and Platforms team from the ground up, leveraging the latest in big data, artificial intelligence, and analytics technologies, and led the bank’s end-to-end data transformation.
While working for Barclays in Africa, I spent a lot of my time traveling around the continent and the world. While the schedule was hectic, I believe collaboration across geographies and industries is essential for innovation. I was born in Iran, raised in Germany and educated in the US, then spent much of my earlier career in London before moving to South Africa, so a global perspective was embedded in my thinking from a young age.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job or company?
The globality of Citi is one aspect that is incredibly appealing to me. Present in over 160 markets and with approximately 200 million customer accounts, our firm has a wealth of data and that is so irresistible to a data lover like me.
In addition to the vast amount of data, Citi's global presence also adds great talent. I continue to be impressed by the diversity and talent present across our regions and organization. This diversity leads to more authentic decisions and true empathy for all of our customers across the globe. I also enjoy that my job gives me an opportunity to create a fun and engaging environment for my teams to collaborate, interact, and truly enjoy the work they do every day.
What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about your company that you think they should?
Citi has a robust commitment to corporate social responsibility and encourages employees to seek out opportunities to engage in community involvement. I recently had an opportunity to partner with a local organization called Big Thought to sponsor a two-week Citi STEAM Summer Camp for rising 8th and 9th grade students from under-resourced communities in Dallas. This camp pilot was offered at no cost to the students, with the intended outcomes to spark an interest in tech-related concentrations, enhance technical skills, and nurture three skills at the heart of the future workforce: problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.
Citi often sponsors these types of initiatives and encourages employees to do more to impact the community, even offering a paid day off to engage in volunteer service.
What’s something you’re especially good at at work?
I am creative, imaginative, and love a challenge. I love to be in situations that challenge my worldview – situations that push my beliefs and thinking, rather than ones where everything is functional and already working well. The constantly changing technology environment – and the pace of this evolution – is one of these situations. Knowing that there are always bigger challenges and new innovations is appealing, and the fact that I can succeed and thrive in the male-dominated technology field makes it even better.
I also believe that having empathy for others in a niche technical field allows me to constantly innovate and create customer-focused innovations. I’m in a domain that was once largely back office and has now become front office. The ability to empathize with others is a value-add for a data organization, because it allows us to better serve our customers.
This ability to connect with people and promote positive change also enables me to push others toward their true potential, enabling them to exceed expectations while executing new and innovative ideas. For that reason, beyond the awards I’ve received personally, I am most proud of what my team has been able to accomplish in less than two years. For instance, in May 2019, our GCT Asia Data Services team won the IT Team of the Year award at the Women in IT Awards Asia. The IT Team of the Year award recognizes an IT Team, led by a woman that has delivered real value with tangible business results to a company. The judges described the business impact of our team as undeniable, and were particularly impressed by the scale and scope of implementation for our machine learning projects, as well as our work on Big Data capabilities. The success of our team inspires and challenges me to do more and push harder. The energy is contagious!
What about outside of work?
I love to read, run, and play beach volleyball. I also love to travel and consider myself a foodie. Fun fact: I was also a solid amateur figure skater in my youth!
What do you love most about your job or your company?
Anxiety about personal finances is one of the largest mental burdens on individuals across every layer of society. Having the opportunity to build solutions to help our customers become more comfortable and financially stable – and tackling this on a global scale – is one of my biggest ambitions for my career in banking. Fundamentally, the opportunity to drive positive impact in communities and society overall with the power of technology in the banking industry is incredibly satisfying.
I also appreciate the drive and focus surrounding diversity in the organization. This diversity will allow more opportunities to truly empathize with all customer segments we aim to serve and to deliver products and services that meet our customer needs.
And with our deliberate focus on rectifying issues like the gender pay gap and creating a leadership slate that mirrors the communities we serve, I feel I now have an opportunity to shift the needle in the right direction. That is an exciting place to be, not only because of the internal dynamic, but also the external impact.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
My former boss once said: “Ideas without execution are hallucinations.”
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
I think that stereotypes around women in tech and women in leadership greatly impact the natural interest and tendency to pursue these careers. I want to encourage women to focus on their unique attributes, as they differentiate themselves from their peers. It is easy to feel like we need to blend in to be successful, but I believe channeling our individual strengths is what shapes us into effective leaders. Always have a constant willingness and excitement to learn, forged by proactive curiosity, while engaging in creative problem solving.
Also, look for work environments that energize and challenge you. Be open to new opportunities, ask questions, and pursue projects and roles that inspire you to be creative and use your imagination. I love to have fun and laugh with my teams, and I think social capital is one of the most important motivators. If we care about our colleagues and feel connected to our workplace, we will naturally become a tightly knit and high-performing team, which yields better personal and professional outcomes.
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