Kamel Hothi, Niche Markets Director at Lloyds Bank Corporate Markets, has been recognised by the World Sikh University London, with an Honorary Doctorate. The award commemorates her 32 year work on cultural training in workplaces and helping Asian advance in their careers. She met up with Asian World to discuss cultural differences and the importance of Asian businesses.
Standing next to the Vice Chancellor of the World Sikh University and clad in a red robe and a baron’s hat, Kamel Hothi never thought she would be where she is now. The certificate in her hand is a testament to her role in helping Lloyd’s Banking Group highlights the contribution made by the Asian Community to the UK economy.
“I am extremely humbled to be recognised by my community” she gushes, “It is a dream come true.”
But her success was never an overnight one.
Born to immigrant parents, Kamel found herself webbed against Asian traditions, where girls were expected to have an arranged marriage and work in a local factory if they needed to earn money. Yet, young Kamel had no intentions to adopt a low key life.
“I wanted to become a nurse, but when I asked my father, he strictly objected and said that I should have an arranged marriage,” she explained, “But then I found an advert for a florist cashier and managed to get employed. I considered myself very lucky that my brothers were so supportive and by default I found a job as a banker.”
However, it has been a very laborious climb to her current position as director and unfortunately, she found it had a lot to do with her culture. She was aware that something had to be done, not just in workplaces, but in how Asians restrict themselves.
“It took me 10 years to get myself to management level. During that period, a lot of my colleagues were promoted above me as they were more defiant against the older colleagues, which I found difficult to do as I was brought up to respect my elders and never to answer back.
Unfortunately, my employers mistook me as not being assertive or hungry enough for promotion and because of that experience I find that a lot of Western employers misunderstand the body language that many Asians give off.
This is why I felt it was very important to educate others about cultural differences. But at the same time, I also feel that we Asians need to look at ourselves, as we often put a glass wall around us and we need to break these down.”
And because of this dilemma, Kamel helped set up Lloyd Bank’s Ethnic Minority Network, a mentoring programme that had been going strong for ten years to help the Group understand the benefits of diversity in the workplace and its employees, from the top of the organisation down to the front-line colleagues.
But credits do not end there. Kamel is also the brainchild behind the Asian Strategy, which helps Asian businesses gain access to finance and products.
“I felt that more needed to be done to allow Asian businesses access to finance, as they felt buried when it came to access to banks and products,” she says.
Since then, the bank became the first to introduce Shariah compliant accounts for business customers as well as a portfolio of other Islamic products. For the Indian community the bank also introduced services to allow money transfers and Rupee mortgages, all championed by Kamel.
The unique idea of the strategy has attracted some very high profile sponsorships, including The Asian Jewel Awards and The Asian Women of Achievement Awards for seven years and more recently The Asian Awards, which Lloyds Banking Group sponsored again this year.
It is through the sponsorship of these events that Kamel has made way in demonstrating the bank’s commitment to supporting the UK’s Ethnic communities and acknowledging their valuable contribution to UK society and the economy. So how important is it to support small Asian businesses?
“We’re in the biggest financial crisis the UK had ever seen and small businesses are the backbone of the UK, providing jobs to those so many unemployed people;” Kamal explains, “Small businesses grow three times faster than their corporate counterparts and this year, they have earned £21 billion, contributing greatly to our economy.”