Meet Banu, one of our brilliant mentors in AHF’s Fellowship Circle in 2021. 

Banu is currently a Digital Product Manager at Ernst & Young. Her diverse career over the last decade building digital solutions for customers has spanned North America, the EU and the APAC regions. She has led projects in digital transformation, mobile app development, payments and process improvement. From building real time payments in banking apps to AI applications to healthcare marketplace, she enjoys designing platforms that add value to customers. With a background in big data and industrial engineering, Banu was featured in SAS Software Top 10 Women in Analytics in 2021. 

To make her party merrier, she supports initiatives in education and gender equity, through mentoring and public speaking opportunities. In her spare time, she also loves painting, dancing and binge watching comedy and detective shows. We had a chance to sit down with Banu to explore her career journey and more.

Harnessing the Power of Curiosity to Build a Successful Career Journey

Banu’s career has been varied in roles and sectors. At the start of her career, she didn’t really have an idea on what she wanted to do. But she does recall wanting to feel like she was making a difference and her curiosity drove her ability to try new things and experiment. 

“With a preference for introversion, I am very introspective, self aware and curious,” reflects Banu. “The key was finding the things that drove me to wake up everyday and be excited about work. Over time, I’ve realized that this drive changes and evolves with time, and that’s okay as long as you know your why.”

Banu has worked in many different roles that she found interesting and thrives on the learning that comes with change. This path has taken her into roles including coder, business analyst, tester, UX designer, project manager, Scrum Master, Product Owner, process analyst and more. Banu’s career has also taken her into all kinds of industries including fintech, government, non profit, startup and currently in research & advisory in consulting. 

“Being curious about what goes on in different spaces helps me with critical thinking and getting out-of-the-box ideas,” explains Banu. “In my career, I have taken calculated risks to switch roles. While I lost a few opportunities to get promoted, I became better as an influential leader, rather than an administrative leader.”

Banu’s deep interest in problem-solving and love of learning through books and experience have also contributed to her career success. “Lifelong learning is critical, especially given the fast pace of change and transformation within the workplace,” advises Banu. “This is why I still chat with people for informational interviews, volunteer, attend conferences on topics I’m interested in learning about, and love meeting people who solve problems differently.”

Last year, Banu even attended a conference on alternative forms of healing. “This had nothing to do with my career, yet meeting people from totally different fields gives me inspiration on how to deal with different situations.”

An Advocate for Women in Tech

Banu is an advocate for women and women in tech. Over the years she has given many talks and volunteered with different organizations including Ripple Foundation, ChickTech, Shelter Movers, eVidyaloka, Open Circle and many more. Banu was inspired to become a mentor within AHF’s Fellowship Circle because of our reciprocal mentorship model and the focus on racialized and Indigenous women.

“This model showed AHF’s commitment to co-creating a safe space with the Mentor and Fellow community where Mentors can share their lived experiences and Fellows would be just as willing to share their experiences,” reflects Banu. “It’s through this experience that I appreciated my own struggles and felt gratitude for what I had gone through.”

Banu believes that AHF provides an important platform for growth, discussion and expression of vulnerability. “The more we become open to sharing our experiences in a safe space, the sooner we can heal and progress forward to achieving greater things,” adds Banu. “And it’s not necessarily about fixing ourselves, but about having others truly listen to our lived experiences and perspectives.”

Banu also grew her network through AHF. “I would like to express my sincere thanks to Erin Kim, another Mentor in the program,” recalls Banu. “I reached out to her to learn more about Product Management and found her patience, empathy, and going the extra mile as a generous ally to be inspiring.”

Developing Leadership Skills Early in Your Career

As a lifelong learner, Banu is focused on developing as an influential and empathic leader. “Early in my career I thought it was more important to solely focus on cultivating my technical skills and I underestimated the importance of transferable skills such as communication, influence and leadership,” explains Banu. “One of the toughest arts to master is influential leadership,” adds Banu. “No matter how much one prepares, it’s not enough. It is a lifelong process of learning.”

In reflecting on her career journey, Banu explains that it’s important to start on the path of developing as a leader early, even with small roles or projects. “For you to practice leadership, you don’t need a title,” advocates Banu. “I believe qualities of a leader include empathy, relationship building, self-starting, initiative, passion and drive.”  We at AHF agree wholeheartedly! 

Empathy the Foundation of Emotional Intelligence

Banu’s aspirations are to continue her growth as a leader in technology. She has seen the field of leadership evolve and how each individual tends to develop their own leadership approach with emotional intelligence and empathy being critical to connecting to others and finding common experiences that we share. “I’m the kind of person who would rather meet people through the human library than to read a technical book on leadership,” explains Banu.

Empathy is critical to defining your relationships and work life according to Banu. “We don’t want to mold people to a one size fits all approach to leadership, but instead foster empathy so as leaders we can understand others, mentor, coach, and engage them,” adds Banu. 

Banu recently published a book chapter titled Empathy, the Foundation of Emotional Intelligence. Empathy is something we can develop and a critical skill for all of us according to Banu. While it may be difficult or even simplistic to try to put ourselves in others’ shoes – after all we all have different backgrounds, lived experiences, cultures and so on – yet it is important to first start by practicing taking perspective by being willing to see and feel the world through others’ eyes. Banu suggests coffee chats as a great place to start where you can practice deep listening and asking questions. Deep listening is key to help us stay out of judgment so that we hold space and refrain from invalidating other’s experiences. Today more than ever showing that we care, paying attention and leading with empathy are key.