Hamisha Mehta CA, co-founder of Gold Bangle Club, on putting diversity and inclusion at the heart of Web 3.0
The internet is heading for a less centralised, less hierarchical future. But to really live up to its potential, it needs to involve diverse voices from the ground up, says CA Summit 2022 speaker Hamisha Mehta CA
People may assume accountants don’t go into the profession because they are attracted by a journey into the unknown. But that is exactly what excites Hamisha Mehta CA. Innovation and its potential to reshape our world has formed a golden thread that has run through her career since she first qualified at EY.
Talk to Mehta for even a few minutes and her energy and enthusiasm for the future of finance and the impact of Web 3.0 [see below] is clear. Mehta’s own recently launched Gold Bangle Club initiative looks to build a community focused on educating women and minorities about Web 3.0 and the possibilities this new age of the internet could bring.
Even with such future vision, Mehta acknowledges the importance of marrying ambition to pragmatic experience. After qualifying as a CA in audit at EY in 2010 she moved internally to work across a range of clients on core financial advisory projects, such as cost reduction, finance systems implementations and process improvement. After four years, she felt the need for a fresh challenge.
“I was a manager at the time and contemplating applying for promotion or leaving practice. I thought, if I don’t try something different now, I’m sure my ambition and drive will take me down the partnership route.” she says. A key consideration for her in moving to industry was that she had never worked in an in-house finance team, only as an external consultant. It was this professional seven-year itch that prompted her to take on the role of Group FP&A Controller at United Biscuits, a week before it was acquired by Pladis – and then into a project manager role overseeing post-acquisition integration of its finance systems. Internal consultancy taught her the power of being in the thick of things, and gave her a 360-degree perspective on the impact of her own contributions.
“The key difference in doing an internal consulting change project is that you’re there every step of the way,” she says. “You are doing something that will impact you and your colleagues in the long run. And that’s quite a different space to be in because you see and appreciate all the risks, challenges, opportunity costs and, most importantly, the impact, of every action and decision taken. As an external consultant there’s always a little bit of a barrier, in that what you see is what the client wants you to see.”
Seeing everything is very much Mehta’s goal. Her career path has been defined by a need to actively drive progress, not just ride on its coat tails. Moving internally to the UK business unit, she worked across various portfolios, before again feeling the urge to grow on returning to work following the birth of her first child.
Around this time cryptocurrency was booming. The growing demand for analytics led her to co-found a company developing analytics software – “my first taste of Web 3.0” – while also working on her other passion, diversity and inclusion. She became a trustee at Aspire, a charity supporting those with spinal cord injuries – impactful work that contributed to her winning ICAS One Young CA in 2019. She also became an adviser for online coaching platform Know You More, which enables executive level coaching to be delivered at scale, thereby increasing accessibility. On returning to Pladis, she became a core member of the team driving the company’s diversity and inclusion initiative, Being Me, which sought to amplify the sense of belonging, authenticity and allyship within the company.
“One of the things I’m most proud of with Being Me was a panel event where people from different backgrounds and levels of seniority in the business shared vulnerable stories about themselves,” she says. “One female leader spoke about balancing kids and a senior leadership role; another team member talked about coming out at work; another spoke about having a neurodiverse child. Diversity isn’t just about what you see on the surface or which box you tick. It is about embracing difference and recognising that it isn’t just relevant for minorities, it impacts everyone, and that was the message we wanted to get across. For real change and true equality to emerge, everyone needs to be engaged in the diversity and inclusion conversation, not just minorities and women.”
The event highlighted the importance of authenticity in leadership. “What stuck with me is the positive impact that showing your own vulnerabilities can have on the team,” she says. “It encourages those who look to you to lead to feel comfortable showing their own vulnerabilities, enabling them to be open and honest.”
When Covid-19 hit, Mehta was on maternity leave with her second child. During this time she became increasingly involved with Know You More, whose fully virtual platform was now supporting employees, including those in the NHS, to deal with the overwhelming changes brought on by lockdown. On returning to work after maternity leave, she briefly moved to become Head of Commercial Finance for a new insurance platform at Innovation Group.
“I started really heading down the Web 3.0 rabbit hole at that point, as this is when a lot of the big projects were getting traction,” she remembers. “A lot of trading was happening within the NFT space, so I started building my skills and knowledge. I’m excited by what organisations are doing, or looking to do, as they build their Web 3.0 strategies. While I understand the space, I don’t think anyone really knows where it’s heading.”
Since February, Mehta has been interim Financial Director for Craster, which designs and manufactures products for high-end hotels and conference venues, adding another value proposition to her portfolio. “It’s been an eye-opener to be part of the hospitality industry in a post-Covid world and bring my corporate experience to a smaller business,” she says. “It’s fascinating speaking to entrepreneurs because they are full of ideas. The challenge is homing in on something they should then invest time and money in developing. The question I seek to answer is: how can I use my financial experience and qualifications to help you put your resources in the right place?”
That entrepreneurial zeal runs alongside her own venture, the Gold Bangle Club, which again crosses the streams of fintech and diversity. “We are building an inclusive community, where anyone can become educated, connected and empowered in Web 3.0,” she says. “Through beautiful, symbolic artwork and inspiring stories reflecting the richness of south Asian culture, we’ll take this community on a Web 3.0 learning journey.”
And with South Asian Heritage Month, running this year from 18 July to 17 August, Mehta also notes that greater diversity across finance is vital to future-proofing organisations of all sizes. “The other element that drove the creation of the Gold Bangle Club for me was the lack of visible role models for south Asian women,” she says. “It was something that impacted me personally. I got to a stage in my career when I struggled to see people who reflected me in senior leadership positions.
“What my two co-founders and I want to do is bring all of this together under this Gold Bangle Club, because free education is what really brings a community together.”
She adds: “No one is being intentionally excluded from Web 3.0, but many need to be actively included. Once you’re in that space though, it is the most welcoming community I’ve come across, and it’s really encouraging for female-founded projects. But the problem at the moment is few people, and even fewer women, are even aware of what Web 3.0 is.”
For Mehta, that unknown presents an opportunity she intends to seize: “Men have largely driven the previous iterations of the internet, and you see that reflected in the gender disparity in tech globally. Would some of the issues we see with social media today exist if there had been more diverse minds involved in the early days of Web 2.0? We are so early on in this latest internet evolution, that there is a real opportunity to build a truly inclusive Web 3.0.
“The more that we involve women, people of colour and other minorities in this space at the start, the better the innovation and evolution will be. And the more equality there will be when Web 3.0 becomes more mainstream – and that to me is really exciting.”
Web 3.0: a primer
What is Web 3.0?
It's a catch-all term for a new digital era, powered by decentralised technology such as blockchain, which us used for cryptocurrency. Transactions are processed and verified across a network of computers and servers over which no single entity has control.
How might it be used?
Immediate applications include ecommerce, file storage and smart contracts.
What are Web 1.0 and 2.0?
Web 1.0 describes when the internet was full of static pages, lasting until the early 2000s. Web 2.0 is dominated by user-generated content, fuelled by social media.
What are the benefits of Web 3.0?
Tech evangelists hope it will further democratise the internet by offering people greater control over how they spend and store money, as well as selling goods and services.