Dipali Sahni is general counsel for Demica, one of the world’s leading platforms for working capital financing. Dipali joined Demica in 2017, becoming a member of its senior management team and helping Demica to achieve 40% growth each year since then. Dipali’s team helps Demica and its clients to find solutions to the unique legal and regulatory challenges presented by operating across the working capital spectrum. Demica’s clients look to Demica for a technology platform to both manage their working capital transactions, and also for structuring expertise in a rapidly growing and changing environment. Dipali’s range of experience helps Demica to add value on both. She brings the discipline and expertise of a career with a top legal firm, along with the entrepreneurial approach necessary for a growing Fintech firm. Dipali spent time in New York with Sidley Austin and Morgan Stanley in structured finance, prior to returning to London where she worked as general counsel for an innovative asset management business in the Fintech sector before moving to Demica.
She has volunteered for organizations such as Pencil NY’s Business and Public School Partnership Program and the Absolute Return for Kids Program in London. She is currently a trustee of the Akram Khan Dance Company.
What advice would you offer to women just starting out in the industry?
Work hard, but also work smart. There is no substitute for knowledge and expertise, but in addition to that, you also have to ensure that you are developing your career: getting a variety of experience, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone (because that is where the real learning begins), recognizing and seizing opportunities that come your way and finding time to develop relationships. These are the relationships which will form your network in the future.
What do you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning of your career?
The right time to leave a job. I started work almost 20 years ago, at a time when longevity was still valued, especially in traditional organizations like law firms. I wish I had learnt earlier that having to adapt to new environments and learn new things would go a long way in developing my career. I was lucky that halfway during my nine-year stint at Sidley, I moved to New York for three years, which provided me with the catalyst for change. However, it is important to get the balance right – you need to spend a reasonable amount of time in a role to ensure you get the most value out of it.
How have you approached big career decisions?
I always do my research, but ultimately follow my gut instinct. If it feels right, it usually is. I remember a recruiter inviting me to interview at Demica and I went reluctantly as I didn’t really know the company at the time and the product type didn’t fit squarely within my experience. But each time I went for an interview round, I left with a good feeling – one I couldn’t really articulate in words. Almost three years later, I recognize that feeling as being a reflection of the positive, supportive environment that I now work in.
Side note: Take a chance if you are unsure. Nothing is permanent and any ‘wrong’ decisions usually provide you with very good life experience and bring you closer to understanding what a good career decision for you is.
How can commercial finance organizations attract and retain more women?
People always focus on parental issues when talking about attracting and retaining women. Yes, flexible working (not valuing presenteeism but rather output) and sensitive handling of parental leave are key to retaining women who are also mothers or want to become mothers, but this sometimes becomes the single issue which drowns out the rest. In addition to this, an organization should foster an open and supportive working environment and work towards changing traditional behavioral patterns. Women are socialized to be less confident and more conciliatory than men. It takes a concerted effort to fight this stereotype in the work environment. For example, I have been in meetings in the past where a man has cut me off mid-sentence – often just to reiterate the same point. Leaders in an organization need to recognize this kind of behavior and intervene when it happens. Only when you call out bad behavior, does it change. Ensure that women are not overlooked because they don’t always tout their own achievements; learn to listen. Be careful about language you use when describing women – make sure that it is the same as you use for men. I think the most important thing to remember is there is more than one way to skin a cat – always be open to alternative methods of doing something.