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NBT Bank creates chief diversity officer role

By Traci DeLore (


Karen Sastri

NORWICH, N.Y. — NBT Bank is taking the next steps in its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts by creating and filling a full-time chief diversity officer position.

“It’s pretty clear in the research over time that a diverse workforce and a diverse leadership team provide better results,” says John H. Watt, Jr., president and CEO of NBT.

Since 2016, NBT had two different employees who served as a diversity officer while also performing their normal jobs, he says, but it was time to create a full-time position to handle the duties.

NBT had a well-qualified candidate in house, and Karen Sastri stepped into her new role as chief diversity officer in mid-April. She not only provides continuity for already established initiatives, but also works with bank leadership to establish new programs and best practices that will help NBT recruit, retain, and develop a diverse workforce.

Sastri, a 25-year employee, previously worked in NBT’s human-resources department, so the transition to the new job was an intuitive one that fit well with her previous experience with recruitment, employee relations, training, and development.

“I was honored to be asked,” Sastri says. She earned her bachelor’s degree from University at Albany and holds a strategic human resources business partner certification. She serves on the boards for the Chenango United Way and Dollars for Scholars and is a member of the Norwich Boys Soccer Boosters. Sastri joined NBT in 1996.

Diversity isn’t a new thing at NBT, she notes. Currently, seven of the 11 executive leaders and 55 percent of the overall management team members are women. However, diversity needs to be constantly nurtured and inclusivity must be fostered.

The goal is to promote a workplace where people can come to work and be their authentic selves, she says, and feel welcomed and supported while doing so.

“The companies that are successful are the ones that encourage inclusion,” Watt notes. NBT already has several initiatives around inclusion including roundtable discussions where employees can speak up, company community events, and empowerment workshops. These events give employees a voice, and the bank can learn from them and make the workplace a richer environment, he adds.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives can even go beyond employees to customers, Sastri says. NBT is focused on keeping its branches a welcoming space for customers and remains connected in the communities it serves to causes and organizations it deems important.

While the main intention is to ensure people feel seen and heard, accepted, and welcomed, Watt says NBT also has an obligation to its shareholders. Fortunately, he adds, promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace leads to happy employees who deliver strong results.

Headquartered in Norwich, NBT Bank offers banking and wealth-management services in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut. The bank employs about 1,800 people, with more than 700 of those employees in branch offices. Parent company NBT Bancorp (NASDAQ: NBTB) has $12.1 billion in total assets.       

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