A highly experienced leader, Rubaba Dowla has spent years being a courageous and committed presence in the Bangladesh ICT sector. Set on promoting women in telecom, she speaks to the Dhaka Tribune’s Saudia Afrin about the future of the sector and the part women can play in it
What made you choose to work in the ICT sector?
When I completed my educational pursuits, at the time, telecommunication was not a very big sector in Bangladesh; there was only one operator back then. My father convinced me to apply to Grameenphone for a marketing executive position. To be very honest, I did not know much about the industry but felt that it was a great opportunity to see how this new technology could be used to solve social problems.
As a woman, did you face any barriers to working in ICT? What sort of hurdles do women generally face?
I started in 1998. Back then, our marketing team only had one other woman. In fact, the company itself had very few female employees. However, by 2002, more women were joining the telecommunication industry. The industry itself was flourishing around that time.
When the recruitment of women started, it was initially because it was felt that they really would be an asset to the technology side of things. When Grameenphone started promoting its stance, more and more females showed interest. Since there have always been issues about corporate culture and gender bias, we always made sure there was no discrimination during the recruitment process.
What is the current scenario like?
After 19 years of working in this field, I am glad to say there have been many major improvements in the sector.
Not only are women becoming more interested in computer science or other ICT related areas, lots of private sector and even government organisations are creating opportunities and platforms for these women to be able to participate in and learn more about the sector. Of course, there is still a long way to go.
Our country has more than 160 million people and about 130 million of them have access to mobile phones and 60 million to internet. I think more men have access to internet than women and that is a ratio we need to change.
What can be done to change the man-woman ratio in the ICT sector? How can that be made sustainable?
The current ratio is unacceptable.
However, I am happy with all the initiatives that have been taken by different organisations.
The first thing that needs to happen is more women need to be enrolled in ICT courses. They need to be given the opportunity to take on subjects which will help them pursue careers in ICT.
The next thing is job opportunities. Organisations and companies should encourage applications from women while recruiting. Organisations should also consciously maintain their male to female employee ratios. Every effort should be made to ensure that women who are equally or more highly skilled than their male counterparts are able to find good jobs.
Finally, we need to provide strong mentorship, thus raising more awareness among women. They need to believe in themselves and believe that they can compete equally against men.
In your new platform PlusOne, what are you doing to encourage participation by women?
The PlusOne platform will essentially enable patients to have video consultation with doctors. We are making sure that we have an ample number of both male and female doctors. Apart from that, it will actually enable anyone to contact a doctor and get their advice or diagnosis from remote areas. This will enable both men and women to receive proper healthcare.
Do you have any advice for women who are working hard to reach their goals?
Whether in the ICT sector or not, women are fighting many battles every day. Some of those battles cannot be seen and some are tangible. We just have to be committed to the goal we set for ourselves, while remembering that nothing comes easy. Hard work and commitment are key to becoming successful. There will be forces that will pull you down, but you must not focus on that. Always look forward.