They broke the glass ceiling, now we need more women to step up
Women in the workplace were most-talked-about when PepsiCo named Indra Nooyi as the chief executive officer (CEO) to succeed Steve Reinemund, putting her among the leading women in corporate America. Indian-born Nooyi, joined the company in 1994 and was named chief financial officer (CFO) in 2001 and CEO in 2006.
Is it only Indra Nooyi who is a pride to many Indian women? Of course not. Today I remain mesmerized by my lady partners at PwC India, Jet Airways lady pilots, lady doctors, lady engineers and most importantly scientists.
Women in India are altogether a different story now. Recent examples of many women professionals in Bangladesh may deserve equal respect and recognition. Greater educational and employment opportunities for women, influence of western media, and particularly the growth of individualism combined with self-confidence and earnest desire to overcome adversity have brought the discussion of “women breaking the barriers” to the forefront.
In our country as well, some women have had the courage and ability to lead an institution both home and abroad.
My recent attendance at an award program for the women achievers simply embarrassed me. I looked inside and asked: “If these women could achieve so much, what are we doing?”
No obstacle could prevent them from doing what they wanted to in life.
It is hard for women and other minorities to believe they can progress if they cannot look up and see faces like their own at the top
For a multinational bank operating in Afghanistan, finding customers is one thing; finding bankers to serve them is something else. And for a woman, it was even worse, especially when she sees some of her male colleagues in other banks or institutions resigning and going back to their home countries.
In a rigidly conservative country like Afghanistan, Nasreen Sattar, CEO of a foreign bank, had quite competently marked her presence while leading the bank. Quite apprehensive about how the Afghan men would react, she had broken barriers by successfully managing the bank’s growth.
The first Bangladeshi woman to take up the top-most position in a country like Afghanistan had truly made a difference in the society and can be cited as a role model for many. Nasreen and I worked together for more than eight years and what made her different from the crowd is her commitment to continuous customer solutions building and respect for co-workers.
Today I would also talk about my banking colleagues Humaira Azam and Johra Bebe. They made their way through hard work, commitment and talent despite a great deal of hostility from their male colleagues.
These women proved that they can work on par even in the world of finance, which was predominantly a male-dominated area in the past.
Today they have reached the top because they were determined to be there. They overcame every barrier that came along in their journey.
There are similar examples in Sonia Bashir at Microsoft, Rupali Chowdhury at Berger Paints, Farzana Chowdhury at Green Delta Insurance, Luna Doha at Dohatec and Rubana Huq at Mohammadi Group.
While a few of them may have had some advantage in terms of having an influential and successful father or spouse, family influence or luck alone cannot account for their rise to become the CEO, particularly for multinational companies.
They rightfully earned that title through an unwavering work ethic, a hunger for learning, and an ability to think outside the box. I know for sure there are more in the waiting lounge. Yet the number is still small.
A critical element in making it to the top is being in the pipeline to do so. In Bangladesh women hold only very few key line jobs that make up the pipeline in most corporations. Aside from being in the pipeline, women in our country also have to believe they can make it.
My own experience confirms that it is hard for women and other minorities to believe they can progress if they cannot look up and see faces like their own at the top.
When highly educated women perceive a dearth of viable options and leave the workforce, they are letting down the next generation of women professionals. It then becomes a vicious cycle in which a woman’s desire to make it to the top is sapped by the very paucity of other women who have done so.
On the other hand, given our present social structure and norms, women are forced to balance their careers with their extensive responsibilities as mothers and wives. Often it takes more energy, patience, hard work, and creativity for women to do the same job because of the greater hurdles they have to face.
Millions of women around the world, however, somehow manage to do it all, often at the cost of their personal time.
But the concern is over the best and brightest women — those future leaders whose departure from the workforce is a great loss for our economy. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to redouble our efforts to help women rise to the top and help close the leadership gap.
And why not? I have seen many of my junior female colleagues, newly married ones, expecting ones, and aged ones not leave their work until or unless they can finish it properly. Some of them went home after midnight, some of them stayed up the whole night, just to ensure last minutes details for a morning event and some of the expecting women worked until the last day of their delivery.
I personally feel that women are more invested in whatever they do. As a mother she protects her child, as a wife she takes care of her husband and similarly, as a professional she protects her work, and in turn, the organization.
At Citibank, I came across many distinguished women in leadership roles as well as junior colleagues. I thought the number was quite good, until my boss questioned us — why not more, why not 50%?
A male colleague of mine whispered: “You don’t even see 50% females in university classes.”
And this in addition to the usual complaints about women taking six months maternity leave, going off to get married and inability to stay late in the office.
My boss came back pretty strong: “How many of your lady colleagues nag about higher pay, better work-life balance and inappropriately but regularly contribute to office politics and thereby spend their energy in unproductive ways? Very few, or almost none – at any rate, far less than their male counterparts.
Given the right environment, women can continuously contribute to the “positive energy” in the work place by finishing their work more efficiently. We believe that the future of corporations lies in how best they can utilize their women employees and create an atmosphere for them to excel.
Mamun Rashid is a leading economic analyst in Bangladesh.