In a conversation, Amun Mustafiz, Finance Director at BAT Bangladesh, elaborates on her journey, the progress of women in the country, and the infrastructure that has allowed BAT Bangladesh to set a benchmark in attaining gender diversity in Bangladesh’s corporate sector.
Congratulations on being appointed as the first female Finance Director of BAT Bangladesh. What has been the most rewarding aspect of the journey?
In terms of the rewarding aspect, there are two parts to it. First of all, while working for BAT Bangladesh, I have had the opportunity to work in multiple countries including Japan, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka. Being able to stand out amongst acquaintances from different nationalities and being successful on the international level has been quite satisfying. Thanks to BAT Bangladesh for providing me diverse experiences, pushing me to be agile and rounded and helping me to unleash my potential which has significantly shaped me up professionally and personally.
The other part would be how I have developed talents and supported their aspirations for personal growth. What’s most rewarding is that despite many of them relocating to other countries (within or outside BAT), they still call me up to catch up and ask for advice. Being able to shape so many lives not just from a professional angle but from a personal perspective has been the most rewarding aspect of the journey.
BAT’s performance as a Company is fueled by its highly talented and motivated workforce. How has the Company attracted and retained Bangladesh’s top talents?
Landing a job in BAT Bangladesh is a dream for most people, even when I joined the Company more than 16 years back, and I don’t think that has changed till now. There are key reasons for BAT’s appeal as top employer of choice. Firstly, it is a people-first Company. It is the perfect training ground for shaping young individuals who are trained by the best. The process starts even before the recruitment process where university students are groomed via platforms like Battle of Minds, SuperNova and other programs.
When they join, from Day 1, they’re valued, empowered, and pushed to be bold. BAT Bangladesh facilitates a very conducive environment where people can be themselves and grow. BAT has a very structured approach to managing people’s career and development and giving them as much exposure as possible and making them rounded, confident, and resilient.
Finally, the work culture and environment in BAT Bangladesh is very collaborative and energetic. You are stretched and also provided with a lot of support. Consequently, you will see a lot of CEOs and CFOs in Bangladesh in most of the MNCs and in local companies that got their exposure at BAT Bangladesh.
BAT Bangladesh creates leaders, not only for when you are within the organisation but also beyond BAT Bangladesh. Subsequently, it is a second home to anyone who joins the organisation. So, I think this entire package together is why BAT Bangladesh has attracted talents and retained them for so long.
BAT Bangladesh has been a leader in facilitating women’s professional growth in the country and continues to improve upon the high standards of diversity and inclusion it is known for.
Speaking of BAT Bangladesh’s workforce, the Company has been commended for prioritising gender diversity through designing various platforms and training. How have the initiatives helped female employees to establish themselves as highly-skilled professionals?
BAT Bangladesh focuses on facilitating a challenging career trajectory for its female employees while balancing their personal lives. The development of female talents is in two folds – first is providing required infrastructure and training and conducive environment and second are right enablers to grow. We are one of the first companies in Bangladesh to provide nine months of maternity leave to females with certain working conditions. Subsequently, flexible working hours, zero tolerance for harassment are in place to assist female employees in balancing the responsibilities of their personal lives.
For developing female talents, we conduct special programs to focus on their soft skills. Apart from Battle of Minds, we groom female university students who want to pursue a career in science, technology, or engineering and mentor them through a program called SuperNova. While in the job, we have catered development programs for female employees named Women Leadership Program for mid-career and senior-level employees, with the seniors being mentored by international facilitators. BAT Bangladesh ensures that female employees have the opportunity to strengthen their leadership skills.
Also, BAT Bangladesh is one of the few companies with Global Equality Standard (GES) certification. It is one of the first worldwide Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) certifications to measure equal opportunities and equal pay in the workplace. BAT Bangladesh has been a leader in facilitating women’s professional growth in the country and continues to improve upon the high standards of diversity and inclusion it is known for.
As a veteran professional, how would you assess the environment of Bangladesh’s corporate sector for women in aggregate?
We are lucky that women have led our country successfully for many decades but women’s progress (making it more women-friendly) in our corporate sector only took place over the last decade. Bangladesh has been the best performing South Asian country, according to the Global Gender Gap Index, seven times in a row which speaks volumes about the progress that we have made. Over the years, there have been collaborative efforts by the government and private institutions to facilitate a women-friendly environment at workplaces. It has encouraged more women to join the workforce, increasing their economic activities.
Personally, I feel women are more hardworking, dedicated, and tend to be very driven. However, I often feel that women lack confidence or inner belief in themselves. It happens because often, women compare themselves with their male counterparts and aspire to become them. This is where I think a lot can be done to ensure women feel comfortable in their skin. We need to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to build more credibility and influence people based on their work. At the same time, we need to facilitate a safe working environment where women can voice their opinion at a leadership level.
There was a time when the loudest person in the room used to dictate terms in meetings, and women being genetically soft-spoken were left unheard. Thankfully, it’s good to see progression towards open culture in the overall corporate sector and women have a good share of voice.
Overall, it is very reassuring to see that the culture is a lot more open, and we are having conversations about addressing the lingering problems. Women are now more valued, and their skills are in high demand in various institutions. We are at a point where there are many opportunities to create a balance and leverage the strengths of both genders, but I think we still have a long way to go on this journey.
Preferential treatment to females should only be warranted if there is a tie between two individuals of different gender because we are so far behind on the journey that we have to catalyse the acceleration.
Throughout your career, have you ever faced any challenges because of your gender?
I have never faced any challenges because of my gender. A big reason is that I have been lucky to have worked in BAT throughout my career. BAT Bangladesh is dedicated to fostering a very conducive and friendly environment for women at all levels. On top of that, I was in the Finance department at the head office where there were a lot of female employees, including a foreign female Finance Director. In retrospect, being bold, vocal, and confident in my ability has helped me establish my career. It also ensured that people perceived and treated me the same way as a male counterpart, which enabled me to grow as a professional.
However, my experience does not reflect the aggregate environment for female employees. Over the years, my friends working in different organisations have often complained about continuously proving themselves. What makes the conversation more difficult is the perception that women are being promoted because of their gender. I have seen many people misunderstand the diversity agenda and assume women are getting encouraged for the sake of achieving a mere target. It is a mistake to make such assumptions as corporations do not work like that.
Subsequently, there are few female participants in the operations department where employees need to go outside the city and stay on their own. Most females are unwilling to apply for these positions because of various socio-economic factors. And that’s where the opportunities for females become much less than for males. As a result, we end up competing in only a small area where it gets complicated. But I think personally for me, so far, I haven’t faced any issues because of my gender.
As a woman in a leadership position, how do you suggest we break the barriers that prevent women from thriving in leadership positions?
We need to start by breaking the misconception that women are promoted to increase representation. I think this is an impediment we have to overcome for sure. In corporate, you will have both males and females competing, and the company will always choose the most deserving person for promotion. Preferential treatment to females should only be warranted if there is a tie between two individuals of different gender because we are so far behind on the journey that we have to catalyse the acceleration.
At the same time, women need to have more confidence in their abilities to believe that they are achieving the same as men. We need to ensure that we can build our credibility. Subsequently, we need to be more proactive in having career conversations and career growth plans. It is also essential that we continue to network and have mentors and sponsors in the organisation who can vouch for us. Most importantly, to break barriers, we need support from our families; women are often burdened with multiple societal responsibilities. Finally, I think Bangladeshi women have already started breaking barriers; they are more aware of their rights- they believe in their craft and now know how to make sure they are being heard. This, I believe, is a massive achievement, and I hope this continues so that they can thrive in all aspects of life.
Photograph: Nirjon Mahmood