The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Bangladesh, in association with Summit Group, arranged a virtual roundtable discussion to celebrate International Women's Day 2022. Notable women from the accounting and finance sector along with HR professionals joined the conversation and talked about breaking the bias
Every woman is a multitasker. She balances her career, motherhood, her duty as a wife, her responsibilities towards her in-laws and parents, and plays a paramount role in shaping the society. But sometimes she is pulverized by the perpetual pressure of the society and its mindset. She is forced to leave her career, dreams, and achievements.Things are changing gradually though. More and more women are joining the workforce and contributing to the growing economy of Bangladesh. But the questions remain, do they face more challenges than men do? Is gender discrimination still there? Is every workplace safe for women? What else could be done to encourage women to partake in the workplace, especially the accounting and finance industry?
Akhtar Sanjida Kasem, FCA, FCMA, CFE
Partner, A. Qasem & Co.
It is common for women to experience gender biases. This is a very interesting topic to talk about. But in my workplace, till now I have not faced these types of challenges. Because in my case, I have never just looked upon women as my peers. I confide in them. I always sort out some friends and allies among others, and there could be both men and women. I must say, whatever I have achieved in my career, I have received tremendous support from my male colleagues, male counterparts, and family members. So, I think, as women, we need to broaden our horizon. We need to look up to women not only as mentors but also as allies. It's the bigger picture. When we want to become an accounting and finance professional, both men and women sit for the same exams, study the same syllabus and do the same level of work, so why do we need to look up to women only? Without sacrificing your distinct feminine identity, you can still have allies and confidence in your profession. You can build up meaningful relationships. I would like to quote a movie dialogue, ''to hold a job which is traditionally held by a man, it is not enough to be as good as the next man, you have to be better.'' So that is how you can earn your respect and you can do that. Let's not syndicate ourselves.
Amun Mustafiz, FCCA
British American Tobacco (BAT) Bangladesh Ltd.
I was lucky enough to start my journey with BAT where it was a very conducive environment for females even back in those days. Since I joined in Finance, there were lot of females in head office and I had lot of female and male mentors. Even my finance director at that time was a British woman. So I never felt that there were any issues regarding equal opportunity or any preference towards males. Males always treated me the same way they treated their male colleagues.
However, I feel that it's not only about organisation and having female friendly environment, it's also about us and our softer side. Unlike men, we are not good in leading in career conversations and pro-actively asking for what we want, and we don't have honest and bold conversations on performance and feedback. Also, we need to take more effort in building networks especially with men.
Females also have to balance home and work more than males based on our social context. In many cases, they have toprioritise home over work which is also ok.
So, we should think about how we can shape ourselves and contemplate our preferences in life.
Zinnia Huq, FCMA
Director, Finance Excellence and BPC Finance, Unilever Bangladesh Ltd
I can relate to the fact that many women experience a lack of confidence in their careers. Because two decades earlier, while I joined corporate, it was the very first stage of women joining jobs. What I missed that time was, to have or get a role model to follow. It was more of a scarcity of women to follow. So, when it is in our hands to solve this issue for the next generation, we should think about what we can do for women. For example, we can think of providing transportation for women at late light with the help of our organizations. Doing one or two such things won't help us overcome the issues overnight. But this will start to change the whole ecosystem with a changing mentality. We need to be more supportive whenever it is required. In the accounting and finance industry, the initial skills you need to develop are patience, knack for details, sticking to it and following it to the end. Women empowerment needs to be ensured by solving the current issues they are facing. Managers need to motivate their female junior colleagues and create an environment to nurture their growth. This practice should begin with academics. If academics strictly taught us that contributing to a country's economy is a must, not an option, I think changes would take place soon.
Chairman, Enroute International Ltd
I don't agree that women are not present as much as men in the corporate field. In my career, I have seen a lot of women growing in their careers. So, in terms of qualifications, women are equal or sometimes even ahead of men. But the main problems or challenges are loneliness and social mentality. In my career, I have seen several capable female colleagues leaving the organization for this reason. Even, the maternal level is an important factor that should be taken into consideration. Once, I heard that one of my female colleagues hadconceived, so I wanted to open a child care facility unit just to keep her in the organization. But I couldn't. Her in-laws were not willing to let her do so. If we don't change this mentality, these problems will stay. Nowadays so many female young bloods are serving in different industries. It's becoming some industries' goal to recruit only females for specific jobs. So, to ensure a healthy work environment for them, we need to keep the aged mentality aside and start coping with the fast-changing world's needs and culture. This should be the next big move for everyone to fight and win against this crisis.
Azeeza Aziz Khan, ACCA
Director, Summit Corporation Ltd
At Summit, we try to empower women not just by creating confidential circles, we try to do this by creating anti-harassment committees or women supporting women. But even with flexible working cultures, it is getting difficult to ensure this due to the low ratio of women to men at work. Even the ratio remains the same at the upper level positions. The loneliness is always there. What I think is, we can often take more initiatives like this roundtable discussion to overcome it and open conversations among us. I always look for women to talk to them frankly and learn from their experiences. But to do that, we must be able to speak out first. And for speaking out, we need a platform. This platform will build confidence among us and remove the narrow thoughts both internally and externally. We need to get rid of the stereotypes regarding women.
Zareen Mahmud Hosein, FCA, CPA
Partner, Snehasish Mahmud & Co.
Although we recruit a lot of trainees in our company, we mostly recruit for junior trainee positions. While recruiting, we have noticed that generally, very few women apply compared to men. Of course, there are a lot of obstacles women face to maintain a balance between their profession and family life. We always try to recruit more women. But why aren't they coming? The answer is, there is a lack of role models in this field. Again, a friendly workplace environment plays a vital role specifically for women.We need to ensure this. Moreover, some women who belong from rural areas do not have enough qualifications. But we still recruit them to give them a fair chance. Some of them live with their relatives or in a women's hostel. Keeping their safety in mind, we make sure they leave on time. Also, we provide facilities to make sure that they reach their homes safely. Another obstacle that we see at the managerial level or higher level is, not having daycare support for women who have children. Though many women have their in-laws or parents to take care of their children, but those who don't have that support end up facing difficulties. So, to make it smooth for them, we provide flexible working time. Some women even work from home. We see it as an investment in these women as well as the workplace. They will become directors, CEOs etc. It is our responsibility to bring more women to the workforce.
Tanzila Rahman, FCCA, CPA, CGA
Regional Financial Controller,
South Asia, British Council
Confidence is something, a lot of people, specifically women lack. Every woman, at least at some point in their life, asked herself, ''Am I competent enough for this?'' There is always a ground of doubt. During that phase, she needs a lot of support, not just from her family or loved ones, but also from the organization she is working for. That's the reason why we get to see a huge gap between the number of men and women working in the accounting and finance industry. Many organizations have already taken measures to reduce this gap. Among these measures, gender equality is the most important. It's very essential for society. Equality, diversity, and inclusiveness should be included in local organizations' policies and practices. Not just in theories, it should be practiced in their recruitment process and organization policies. Organizations should invest in training both in technical areas and soft skills such as leadership and management skills, communication skills, negotiation skills. Because companies give training on technical skills, but women tend to doubt their abilities. I have completed a course in the British Council that focused more on self-resilience and personal growth rather than MS Excel and technology-related topics. Not every organization offers these kinds of courses. Employers should engage more with their female employees. On the other hand, we need more women role models in the accounting and finance industry. A formal mentoring scheme can also help women. We need to normalize flexible working hours and remote working.
Planning Editor, The Financial Express Bangladesh
We have little ideas and we are not fully aware of the difficulties that women face at work. That's why we don't see adequate reflection on our reporting. Women have to manage their family, job, and personal life. Through discussions, we can get to know about their suffering and come up with suggestions to minimize them. It might change our way of thinking and our way of judgment. We may improve our ideas better. Globally, people work on women but in our country, there are gaps. I would like to suggest something, we can have a local research and report in the context of Bangladesh to know how women struggle at work. In Bangladesh, the situation of women in the workplace is now improving gradually. They show skills, and their talent is reflected in their achievements and work. The young generation is promoting women's empowerment a lot. We need to have a much clear scenario of Bangladesh on this issue so that we can work on it in the future. We have to encourage women to get involved more in our country's financial sector. They have skills, they have abilities, but there is a lack of confidence, which we may build up by encouraging them.
Md. Mehanazuddin Rupom
Country HR Manager, Amann Group
It seems to me predominantly that there is a lot of discussions now about the DEIB concept that means diversity, equality, inclusion and belongingness. Now, the organizations have taken it to a different dimension by talking about equity. The term equality means to provide something equal to everyone. On the other hand, equity means to provide whatever is needed. When my colleagues joined the organization, the organization gave them a fixed path which is, if you achieve these things, you can reach the success position. In our HR language, we call it a succession plan. Equity is also linked with this. For example, as I will make a succession plan for a male employee, the same plan will be for female employees. The organization will work on channel development as well as provide a succession plan. I know that many organizations in our country are doing it too. In my organization, in the manufacturing unit plant, the engineer is a woman. My company started in 2013 and it never happened before. Now the organization is thinking about it and we have globally embedded the issue of diversity and inclusion in our company performance too. So, in my opinion, if we can merge equity and compassion, we can set a clear path for a female colleague from the very beginning of her journey in any organization.
Prawma Tapashi Khan, FCCA
Head of Education & Member Affairs
Women's careers accelerate much faster than men's when they have secured an executive-level role. Women blame themselves for the lack of confidence rather than organizational culture. Despite numerous challenges they endure throughout their careers, women want to believe that the workplace is meritocratic and fair. But the difference between men's and women's careers differs a lot for an organization. Executive women often find themselves in a solitary profession, where the challenges are the same as the battle, they have to fight alone. Do you think women cannot progress in their careers because of a lack of confidence? Fewer and fewer people are joining the accounting and finance sector nowadays. They choose marketing or human resource management as their career. Suppose, there is a tournament between men and women. At stage one, both start together. But from stage two, women have obstacles like motherhood, family, personal life etc. Coming back from maternity leave is a crucial time for them, as their footsteps have already gone backward. You have confidence but you do not have enough network a man can have. Men have investors in the long run, but during that time of their career, women concentrate on skills accumulation. Organizations keep an eye on men rather than women. In a UK-based ACCA report, we found that the career progress gap between men and women is 7 years. This is a common phenomenon at the workplace to face gender-related challenges. There is a lack of senior women in higher positions and women have few options to fight. Women are not treating themselves up to their confidence level.
Md. Asif Hossain
Head of HR, Summit Communications Ltd
The main reason behind gender discrimination in workplaces is primarily our mindset. For example, I don't counsel women colleagues, how I mentally or dedicatedly counsel my sister or mother at home. It has been injected into our minds through decades that women are to maintain family only. Corporate is not for them. Our neighboring countries are coming out of this mindset and surprisingly there is a gradual change in our country too. HR can play a vital role to make it happen but simultaneously all the concerned departments need to come forward too. HR should break their mindset of the early '80s or '90s. We need to create awareness among women about their careers and growth. We shouldn't overlook women or perceive them as weak. It will take time but at least we need to start. Few female colleagues of mine are contributing more to the company than my male colleagues. We have already started to appoint candidates based on their qualities, not genders. Thanks to our management for not only agreeing to do so but also increasing women's opportunities by giving them chances and proper logical motivations.
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