"The contribution of women to the economy is testament to what an inclusive mindset can lead to but there is still a long way to go. Everywhere I look, I see inspirational female leaders – be it at large corporates or as successful entrepreneurs – breaking gender stereotypes and paving the way for the future generation of leaders," said Mubina Asaf, Head of Legal and External Affairs at BAT Bangladesh, in a exclusive interview with Bangladesh Post.
She said women are working shoulder-to-shoulder with men across all spheres of work and in the process, proudly contributing significantly to numerous sectors, propelling the country towards newer heights.
Mubina replied to a set of queries made by Bangladesh Post, covering a wide spectrum of issues, including women empowerment, entrepreneurship and challenges they face in their professional and other fields.
Mubina Asaf is the President of' Care in Need', Vice President of IPAB (Intellectual Property Association Bangladesh), Director of Prerona Foundation, and Board member of SEID Trust.
The excerpts of the interview are produced here for the readers of Bangladesh Post.
Bangladesh Post: As a successful female professional, how would you evaluate the issues like women empowerment, entrepreneurial opportunities for women folks and challenges they face in this regard?
Mubina Asaf: As we head deeper into the 21st century, we are lucky to be living in a world where career choices are not limited. If we reflect on the norms from our mothers and grandmothers’ time, it is blatantly clear that they had to make a lot of sacrifices and overcome numerous societal obstacles in order to pursue a career – even more so, if it was a job that is predominantly male-oriented. Today, women are working shoulder-to-shoulder with men across all spheres of work and in the process, proudly contributing significantly in numerous sectors, propelling the country towards newer heights.
I take pride about being a female and a Bangladeshi as I witness the nation making strides towards becoming a developed nation, led by one of the most influential female leaders in the world.
Everywhere I look, I see inspirational female leaders – be it at large corporates or as successful entrepreneurs – breaking gender stereotypes and paving the way for the future generation of leaders.
I believe, as a society, we have come a long way; we are becoming more and more accepting towards a shift in the mindset which is best portrayed by the sheer number of working women in leading roles. If I look within BAT Bangladesh, we have numerous females leading different aspects of our operations, who are currently striving in challenging roles - be it on the field, factory, or representing Bangladesh in leading roles in other countries.
However, despite our impressive progress, I do believe there is room for improvement. More often than not, women tend to showcase an innate quality of underestimating themselves and sometimes find it difficult to ensure a seat at the table for themselves. The reason behind that would be because there is a part of our society which is still oblivious to the value women can add, and if enabled, can improve an outcome drastically.
As an organisation and as a country, we have started to honour the scope for the endless possibilities an inclusive society beholds where women are empowered. At the accelerated pace that we are travelling, it is only a matter of time until we reach our desired goal.
Bangladesh Post: We know that recently you have been recognized with the award “Inspiring Woman Leader”, the Bangladesh Post congratulates you for winning such a prestigious award, now please express your reactions in this regard?
Mubina Asaf: I am truly humbled to have received the prestigious award presented by Bangladesh Brand Forum. I feel proud that organisations such Brand Forum are creating these platforms to recognise the effort and talent of inspiring female professionals and in turn, are motivating the next generations to continue the march towards an equitable society.
My message to all young female professionals who are breaking barriers to fight for their rights and position would be to dream big and work hard. It is pertinent to have faith and confidence in yourself so that obstacles at work cannot deter you from reaching your goals. No one can truly facilitate empowerment for you unless you empower yourself. You need to ensure you have a seat at the table and command equal respect for your hard work.
There is no limit to learning, so constantly put in effort to sharpen your skillsets and be the best version of yourself in everything you do.
Bangladesh Post: Would you please assess the environment in our country to promote the female professionals?
Mubina Asaf: Women constitute half of the population and the number of women who are driving important sectors such as the RMG industry is significantly higher than their male counterparts. The contribution to the economy is testament to what an inclusive mindset can lead to but there is still a long way to go. We may have role models in different sectors but there remains a substantial gender gap that we are yet to address.
Not too many women are in leadership roles and in order to facilitate the future generation of female professionals to assume these roles, it is important that we exhaust our efforts towards creating an inclusive and diverse environment for them to prosper.
I believe, in order to make the journey easier for women, men need to be more understanding of the struggles that women face in general and be appreciative of the sacrifices and compromises made by women from time to time, and enable each other to grow.
Together, we need to create an inclusive environment to empower female professionals where we do not have to make a choice between home and work but give equal importance to both.
Women tend to undervalue themselves, so they don’t voice their opinion as often. But the tables are turning. Now, I am glad to see young and opinionated girls in my team who are bold and have an equal contribution in decision making. Never shy away from seeking advice from family members and peers to help you out.
I want female professionals to be confident and to respect their craft while grabbing all opportunities to cement their place in society. To do that, you need to be courageous and bold; ensure that your voice is heard.
Bangladesh Post: In the long period of 27 years of your professional journey, would you tell us what sorts of challenges you had to face and how did you overcome them?
Mubina Asaf: Historically, the legal profession is an extremely male dominated one and truth be told, it has not been easy. Over the years, as more and more female lawyers entered the circuit, we were breaking gender stereotypes and norms. However, it was not an easy task.
During the initial stages of my career, I needed to muster a lot of courage to instil the faith in myself that I can do it. There were times when I felt like giving up but I didn’t; I put in the effort to work on turning my weaknesses into my strength and continued the journey.
As you progress in your career’s trajectory, it becomes much easier as you become more experienced as a lawyer.
Now that I reflect back on my career, I can safely say that I had a dream of reaching the very pinnacle of my career from very early on - a goal that I will become a successful lawyer and kept working at it. I didn’t fear the obstacles thrown at me, I faced them as if they were opportunities.
Bangladesh Post: We know that you are the first female official to lead the Head of Legal and External Affairs function of BAT Bangladesh in its 110 years, please share your experience at BAT with us?
Mubina Asaf: Having joined BAT Bangladesh in 2013, I transitioned from being a professional lawyer and entering the corporate sector, which was a bit of a struggle in the initial stages. However, I took a leap of faith and after eight years, I can say that it was the best decision I have ever taken.
Becoming the first female to lead the crucial function of Legal and External Affairs was certainly very inspiring and my experience in leading the function has been amazing. The team and workplace, which is driven by a high performing and inclusive culture, has certainly allowed me to contribute significantly to my organisation.
The inclusive environment helped me grow immensely at this company and I am proud to suggest that it is the culture that sets the organisation apart from the rest – earning the accolade of being the most women friendly organisation in the country.
Bangladesh Post: You also have been making contributions in the society through being president of Care in Need a director of Prerona Foundation, vc of IPAB and board member of SEID Trust, as the president Prerona & “Care in Need,” vice president of IPAB ,so please tell us how these initiatives bring benefit for the society and mankind?
Mubina Asaf: Contributing to society has always been very close to my heart and through multiple initiatives, I try to ensure that I am doing my bit. As a Director of Prerona Foundation, which works to address multiple issues and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, I have had the opportunity to work with a diverse set of communities including specially-abled individuals. We had a project where we trained them and provide a platform for them to become active members of mainstream society, creating employment opportunities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, through Prerona Foundation, we have undertaken various projects which support youth skill development, women empowerment and uplift farmers’ livelihood and sustainability.
Similarly, SEID Trust works towards helping the specially-abled individuals to become contributing members of society by providing them with physiotherapy and skill development to become independent in their own right.
As an active member of IPAB (Intellectual Property Association Bangladesh), we are actively driving Intellectual Property rights and issues, supporting the government in driving enforcement and regulatory changes to protect the shortfall of revenue from illicit goods’ manufacturers.
The concept of “Care in Need” is very close to my heart and one which aims to value the importance and wellbeing of elderly citizens. I like to believe that it is not just a homecare service but an initiative that promotes meaningful interactions between the young and elderly which is likely to benefit both the parties equally.
The idea of a home care service is relatively new in Bangladesh, but it is showing promise. Care in Need aims to address these opportunities and provide the best care and quality service to elderly individuals to ensure that they have an improved lifestyle. Through this initiative, we are supporting the government to create job opportunities for the youth while working towards facilitating women empowerment.
The vision is to reach out across all spheres of society and ensure that all of us are doing our part to protect the interests of marginalised communities. Hence, I am passionate about doing everything in my might to give back to society.