12 years back, just after finishing undergrad with Marketing & International Business Majors, Sayma Rahman started her corporate journey with Grameenphone. At the very beginning of her journey, no one was there to guide her. However with her hard work, devotion and skills, finally she earned her current position. While everyone was quite bored and locked down in this current pandemic situation, this corporate leader is using her quarantine with multiple works—from adopting pets to handling office responsibilities. In a candid conversation with The Business Standard, Sayma shares her corporate pursuits and sheds light on gender gap, developing one's potentials and other issues.
How are you handling the office responsibilities from home in this pandemic?
I am, generally, an early riser and follow a routine life. However, this pandemic has disrupted our lifestyles. Doing hectic hours of home office along with household chores can be stressful. The only thing that is keeping me sane in this insane time is my routine lifestyle. I wake up by 7.30am, spend time with my newly adopted kittens (Tom & Jerry), read news, and start working with a cup of hot cappuccino. I finish work by 6 and then exercise for 30 minutes to an hour. YouTube has really good workout videos. Then I help in cooking and other chores. I finish my day either by reading/watching Netflix or connecting with friends.
I would recommend everybody to start the day early, follow a routine and go to bed on time. Or else this lockdown is bound to make us lazy, weary and inefficient. A messed-up sleeping routine can cause insomnia and impact our mental and physical health.
How did you prepare yourself for your job as a student?
I graduated 12+ years back and during those years we didn't have many opportunities to work as a student. I helped a professor in NSU with his PhD report as a research assistant. Apart from that I worked with an event management company for 3 months and helped them organize the largest unplugged concert in Bangladesh. This assignment took me to many corporate houses in search of sponsorships and I learned first-hand how to negotiate with large organizations. I was also involved with Young Entrepreneur Society (YES) club at NSU and acted as the editor and regular contributor in the Business section of the magazine. I believe all these extra-curricular experiences gave me an edge during my interviews. So I would suggest students to engage in more non-academic activities and gain real life experiences apart from text books which would definitely set them apart from the rest.
What are some important moments in your career?
There are plenty of milestones in my long career! Starting my career in a key role in the largest telecommunication organization in Bangladesh has to be my first achievement as a professional. It was a very long recruitment process to be honest.
Another mention worthy achievement was to receive the award for Top Woman Leader in Bangladesh from Brand Forum in 2016.
Few memorable accolades are to be recognized on international platforms as a professional. Receiving an award at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona for my project, attending global tech events in Singapore and China as keynote speaker and visiting top silicon valley companies in San Francisco are few proud moments.
Another experience that I will cherish forever was to be selected as one of the 7 teams in Telenor Group to work on our StartUp idea on Mental Health Solution in 2018 and pitch our protype in front of the investors in Norway for funding.
You have been working with Grameenphone for more than a decade. Certainly you have faced many ups and downs in your career. How did you deal with them?
Being a business grad, the first challenge I faced in a telecommunication organization was to be familiar with the tech buzzwords. I remember in one of my earliest meetings I couldn't grasp the word 'MSISDN' which means 'phone number' in layman's term. I had to research a lot on technology to fully understand how the network works and how we can design services based on these platforms. Fast forward today I am a tech geek myself and grew a passion for technological advancement and its impact on our lives. It's vital to keep updating our knowledge and skill level.
How did you handle job pressure and multitasking?
Multitasking has become a part of my professional life where I handle multiple projects simultaneously. In today's corporate world, which is fiercely competitive, one must be proactive and master the art of balancing. Being involved in diverse projects is also healthy for mental stimulation.
What role has on the job training played in your career?
I work in an industry where on-the-job training is essential as the technology is advancing at a rapid pace and we must keep up. Grameenphone has adopted new way of work and encourages us to embrace the evolution too. It is mandatory for us to clock 10 hours of learning every quarter and there are many online courses (for example Coursera) which are made free of cost.
Do we have gender equality is corporate sector?
Gender balance at work is a global concern and local organizations are struggling as well. Nonetheless, large corporate houses in Bangladesh have identified the issue and have taken steps to bring gender equality. Unfortunately, it will take years to minimize the gap fully and see more female leaders in top positions. In current context, yes, glass ceiling exists.
Then how difficult is it to survive in the male-dominated world?
Challenge for female professionals start at home where they are not necessarily groomed and encouraged to be ambitious and career-oriented. Also we are lacking the support system that men enjoy. There are examples where many female colleagues had to sacrifice a rising career for family obligations and pressure.
Another issue I have observed is the lack of self-development. If women are not developing themselves for higher positions, they will not be in higher positions. We must upgrade ourselves consistently with knowledge and skills required to reach the top. It is often difficult for career women to manage time for self-development juggling responsibilities at home. That's where we must set our priorities and seek more support from men both at home and work.
Do you think wage gap still exists?
Just like gender balance, wage gap has also been identified as a global concern. The gap starts from our first job interview where male candidates tend to negotiate better as they are more informed and prepared. In a lot of cases 'seniors' coach male candidates on salary negotiations whereas female candidates accept whatever remuneration package is offered due to lack of information and support system.
Have you ever faced any issues with subordinates because of being woman?
I have not experienced any challenge being a woman leader in my organization. I currently lead a team of all male colleagues who are extremely supportive. Healthy competition from peers is expected. However, it should not come at the cost of sabotaging one's career by backbiting and spreading rumors which is practiced in many corporate organizations. What is more disappointing is that a lot of these unhealthy rivalry come from female colleagues. We should avoid corporate politics at all costs and only promote people based on their merit.
What are the essential qualities one needs to become successful?
There is no precise list of qualities required to have a successful career. What comes first on my list is 'Passion'. We must love what we do. I enjoy my work as it impacts millions of lives across Bangladesh by keeping them connected. I have also grown a knack for technology after working in this industry for over a decade.
Apart from that we must be proactive and keep ourselves updated with knowledge and skill sets. We must surround ourselves with a strong network of cheerleaders who will motivate us and support us in our career progression.
Lastly, we must balance our professional and personal lives, particularly for female professionals.
After five years where do you see yourself?
Sounds like a job interview question! I want to see myself in a more meaningful role impacting more lives in next 5 years. Apart from corporate ambitions, I want to travelat least 20 countries if the situation improves post-covid.
How can one be productive in this quarantine period?
I badly needed a break from my hectic engagementsand thoroughly enjoying the lockdown. One positive side of home-quarantine is to have extra hours to spend on self-development. I completed 15 hours of online courses in last 2 months and have been working out regularly. A lot of education sites are offering free courses like Coursera, edX, Udemy etc. YouTube has plenty of home exercise videos. We should utilize our homestay for mental, physical and spiritualimprovements. And yes, we can also start reading those books collecting dust on the shelf.
This lockdown, quarantine and pandemic situation may cause serious depression among many people. What would be your suggestion in this regard?
Being locked at home 24/7 for more than 2 months can be extremely depressing for a lot of people, specially those who do not have an amicable environment at home. As mentioned earlier, being productive and keeping ourselves busy is one way of beating this despair. A lot of my friends have found new hobbies like cooking, painting, singing or playing an instrument. Let's finish that long pending project that we never found time to complete. Let's spend more time with our parents and help them with household chores. Let's connect with friends who have lost touch with us. Let's be positive. I will highly recommend a book/YouTube video called The Secret by Rhonda Byrnefor people desperately in search of positivity. This book is about a theory called 'Law of Attraction' which changed my life and I believe it will change many other lives.