July 10, 2018

3rd Women Leadership Summit

It is with this idea that Women in Leadership (WIL) organized its 3rd Women in Leadership Summit as part of WIL Fest 2018. It is widely acknowledged that women have historically faced, and often continue to face, greater barriers compared to men in all avenues of life including in their role as active earning members of the economy. Across the globe, disparity between men and women continue to exist in the form of wage-gaps, unequal opportunities to advance, and most notably there persists an absence in representation of women in important decision-making roles. 

With the purpose of uniting the voices of women from across the nation to discuss some of the many issues haunting women’s leadership, the Summit was held on 9th March and 10th March at the auditorium of National Gallery of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. The theme of the Summit, which reflected throughout the Festival was ‘Owning and Visibility’. It allowed women to be responsible of ‘owning’ their own abilities with pride and ensuring that it is ‘visible’ to others in the work that they do. In this respect, the Summit organized a plethora of panel discussions and keynote speeches to explore these issues in depth.

On the first day, the Master of Ceremony, Nausher Rahman, invited Nazia Andaleeb Preema, President, Woman in Leadership on stage to inaugurate the ceremony. Preema shared her own personal experiences of being brought up only by her mother, a strong independent woman, following the loss of her father at an early age. She highlighted the theme of the Summit and shared the importance of being able to embody the leadership one wants to represent before they can prove it to the world. Her inspiring tales were the perfect starting point for a wonderful two-day event with lots of exciting speakers.

With the Summit officially opened, the first session included a conversation on “Empowering Women – Leading Beyond Borders” moderated by Shariful Islam (Bangladesh Brand Forum). On stage were Her Excellency, Marie-Annick Bourdin, the French Ambassador to Bangladesh; Her Excellency Norwegian Ambassador to Bangladesh, Sidsel Bleken; and His Excellency Mikael Hemniti Winther, Danish Ambassador to Bangladesh. The discussion mainly focused on the challenges women continue to face in the workplace, even with more women taking up more leadership roles in the ‘Old Boys Club’ of the diplomatic world. The conversation had the promise of delving deeper into the various challenges overcome by the two female ambassadors as well as the steps taken by the Danish Ambassador in making his workspace more inclusive.

Beth McDonald, Future Considerations, came to stage following the panel. She was the first keynote speaker of the day. Through her outline of the work done by Future Considerations, she shared the ways in which women in leadership positions ultimately benefit the corporations they work for. Through interactive and interesting data she spoke directly to the women present to really strive to own her value and be loud and proud in showing it to the world. The speech was less a monologue but rather a dialogue that engaged the whole audience. Beth effectively set the stage for the next keynote speaker, Rochelle Borton, Director at Eduinfluencers. Though her work is primarily in the education sector, there was much to learn for everyone attending regarding the ways to practice and facilitate effective leadership. 

The first day of the Summit came to a close following a conversation with Nazneen Karamali, India Editor, Forbes Media and Mumbai Bureau Manager for Forbes magazine. Nazneen has been associated with Forbes for the past 10 years and was recently promoted from Contributing Editor. She has profiled many of India’s billionaires and business leaders including the eighth richest man in the world, K.P. Singh of DLF, Suzlon’s  Tulsi Tanti, vaccine developer Cyrus Poonawalla, and Forbes Asia’s Businessman of the  Year 2007, K.V. Kamath, Managing Director and CEO of ICICI Bank. The conversation focused around her own journey, the challenges she had to overcome and the advice she had for aspiring young women. It ended the day on a thoughtful note, with great anticipation for the following day.

The Master of Ceremony for the final day of the Summit was Nazim Farhan Choudhury, CEO of Colours.FM. His happy, boundless energy set the tone for the day as he welcomed the first panel titled “Reaching the Top: Creating Space and Policy that Encourages Gender Diversity” moderated Afreen Huda of Robi Axiata. Chandan Polekar, Godrej; Sabbir Hasan Nasir, ACI; and Uzma Chowdhury, PRAN-RFL were the panelists. In a delightfully thought-provoking session, the panelists discussed the various policy level steps that their corporations can take, or have taken, in order to ensure gender parity and to combat sexism and harassment.

A keynote speech by Dr. Nirmala Rao followed. Dr. Rao, Vice Chancellor of Asian University for Women, took the time to walk us through her experiences of being a woman and leading in academia. She talked about the various successes that her university has achieved and how the absence of men, or perhaps the absence of having to compete with men and masculine standards, produces strong and confident women who can tackle any hurdle.

Dr. Rao stayed on as Sabrina Shaheed, Principal of Sir John Wilson School joined her in a panel titled “Grooming the Right Orientation within Male and Female from Academic Institution – School and University” moderated by Shariful Islam from Bangladesh Brand Forum. The conversation explored the roles academic institutions have in teaching and molding the mindset of children and young adults so that they can be more open-minded and comfortable with gender equality, regardless of whether they are men or women.

Following lunch, there was a surprise panel. Not listed on the printed agenda, a conversation was arranged with Kaniz Almas Khan, Persona; Parisa Shakur, Professor at North South University; Dr. Mekhala Sarkar, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry in National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) with Srabonno Towhida, Model, as moderator. The panel, titled “Mindset: Challenges for Women Empowerment”, was the first full-women panel of the Summit. It explored the challenges faced by each of these women, in completely different fields, and how they overcame them. It also doled out advice of all kinds, particularly focusing on the negative impact of media on body image and how to sidestep these concerns.

Mr. Mahmud Hossain, Chief Affairs Office at Grameenphone came on stage next to present the topic “Breaking your challenges in the leadership journey”. The keynote speaker enlightened the audience with his presentation on how Grameenphone took steps to realize how much the presence of Women leadership was essential to an organization’s success. The organization has taken very bold goals of enhancing the engagement of their female colleague and increasing the mix of female leadership roles at all levels. This was a welcoming opportunity for a lot of the women audience to understand how the corporates were shaping up in creating opportunities for them.

The final panel of the day was moderated by Sharmin Sultan, Robi Axiata, with panelists Shoulee Kamal Khan, Christabel Randall and Rubana Huq. The longest panel of the day because of the vast knowledge they have and the need to say so much on the topic titled “Rising to the Top: Why we have so few females?” Through the discussion was highlighted a host of concerns that women continue to face in rising to leadership positions in different fields – and identified some of the root of those issues. They delighted in their triumphs in their own fields, and it was clear that to get that far women need to stop being timid and polite – but rather boldly and openly raise their voices and make themselves heard in their fields. No one reaches the top by quietly waiting to be handed a ladder – you need to pave your own way.

The Women in Leadership Summit came to an end with closing remarks from keynote speaker Mr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, founding Chairperson of the Unnayan Onneshan, a multidisciplinary independent think-tank. He closed the floor with references to strong women in popular culture to highlight that representation of these women exist. In effect, he was adding to the message left behind by the previous panelists. He urged women to follow in the example of the bold women of literature and own their stories. If they hold the pens, they can write their stories the way they want it to be told and ensure that it is heard by those who matter.

Women continue to fight for their basic rights – to get equal opportunities, equal pay and equal respect. We continue to put on our war paint and our armour as we go out into the world on a daily basis. Events like the Women in Leadership Summit remind us that we have a lot to celebrate too. By surrounding ourselves with powerful, strong women we can appreciate the leaps and bounds we have progressed in terms of women empowerment – and together plan for the future.

The Summit was presented by Freedom Sanitary Napkins, in association with Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Its strategic partners were Colours.FM and The Daily Star. Eastern Bank Ltd and Green Delta Insurance were the Banking Partners. It was supported by Rangs-Toshiba and Swapno. The refreshment partner was Danish. Leadership Development partners included BOLD, GrownExcel and Lighthouse Bangladesh. Media Partners were Ekattor TV, Lifestyle and Next Step. Innovation Partner was Whiteboard. Youth Engagement Partner was Shout. Radio Partner was Radio Today. PR Partner was Masthead PR. Digital Partner was Melonades. Branding Partner was Terracotta. Technology Partner was Aamra. Other partners includes Foreign Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry; GBG Dhaka; Grameenphone; JCI Bangladesh; MCCI; Startup Grind; and Women Techmakers Bangladesh. The summit was organized by Bangladesh Brand Forum. The Women in Leadership Summit is an initiative of Women in Leadership (WIL). 

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