A leading lady in a digital revolution

Irfan Aziz discusses the future of women in the telecommunication front with Farhana Islam, Head of Telenor Digital Products.

The glass ceiling maybe a phenomenon that is notoriously deceptive to the human eyes but Farhana Islam believes that such barriers are no longer strong enough to hold anyone back anymore, in fact they never were. The Head of Telenor Digital Products shared with us her journey, her opinion on the various challenges women have to face and also gave us invaluable insights on the world of digital communication and the growing role of women in this field.

A pioneer in her own right, she joined Grameenphone in 2006 after graduating from IBA, Dhaka University. “At the time telecom was a booming sector, experiencing the biggest growth in M2M communication. Grameenphone has been leading global revolutions in Bangladesh with their top notch mobile phone and internet services, for which they’ve garnered recognition in the digital forefront. This industry is changing as we speak. We are live in a VUCA environment (Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex and Ambiguous) yet it is the most exciting of times to be at the spearhead of change and to be leading it. Grameenphone’s vision is to empower societies. We started with connecting people to people with the power of voice communication, and then we moved to connecting people to and through the internet and now Grameenphone’s ambition is to be the most preferred choice in any consumer’s digital life. I think working with a vision like this infront of you is truly inspiring. It definitely drives me to go beyond my role everyday”, she added.

“I believe we are living in some exciting times where opportunity to learn and grow is endless. Information and knowledge is at the click of our fingers. We should try to discover our strengths. Find out what we are good at and try to excel in that skill.  We should also learn to be connected to information, global transformations and movements. At the same time be relevant and prepared with your skillset. Let’s turn our strengths into super powers!”

It wasn’t an easy journey though. Farhana believes that there is no room for error or complacency if one aspires to grow and getting out of our comfort zone is an essential part of it especially if one works in a dynamic platform. She explained to us, “The competition is fierce. It’s not only within our known local environment but even more global in this digital space. We are competing with the global giants out there as products and services are no more localised, they transcend all barriers.  Survival is only for the fittest; the one who delivers the best of user experience and satisfaction.” But even after the challenges, Farhana has been working in GP for almost twelve years and have taken up a plethora of roles in various sectors ranging from the Enterprise to High Value Segments to Customer Lifecycle Management and even Micro Segmented Campaigns. She also played a major role in leading the innovation known as Wowbox to where it is today. The first digital lifestyle platform in Bangladesh has over 10 million registered users.

Given her role in one of the leading telecom companies to greater heights, one can’t help but ask about the presence of the infamous glass ceiling in Farhana’s work environment. When asked about it, she gracefully replied, “Glass ceiling exists in our beliefs and in our minds only. Traditionally there have been certain barriers in our culture. But I definitely believe these barriers are not strong enough to hold anyone down in the digital age and time. The world has become an open platform. With so many opportunities around us to connect, to learn and to grow, I do not think such averse mindset should hinder anyone.” She also believes that women and men now play equal roles in our society. She recalled the times where women were pushed towards learning arts while men were pushed towards science and technology but today’s day and age we see boys and girls being equally interested in technology and gadgets. Further emphasising on the growing importance of women in technology, she stated, “Women are not intimidated by technology. They are ever present in the development and understanding of technology. After all, products are developed for users regardless of gender and women’s participation in this area is essential to understand the needs of the customers and to interpret them. Without women it will not be possible to develop new products”

Although ‘glass ceiling’ is an obsolete term in her books, Farhana does believe that we need to encourage more women to participate in the technology sector. This encouragement from the powerhouses of the sector will inspire more women to come forward and participate, “Grameenphone is already driving such competitions. From the Whiteboard platform, we are hosting hack-a-thons like Game Jam for young and eager developers. Accelerator is another platform from Grameenphone to encourage digital entrepreneurs and various other innovation streams are continuously running to support more participation in this industry,” Farhana added while explaining to us how she hopes to see more women participate in such platforms.

The digital industry is indeed an exciting one because of its pace and constant innovation and Farhana is in its centre and wishes to drive bigger changes that impact the society in larger scale. She has a message for anyone who wishes to follow her path:

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Irfan Aziz

Irfan Aziz is a final year Economics student. He is a pug enthusiast who loves looking at memes, writing and sketching(not as much as he would want to).