ICE Today spends an evening with the woman behind the tech giant, Microsoft’s ongoing success in Bangladesh, proving time and again what a strong woman can accomplish

What’s your resolution for 2019?
My resolution is to find more time for myself, including doing meditation so that I can give quality time to others.

Why meditation?
I exercise a lot, but that’s physical. I think it is very important to ensure one’s mental wellbeing.

That’s great! What kind of exercise do you do regularly?
I run and do weights. I do yoga as well.

Does it help you to relieve stress?
Yes, it’s great for stress relief. Aerobic activities are good for the heart, but I want to exercise my brain too!

You are responsible for overseeing Microsoft’s activities in 5 countries. How do you juggle between these roles?
I manage my time to the best of my abilities. Sometimes I fail, but the truth is, I enjoy what I do, that’s what makes it easier.

What is your mantra for productivity?
Sleep well, exercise, eat wisely and focus.

Did you ever imagine that you would be responsible for such a huge portfolio? How did it happen?
No, I did not (laughs). It began with getting responsibility for Bangladesh. Over the years when you prove that you are capable of doing more, it helps to expand your portfolio. Success breeds success.

Model: Sonia Bashir Kabir
Makeup & Hair: Aura Beauty Lounge
Photographs: Abir Hossain Noman
Fashion Coordination: Asif Sulaiman

On that point, success also means challenges, and for a woman, there is a particular glass ceiling. How did you shatter that glass ceiling? What kind of challenges have you faced, being a woman in tech?
I never thought I was different from men. I compete with them and win; I wear pants for a reason. I believe women can do the same things men can do. Whenever I face challenges, I embrace it. I was lucky to have spent twenty years in Silicon Valley. I completed both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Valley and worked there; that’s where I learned women should fight and demand to be equally appreciated. I have brought that lesson back with me to Bangladesh.

What was your first portfolio in Bangladesh?
I started my own company called Syntec with my brother.

You switched from Aamra to Microsoft. How different are the two enterprises?
They are very different. In Bangladesh, power is centralized, although in Aamra we were all given equal power. In Microsoft, it’s very process centric. Power is extremely de-centralized, even the CEO is quite powerless because you have to follow the process. Locally, I think we are heavily dependent on the MD or CEO to make the decisions because we are not very process oriented, that’s the only difference.

Do you think that if we put a proper process in place it will work similarly?
Absolutely, there is no reason it won’t.

Model: Sonia Bashir Kabir
Makeup & Hair: Aura Beauty Lounge
Photographs: Abir Hossain Noman
Fashion Coordination: Asif Sulaiman

What about the skill deficit that we have in our country?
It is definitely a challenge! We are a young country and people are naturally talented. I think as we invest more in skills development we will make strides. Quality education and exposure is the key to success.

What’s your take on women in tech in Bangladesh in general?
I really wish there were more (women); it’s very hard to convince them. This morning we had an event for the upcoming International Women’s Day. Everybody was talking about giving women more opportunity. But that’s only 50%. Women have to believe that they themselves can do it. That has to come from inside. You can provide all the opportunities, but if they are not ready to take it, it’s worth nothing. So we need to work a lot on getting women excited about having a career, believing in themselves and dealing with challenges.

Do you believe the current system is appreciative of or encouraging women to start a career in tech?
Definitely! We have a very gender friendly government and private sector. Educational institutes are also trying to lure more women. A welcoming ecosystem exists for women, but women need to participate, they need to have skin in the game. This is why this year I will focus my personal time and energy on exciting women about what they can achieve with proper skills and exposure to professional experience.

Do you think we have the proper infrastructure in place for women empowerment in tech?
It’s a tough question to answer. You heard the phrase “If you build, they will come”. Whatever infrastructure we have, we need women to participate en masse and change it for something better. It’s a chicken and egg dilemma. I think we need a bit of both. We need to build more women-friendly infrastructure and environment. We need women to dive in. WE need women to challenge and change the norms.

For Technology, It all begins with asking girls in our primary education system to study science subjects. Once you complete SSC outside the sciences, in our education system you cannot be a science student anymore.

About getting women excited, does Microsoft have any particular plans this year?
We do a lot of initiatives. This year our plan is to get women into tech projects. Because those projects will give them exposure and having that experience will help them believe in themselves. That will come from me personally and from Microsoft.

Would you agree that SMEs still do not consider women as bankable as men? They are often skeptical about women being able to finish a project on time.
There are a few things women need to change. One is the perception that they need to quit their job after having children. This makes companies skeptical about their continuity. So there are a few things that we need to work on, we need to prove to the world that we are dependable. When I hear complaints about women not getting enough opportunity, I ask, “What have you done to take it?” “Be in the game”- that’s my message to women. If you are a spectator, you neither win nor lose.

Has anyone ever told you that you are bossy?
Yes, many times. I think I actually am. I need to get things done – there is no compromise on that. For that, even if I have to boss the whole world around, I will.

Is there any personal style statement or do you follow any style icons?
There are many. I am very random in that perspective.

Do you have any hobbies?
I am so busy; I do not have time for a hobby. I love cooking and exercising. Also, I am fond of challenging sports like sky diving and bungee jumping.

How did it feel?
It was very scary but it worked out well (laugh). I thought to myself, even if I die it’s worth it. I am a risk-taker. On the other hand I enjoy decorating my home and I love cleaning- I find that very therapeutic.

What is your favourite destination for travelling, other than work?
I don’t have one. It depends on what I want to do when I am traveling. I have learned to respect many things in different countries. If I have to choose a part of the world, I would say South Asia – the melting pot of different Asian cultures and religion intrigue me.

Last question, the best advice you ever got?
“To ask permission is to seek denial”.