The INSEAD Women in Business Club have launched a « Tell your story » initiative across both the Singapore and Fontainebleau campuses that aims to present the current INSEAD MBA female students’ inspirational life-stories. This is the story of Ridwana Ahmed, MBA ’18J.
Short bio with name, industry, last role before MBA, country of nationality and work
My name is Ridwana Ahmed and I was born and brought up in Bangladesh. I have worked in two sectors – corporate finance in telecommunication and treasury in tobacco; my last role was as manager of the Treasury Team at British American Tobacco in Bangladesh.
Highlights and challenges of your journey so far (career or personal)
I joined the telecommunications sector four months prior to graduating university and was in charge of my first international project for treasury centralization across end-markets soon after I joined. This, of course, meant international travel and very long work hours. I worked in telecommunication for two years, after which I was offered the position of managing the Treasury team at British American Tobacco, which I accepted.
Did you encounter stereotypical behaviors in your environment while growing up or in your career? If yes, could you elaborate?
I faced many obstacles from my immediate family, who would rather have been relived of their responsibilities and see me settle into married life. As a woman with career aspirations higher than what was generally observed and acceptable by my immediate family, I was bombarded with remarks to be cautious of my ‘boldness’. It was a challenge to remain grounded to my goals, however I never allowed my deep-seated fears to come up to the surface and marched forward, reminding myself of my goals every day. I would say, on the job front, the atmosphere was comparatively far more nurturing. Of course, being a female manager at the age of 24, leading a team of older men has its own challenges, but these are more global issues, as opposed to issues typical to an emerging market.
What are the skills that you find particularly helpful in mitigating and resolving conflicts? Can you give an example of when and how you used these skills?
Empathic listening is a skill that comes in handy to resolve conflict. This is true for almost every business meeting where we strive to be heard rather than to listen.
What was the most helpful advice that has ever been given to you?
‘Play with the cards at hand’. Life will always be far from ideal. We hardly will ever have all the resources at our disposal to achieve our goals. That does not imply we cannot get where we want to be. The ability to get back up from criticism and failure is what builds character.
What triggered the move to INSEAD?
I have always tried to be the best version of myself and I felt exposure to the overall diversity at INSEAD could help me reach that point. Also, there is much to be done with regard to women empowerment where I come from. Having faced numerous challenges hands on, I would want to help tackle them for the next generation. The INSEAD MBA, in the long run will help me project my voice and create that impact.
If you had to name one take-away or lesson learnt from INSEAD, what would it be?
To value minority opinions. This is a trait that INSEAD injects into every person and would be crucial to being an effective leader.
If you had a chance to have dinner with someone dead or alive, who would that be? What is the one question you would like to ask him/her?
Oprah Winfrey. She is a woman of great fortitude. I would ask to listen to her life story, to take inspiration that would last me a life time.
The book that had an impact on you
7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was recommended by a professor in college, I have read this book several times in my late teen years and got the habits ingrained in my system.
Your definition of success
Success is leading by example- when you have achieved your own goals and furthermore been able to help a person who has encountered similar issues to reach their own goals.