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     Volume 8 Issue 57 | February 13, 2009 |

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Defying the Stereotype
Fayza Huq

Women are often stereotyped as being too emotional or volatile to handle jobs that require cool-headed analyses or complicated calculations. Yet nowadays the number of women in professions that require analytical skills are rapidly rising, just go to any bank and count the number of female employees and you have your answer. But it has not always been so usual to see women in professions that have traditionally been relegated to men. Shama Alam, Bangladesh's first woman Chartered Accountant, broke this tradition, entering a field predominantly male and coming out with flying colours.

Shama Alam, CA

Shama says, however, that she never really thought that she would be a chartered accountant. "I was more prone to getting into the university in a teaching position," she says. "Being in Montreal, when I did my Masters in Applied Maths. I had the option of either going into a PhD programme to be in the teaching line. But I had a child of around three, and I was not disciplined to do research on my own. I figured that the good thing about getting into the Chartered Accountancy profession was that there are regular classes in the evening at McGill University in Canada. I had no Commerce background but my husband had done his CA in Montreal and suggested that I might quite enjoy working with young professionals and learning how the business world works by joining a CA firm as a student. I thought I'd give it a shot. And that's how I'm in this line," she adds.

For Shama being accepted at Arthur Andersen, one of the big eight chartered accounting firms in the world, was certainly the break that she had been looking for. All new recruits had a ten-day training on conducting audits, so even a novice with no business background could have a good understanding about the work. Being in a big company she had the opportunity to get assignments in different types of organisations.

"Very quickly I could learn what happens in business, how the decisions are taken and what the implications are. As an auditor I had access to all information and that helped to get the total picture quickly," says Shama.

She passed the CA exams in 1981, while she was taking a break from work after having her daughter as she regretted starting her Master's programme putting her son in a day-care when he was just a few months old. “But the children now say that they did not miss out in anything and are proud to have a career mom,” says Shama. Shama had to juggle studies with her family life, as she was married at 19, and was taken to in a new country with a 4-month baby at 22. Shama says her husband was always very supportive and shared the responsibilities of taking care of their baby and doing household chores.

After she qualified, Shama worked in the Real Estate division of the Canadian National Railways, a large crown corporation. The company had land grants all over Canada. As a financial analyst, she was involved in feasibility studies to develop the CN lands and the Roger Stadium around the CN towers. Later, on moving to Toronto, she worked as the Controller for Terminal 3 at the Toronto Airport. She also worked in the Bank of Montreal for some time and later came to Bangladesh. Here she worked in pharmaceutical, investment banking and with British American Tobacco before joining Duncan Brothers. "I've been here for two and a half years as Group Finance Director. This is a totally different industry with 15 tea estates and some Bangladeshi companies. We are introducing an ERP system with e-communication between the gardens and Dhaka."

"My philosophy of work is to make it interesting and exciting," says Shama. "My work involves analyses of what will be best for the company, what are the financial risks and opportunities. Motivating the people at work is one of the keys to success. One must get the people committed and understand the company's philosophy to meet the current and long term objectives."

Asked how long it takes to become a Chartered Accountant and what was her motivation for taking up this line, Shama says," One must have GPA 5 in HSC and SSC or get 2A and 3B in O levels and 2B or 3C in A levels as a minimum. Graduates or postgraduates in any discipline with no third division may also apply. The period of articleship with a recognised CA firm is 3 to 4 years. My motivation was to prove that women can pursue careers traditionally dominated by men.

Shama is a member of the committee to promote women to enter the profession in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh. Last year this committee awarded three scholarships for women studying to be Chartered Accountants. They also conducted seminars and workshops for women CA students. This profession should be considered by women in making career choices, says Shama.

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