Laila Bilkis Ara, Executive Director, Bangladesh Bank

Being the role model of young female professionals

Having joined Bangladesh Bank as an Assistant Director in 1988, Laila Bilkis Ara is now serving as Executive Director for over a year. She comes from Chuadanga district and went to school there, before completing HSC from Begum Badrunnesa Govt. Girls College in Dhaka. She completed both her honors and masters from University of Dhaka. She has worked her way up by serving in the Foreign Exchange Policy Department, Banking Regulation and Policy Department, Agricultural Credit Department, Bangladesh Bank Training Academy and Chittagong Office of Bangladesh Bank. She also participated in various foreign and national training courses, seminars, symposiums on institutional requirement.

MBR: How was your journey to the top leadership position of Bangladesh Bank?

Ms. Laila Bilkis Ara:

In the central bank, the presence of obstacles on the way of female employee’s progression is relatively low. The system here is slightly different from that of other organizations of our country. If someone works sincerely, s/he is always appraised fairly at the time of performance evaluation. When I joined here in 1988, I was posted at the then BCD (now BRPD), owing to my background in Economics.

After working there for three years, I was posted in the Foreign Exchange Policy Department. It is mentionable here that the fact that I am a woman, was never considered in case of placement. Here I worked for four years and also worked on Agriculture Credit Policy for one and a half years. I was also transferred to our Chittagong office and there I was posted in DBI, our inspection department. In Bangladesh Bank, all the departments have a congenial environment for female employees. Also, over time, the method of performance evaluation has been changed and it has now been more performance-based. I always tried to carry out my assigned duties properly, and every time I excelled and thus I have reached my current position. I was also at Bangladesh Bank Training Academy because education is my favorite sector. In between, I worked at MRA on deputation. Though that sector is external to Bangladesh Bank, it provided me with good learning opportunities. When BSCS was formed for recruitment at fourteen organizations, I led its inception.

Even today I see in the newspaper that women are concerned about their security while working late at night, but the lack of security is never felt in Bangladesh Bank. Generally, women do not have to work here till late night, and even if they have unfinished works, they are encouraged to finish it from home or the next morning or even on weekend.

I ranked first among women in my joining batch. However, I am not satisfied with the proportion of female participation in Assistant Director (AD) intake. The percentage of women coming into the Central Bank in AD intake is pretty low, about 15%-20%, compared to the number of females graduating from universities every year.

MBR: Do you think Financial Institutions (FIs) offer adequately congenial environment for their female employees? What are the steps that FIs can undertake so that more female participation can be encouraged and more female in the leadership role become evident?

Ms. Laila Bilkis Ara:

Yes, FIs are now providing a few facilities to women so that they can concentrate on their career, but the more are required. Women really need day care centers, because normally the responsibility of children falls upon females. Transportation facility too would help in this regard. Bangladesh Bank has given instruction to allow women employees to leave after dusk. Those who have a high salary can avail Uber, but it is not viable for those earning less. Due to infrastructure issues, transportation in the city is a problem. Security is essential. I don’t feel everyone needs to have a vehicle. In Singapore, very few use people private cars. But the hope is that the metro rail construction work is progressing. Many such problems will be solved in three to four years. If we can travel in short time, have security and if women can be relieved of worry for children through day care centers, they can give more output. Women are very sincere, they always try to give their best shot in any task assigned to them.

MBR: As we see in the SME realm, the participation of women in the business world is increasing, though at a very slow pace, what can be the role of FIs to enable more women to enter into this section?

Ms. Laila Bilkis Ara:

Bangladesh Bank facilitates low interest rate and collateral free financing for women. There are instances of misuse though, where the husband takes out the loan in the name of the wife. Although Bangladesh Bank is monitoring these activities, the main responsibility lies on FIs. Giving door to door advice would help, because the same product is not appropriate for all regions.FIs can enable the women entrepreneurs with marketing, procurement of raw materials and other non-financial services.This is how FIs can be true partner in development of women entrepreneurs as a whole.FIs can extend the range of advisory services and also conduct monitoring strictly. Loan recovery should be done timely to avoid adding to the NPL, and also to prevent the women entrepreneur from spending money elsewhere as it comes in. “Right Time”, “Right Place” and “Right Person”are key here. Not all women will become entrepreneurs, but we need to work with those who has the potential to become one.

MBR: Central Bank took some commendable initiatives to accelerate women’s participation in FIs (maternity leave, transportation) and in SME sector (single digit lending rate, refinancing scheme). What other initiatives can central bank take to increase female participation?

Ms. Laila Bilkis Ara:

Fairs can be arranged to attract female entrepreneurs. Showcasing of their products and networking opportunity surfaces in these fairs. The government can look into and conduct training for skill development. The government is doing some now, but its proper implementation has to be ensured. Further such possibilities need to be explored. This is because about 50% of our population is women, and our economy will not move forward without developing them and bringing them into the workforce.The government gives importance to the recruitment of women, but they have to move up the ladder through their skill.

MBR: Could you please share your family life with us? How did you juggle between maintaining family and work at the same time?

Ms. Laila Bilkis Ara:

I have two sons. The elder one completed BBA from IBA, Jahangirnagar University and MBA from IBA, Dhaka University. Currently he is working at IDCOL as AVP. The younger one is a graduate of Computer Science and Engineering from North South University and is working as a Software Engineer at an IT firm. Even after being a working lady, I managed to make some time for them, however little that may have been. I was lucky to find my spouse extremely supportive in my journey.