Shaheen Dil, a managing director at Protiviti, has been lauded for her achievements as a female and minority executive. Last year, she was named one of Consulting magazine’s Women Leaders in Consulting, and before that, she was recognized as one of the Top Women in Retail and Finance by Women of Color magazine.
Having overcome language barriers and other obstacles as a first generation immigrant to the U.S., Dil now strives to provide young women and minorities with the same opportunities that she’s had in her own life.
Below are edited excerpts from Dil’s interview with Diversity Executive.
Why do you think it’s important to have female and minority representation in leadership roles?
It’s absolutely critical to have women and minorities in leadership positions. Studies have proven that women bring critical talents and diversity of thinking that can impact the success of organizations when a part of the leadership team. More than half of the U.S. population is female, and a significant portion of the population consists of various minorities. If leadership roles are filled only with white men, we are selecting those roles from a severely restricted pool of talent. By expanding the pool of potential leaders to include all available candidates, we’ll necessarily be able to field a much stronger pool of leaders. The Catalyst organization performed a compelling study some years ago, demonstrating that there was a significant correlation between high profitability and the number of women and minority leaders in companies (at the level of board members and executive leaders). In addition, it’s imperative for women and minorities in the workforce to have role models in leadership positions.
What major obstacles have you overcome in your career to get to where you are now?
My mother brought my sister and me to this country when I was only 8 years old. We had no money, no connections and very little knowledge of the culture and mores of the U.S. My sister and I could not even speak English. We had to overcome both linguistic and cultural barriers to integrate into mainstream society. The good news is that in this country, those who make the effort can in fact overcome these obstacles by dint of hard work and perseverance, as is amply demonstrated by my case, as well as the rest of my family, all of whom ended up with successful careers in various professions.
What can be done to continue to help women and minorities succeed in business and other arenas?
There needs to be a continuous “push” and “pull” in this area. On the one hand, current leaders in business, academia and all other arenas need to be constantly reminded that they cannot simply perpetuate the “old boys club,” both for reasons of profit and fairness. It is natural for people to want to work with others like themselves. We need to remind people that going out of their comfort zone is necessary both for profit and progress. It’s necessary to offer programs to teach current leaders to recognize when they may be acting (often unconsciously) in ways that may have a discriminatory impact. We also need to offer programs to teach women and minorities how to integrate into the mainstream — it’s not always intuitive for women and minorities to understand what they need to do to succeed. It’s not sufficient to open up opportunities to women and minorities if they don’t know how to take advantage of those opportunities.
How have you leveraged your role as a board member at the Safura Khatun High School for Girls to support students in their achievements?
The Safura Khatun High School for Girls was founded (by my mother) 12 years ago in the village where she was born, in honor of her mother, who encouraged her to pursue an education. It plays an important role in the village of Karimpur, where before this school was founded, girls were often pulled from school after sixth grade in order to be married off, because their parents did not want their girls to study in the co-ed public high schools. The existence of this tuition-free all girls’ high school has enabled thousands of girls from this and surrounding villages to matriculate and prepare themselves for jobs as well as marriage. As a board member, I have encouraged the school to have a curriculum that includes subjects that will prepare these girls for success in Bangladesh: this includes courses in science, mathematics and computers, along with English and economics. I have donated funds as well as books and my time to the school. I visit the school periodically to speak with the students and teachers. I believe I serve as a role model for the girls.
Why do you think it’s important to be involved in mentorship and community outreach?
I would not be where I am today without help from many others — both individuals and organizations. I was mentored and coached by my teachers, and I received scholarships/fellowships to study at Vassar, Johns Hopkins University and finally Princeton University. I had many managers, leaders and peers where I worked who gave me advice and guidance, without whom I would not have succeeded. The least I can do is offer similar support to others so they can succeed.