Empowerment for Change
My Father arrived from Sylhet, in Northern Bangladesh, to London in 1963 [at the age of 27]. As a student, he worked, like many of his peers, at a series of Indian restaurants upon his arrival. My Mother joined him shortly after, in 1968 [at the age of 18] as his new bride. For my parents, London was a new world that presented new beginnings in the 1960s – and they had aspirations to build a better future.
The journey to the present day was not easy one for many that emigrated from the British colonies. My Father worked seven days a week for Indian restaurants, and my Mother sewed clothing at home in the evenings, when the children were all tucked up in bed, to bring additional money into the household. The prime objective was to educate the Kids, and to send money back home to our family remaining in Bangladesh, with a goal to eventually return to the homeland.
While growing up in London, I was aware that there were hubs of Bangladeshi communities. I recall visiting Parent’s friends and families, primarily in East and South London. These gatherings were often centred around traditional Bengali food – fish curries, chicken korma, an assortment of fried vegetable dishes and daal.
In the 1970s racism was an everyday occurrence. It was very much ‘in your face’ and people made no apologies for not hiding it. I remember being beaten up as a primary-school-age kid when walking home, and a group of white children regularly shouting out “go home Paki”. Our family also had bricks thrown through our sitting room windows regularly. However, as a Family, we didn’t discuss such matters. It was simply pushed under the rug and we continued with our own business.
Deep down I felt a real sense of injustice, and drive to fight back. However, as a 10 or 11 year old child that didn’t seem possible. So my weapon of choice became education -which I remember being enforced at a very early age. Education meant greater choice, freedom, access to money and empowerment. So that’s what we [my siblings and I], as children, focussed on.
Fast forward four decades, and both Parents are now at the ripe ages of 74 and 65, with four grown up, educated children in senior professional jobs – plus an array of 10 grandchildren ranging from five years to 24 years old. London is very much Home now.
Differences Are Our Strength
What are my hopes for our community? I hope that our children (now second generation British) are empowered to feel confident in their place in society, and realise that it is possible to blend a British and Bengali heritage. The two identities can co-exist, and our differences are really our strength.
Society remains unequal, and many opportunities are still sadly shaped by the colour of your skin, accent, gender and education. Yes, we’d all like an inclusive society, and there’s considerably more work to be done, but this has massively moved forward since the 1970s.
As a working mother of two grown up children, I believe that it’s our duty to give others a hand. When I was growing up there were no professional networks that I could tap into for advice regarding the corporate world. We were all left to navigate our own destiny.
My own career journey led to Corporate Communications for technology brands. That seemed to be my calling. I progressed from Junior Communications Consultant [in the late 1990s] to becoming a Group Director for a leading US PR agency, then ran my own agency for 11 years.
Now in 2021, I am working as the Managing Director of a Global Communications company which has a turnover of over $2 billion. I also am an Advisor to Taylor Bennett Foundation, who provide trainees for my organisation, and am an active mentor for female candidates already in the world of work. Taylor Bennett Foundation’s award-winning training and mentoring programmes exist to encourage Black, Asian and minority Ethnic graduates to pursue a career in communications. With the support of leading communications companies, we run 10-week personal development training programmes that enable trainees to expand their knowledge, skillset and professional network. This is a small contribution to paying forward the lessons and experiences that I have managed to gain during my career.
Regardless where you are brought up – the family values remain key and they are the scaffold that will hold you up and give you the sense of direction. My advice to others is to think big, be bold and follow your dreams.
Lena Ahad, Managing Director at a Global Communications Consultancy
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