We spoke with Gunel Musayeva, an MSc Finance & Economics alumna. She is the chairwoman of The Azerbaijan UK Alumni Association whilst also in full time role with The State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan.
We asked BSc Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship* student Purvi Agarwal about what this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Break the Bias’ means to her and her personal experience as a woman in higher education. Purvi is currently on her Placement Year at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in the HR Business Partnering Team and is also the co-founder of her own business LinkNGrow which is a platform that helps mentor other students.
Do you think bias affects what women choose to study and their future career paths? What would you say to somebody who may be worried about the path they want to take?
I believe that a woman chooses her course of study and the future career path depending upon the culture she has been brought up in and the financial capability of her family. Different cultures preach different ways in which a girl should plan out her career path. In Indian culture, 70% of women are taught to get the best grades and study until they are 24 as their families would like them to be married by the age of 25. Whereas, in western culture, a girl is given the freedom to choose her field of interest and become financially independent. However, the financial gap becomes a factor for them whilst deciding the course of study, as tuition fees can be high for low-income families. Women have always been under-represented and pictured as weak personalities due to which they couldn't dream of leadership positions.
However, for every woman out there, I have one piece of advice; study a course where your passion lies and establish a career where you can develop a public identity for yourself and become financially independent, so you don’t have to rely on your father, husband, or son.
Gender and cultural barriers can hinder your progression but only you can help yourself. Try to network with your seniors, employers, and current women in leadership positions. Look for the right career training, develop technical skills and seek mentors for short-term and long-term career prospects.
Have you ever had to challenge gender inequality or stereotypes / take action against bias within your educational journey?
Life’s never easy for anyone. I have been brought up in a family where the girls were asked to help mothers in the kitchen. After completing high school, I wished to pursue my undergrad in the UK. However, I was the first girl in my family to boldly express this wish. No one supported this decision as they feared that I would be influenced by the western culture and never return back to my family. My relatives used to influence my parents' mind-set and told them that they would be making a big mistake if they sent me abroad to study.
Meanwhile, I also lost one of my closest family members during Covid-19. I took a gap year in my undergraduate degree to support my family emotionally and help my brother come out of the pain. When I started to plan to resume my studies, my grandparents firmly said no to it and asked me to stay in India to take care of the family.
Fast-forward to today, after fighting all the cultural barriers and consistently working hard for my dreams, every person in my family is proud of the woman I have become today. Working in the corporate sector 9-5 and running a full-time start-up - LinkNGrow; I want to set an example for every woman out there that they can achieve the impossible.
Always remember; 100’s of obstacles will be thrown your way to stop you from achieving your dreams but only you can overcome them and succeed. Step out of your comfort zone, get a clear career plan set, and work for it CONSISTENTLY!
Never let anyone else tell you your worth! Only you can define it.
Who would you say has inspired you the most?
Indra Nooyi has always been my inspiration and role model. Being an Indian-American businesswoman and leader, CEO of PepsiCo and currently BOD for Amazon; she has inspired millions of girls in India to break the barriers and establish their identity.
Throughout her career journey, she has inspired me to grab the right opportunity and work on it. It is not her accomplishments that make me her fan, but her views on what it takes to get there. Her empathic nature towards employees and unique style of leadership has truly contributed to her success. Whilst being the CEO of the company, she is also a great daughter, loving mother, perfect wife, and an ideal daughter-in-law. This encourages me to have a proper balance of life and work and genuinely care for and nurture my team and family.
Overall, Indra Nooyi has proven that if a woman tries, she can accomplish the impossible. Her success story inspires women like me to be consistent and work hard every day. Thanks to Indra Nooyi’s shining example, I have been able to envision myself as an Indian woman in a leadership position, at a great company that can make other employees realise their own leadership potential too.
Remember; we don't have to be famous to be role models. We can do it by being empathic in the community, embracing every opportunity, and making ourselves available to people seeking advice.
What inspirational message can you give to women reading this?
Don't dream about success. Work for it.
Take up different classes, network, and seek mentors to find your true passion and what you love to do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking and don't settle. Never let society determine your personality and career path. Believe in yourself and attain your goals.
I have seen women underestimating their abilities and accept the fate decided by their families. It’s time for you to break the traditional barriers and write your own destiny.
Being financially independent and creating your own identity is the best feeling ever. Try to come on this path and you will experience wonders.
*We no longer offer this course as part of our undergraduate portfolio however our course pathways in Digital Business, Entrepreneurship, Finance and Marketing are available on our BSc Management and BSc International Management courses allowing you to focus your studies around a particular subject area.
Discover more about our courses and pathways in our undergraduate brochure.
Find out about other Inspiring Women at WBS.