Asma, a Chartered Accountant based in Dubai, seamlessly juggles her roles as a finance expert and a dedicated author. By day, she excels in strategic financial management, holding dual charters in accountancy from Pakistan and England & Wales, and a Master in General Management from Swiss Business School. With over two decades of experience in leadership positions across esteemed local and international organizations, Asma is recognized as one of the Top 10 Women C.F.O.s in the U.A.E. for 2023. Beyond her professional achievements, she passionately combines her financial expertise with community service and advocacy for Sustainable Development Goals (S.D.G.), notably in the realms of ethics, sustainability and women empowerment.

One word that describes her best is; “Inspirational”

Financial Trailblazer: Unveiling the Influences

We started the interview by asking, “Can you share some of the key influences and experiences that led you to pursue a career in finance and ultimately become a successful CFO?”

Asma replied, “My journey into finance was a delightful serendipity that unfolded in an unexpected but incredibly rewarding way. Initially, my aspirations were rooted in architecture; however, my love for mathematics and analytics gradually led me down a different path that I have come to cherish immensely.

During my early academic years, I found myself drawn to the analytical aspects of various subjects, and it became evident that my passion for numbers and problem-solving was something I couldn’t ignore. It was in this exploration that I stumbled upon finance, a field that seamlessly merged my mathematical inclinations with a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment. This realization was akin to discovering a hidden passion that had always been there, waiting to be unearthed.

As I delved into the intricacies of finance, I discovered not only the depth of its analytical challenges but also the profound impact it has on shaping the success of businesses. The synthesis of mathematics, strategic thinking, and the tangible effects on organizational outcomes fascinated me, making it a field I could easily see myself falling in love with. Additionally, it also helped me thrive with economic empowerment in a field where women are underrepresented.”

Crossing Realms: Shared Skills in Finance and Literature

Then we asked, “As someone who has excelled in the both financial industry and the world of literature, what common skills or principles do you find valuable in both domains?”

Asma replied, “Navigating the dual realms of the financial industry and literature has surprisingly revealed an intersection of skills crucial for success in both domains. Analytical thinking essential for dissecting financial data, also proven invaluable in unraveling the layers of a compelling narrative. Effective communication, vital in conveying intricate financial ideas, is equally essential in literature for articulating nuanced emotions and intricate storylines. A strategic vision, fundamental in crafting financial strategies, is mirrored in developing engaging plots. Shared virtues like attention to detail, adaptability, and creative problem-solving enhance performance in both arenas. Ethical considerations play a pivotal role in maintaining trust in financial transactions and upholding integrity in storytelling. Lastly, a commitment to continuous learning ensures relevance and growth in the ever-evolving financial landscape and the diverse world of literature.”

Fulfilling My Purpose: The Inspirations Behind Transitioning

Every person needs inspiration in their life so we asked, “What inspired you to transition from a career in finance to writing and speaking about your experiences and advocating for women’s empowerment?”

Asma replied, “Since my early school days, a deep-seated passion for writing in English has been a consistent thread throughout my life. Academic accomplishments and a subsequent career in finance and accounting not only honed my analytical skills but also provided abundant opportunities for immersion in reading, writing, and contemplation of diverse perspectives. The advent of the pandemic presented a unique opportunity to formally channel this passion, prompting me to embark on documenting my multicultural experiences in both Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. This endeavor resulted in the successful completion of “Reflections,” a collection of motivational articles published last year through Partridge Publishing Singapore. Additionally, I recently published “S.H.O.R.E. – The Ultimate Descent” through Amazon Publishing Pros. This captivating narrative revolves around a courageous woman who defies power politics and challenges patriarchal mindsets to promote transparency and fairness within an organization.”

Evolution of Expression: Contrasting the Writing Processes

The Arabia Times: “Reflections” was your first book. How did the process of writing that book differ from your upcoming release, “S.H.O.R.E.: The Ultimate Descent”?

Asma replied, ““Reflections” served as a transformative journey through our struggles, challenging our assumptions and seeking answers to long-held beliefs. It provided a means for our minds to pause amid chaos, untangle thoughts, and organize observations and experiences. However, to delve deeper into specific meanings and determine the best course of action for challenging circumstances, I was encouraged to write “S.H.O.R.E. – The Ultimate Descent.” It is a captivating narrative about a courageous woman who dared to challenge the power politics and the patriarchal mindset in promoting transparency and fairness in a non-profit organization.”

My extensive background in finance has significantly influenced the storytelling in “S.H.O.R.E. – The Ultimate Descent.” The book delves into the intricate dynamics of organizational structures and the relentless pursuit of transparency, a subject that resonates deeply with me. Drawing from my own struggles and professional experiences as a woman in the finance industry, I’ve woven these insights into the narrative, shaping the characters and their journeys.”

Breathing Life into Words

We were curious about Asma’s Writing Process and the Inspiration Behind Vivid Characters and Stories so we further asked, “Can you discuss your writing process and how you draw inspiration to bring your characters and stories to life?”

Asma replied, “My writing process is deeply rooted in the authenticity of human experiences, a unique journey that begins with a keen observation of the world around me. I draw inspiration from genuine, real-life encounters, allowing these moments to serve as the bedrock for the characters and stories I create. The people I’ve met and the challenges I’ve faced become the wellspring from which I extract the nuances that breathe life into my characters. These elements, when woven together, weave a fabric of authenticity that I believe is essential for readers to connect with the narrative on a visceral level. I find that by grounding my characters in the reality of human emotions and behaviors, the stories I tell resonate more profoundly.”

Triumph over Challenges: Navigating Hurdles

We further asked, “Can you share some of the challenges you faced during your professional journey and how you overcame them, both in finance and in your writing career?”

Asma replied, “Embarking on my professional journey in finance and writing has been a transformative experience, marked by numerous challenges that ultimately shaped my resilience and determination.

In the realm of finance, I confronted initial hurdles rooted in societal norms that often restricted opportunities for individuals from low-income backgrounds, particularly women. Overcoming skepticism and prejudice, I faced the challenge of self-funding my education, a crucial step toward achieving my goal of obtaining a higher-quality education than my peers, irrespective of gender norms. The financial constraints were demanding, but through unwavering determination and perseverance, I successfully navigated these hardships, laying the foundation for a fulfilling career in finance.

Entering the competitive field of finance brought its own set of challenges. Balancing the demands of a burgeoning career with the responsibilities of a young family tested my time management skills and resilience. Juggling these roles required meticulous planning and adaptability, but I successfully managed to strike a delicate balance, further strengthening my ability to navigate complex professional landscapes.

Transitioning into writing introduced a different set of challenges. One significant hurdle was the emotional intensity of revisiting and articulating personal and professional experiences. Delving into the depths of vulnerability and authenticity was emotionally taxing but essential to convey a narrative of raw, unfiltered authenticity. Time constraints posed another obstacle in my writing journey, requiring careful scheduling amidst a busy professional life.

In both finance and writing, each challenge served as an opportunity for growth. Overcoming financial constraints, societal norms, and time limitations not only propelled my personal development but also fueled a sense of accomplishment in both domains. Today, I continue to navigate my professional journey with a profound commitment to integrity, empowered by self-sufficiency and economic independence. Each challenge encountered, whether in finance or writing, has contributed to shaping my resilience and determination, fostering a deeper understanding of the multifaceted nature of success in diverse professional landscapes.”

Empowering Change

We want to know Asma’s Perspective on the Evolving Role of Women in the Workforce and Society, “In your journey as an author and speaker, you’ve been actively involved in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment. How do you see the role of women changing in the workforce and society?”

Asma answered, “I am passionate about inspiring and empowering women through sharing personal experiences and lessons to uplift and motivate women. As a speaker, I collaborate with organizations like the Graduate Women International (GWI) Pakistan and SAARC chapter, Pakistan Association Dubai U.A.E., and Berkeley Middle East, sharing my expertise in financial management through webinars, seminars, and conferences. I use these platforms to raise awareness about women’s issues, promote gender equality, and support empowerment initiatives, especially in third-world countries. I believe by sharing stories of resilience and self-discovery, we can seek to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and ignite a collective sense of empowerment.

The field of finance has traditionally been male dominated, but gender diversity is becoming more important. Days ahead, I envision several positive developments in terms of women’s representation in finance. More women are entering finance due to cultural shifts and increased regulatory requirements towards diversity, equal pay, and work-life balance policies. In the post-pandemic era, there has been a marked increase in women entrepreneurs, giving women more freedom, flexibility, and impact.

However, we have miles to go to achieve education and financial literacy for women as a basic right. Mentorship programs, grants, and workshops can help women develop understanding and skills. Showing successful role models and representative women in finance may inspire others. Companies must create leadership development programs for women in collaboration and partnerships that promote gender diversity, share best practices, and set industry-wide goals that can increase women’s financial representation.”

Breaking Barriers, Empowering Minds

She has a Hopes for Readers in Women’s Empowerment and Overcoming Male-Dominated Challenges so we asked, “What do you hope readers will take away from your book, especially in terms of women’s empowerment and breaking through barriers in male-dominated fields?”

The book is available on Amazon, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble.

Asma replied, “”S.H.O.R.E. – The Ultimate Descent” explores the intricate nature of organizational dynamics and the quest for transparency. Drawing from my struggles and professional experiences as a woman in the finance industry, I’ve crafted the story’s characters and integrated valuable insights into the narrative.

Picture the main character, Olive, as a ship sailing against the current, determined to reach the “S. H.O.R.E.” facing winds of tradition colliding with the storms of transformation! In a world where gender expectations act as formidable headwinds, Olive’s tale is a testament to the indomitable spirit of women breaking through the glass ceilings of societal prejudice, politics, deceit, and opportunism.

Prominently underscores the challenges related to transparency and integrity within organizational contexts. It’s a narrative where readers can anticipate discovering real-life anecdotes and valuable lessons seamlessly woven into the storyline. While the book primarily falls within the realm of fiction, it is heavily influenced by my experiences and observations about transparency and fair dealings among power struggles in the corporate world. I hope that readers will not only enjoy this political thriller but also gain insights into the importance of inclusion and empowerment of women in challenging the norms in a gender-biased world.”

Asma’s Vision for Women’s Representation

We were curious to know about her vision about shaping tomorrow so we asked, “How do you envision the future of women’s representation in the finance industry, and what steps can be taken to create more opportunities for women in this field?”

Asma replied, ““S.H.O.R.E. – The Ultimate Descent” serves as a compelling exploration into the intricate dynamics of organizational transparency, drawing from my personal struggles and professional experiences as a woman in the finance industry. Through the protagonist, Olive, navigating against the currents of tradition and facing formidable headwinds of gender expectations, the narrative vividly portrays the indomitable spirit of women breaking through societal prejudices, political hurdles, deceit, and opportunism.

I hope readers will find in Olive’s journey a testament to the resilience of women in male-dominated organizations. The story underscores the complexities of transparency and integrity within corporate settings and seamlessly weaves real-life anecdotes and valuable lessons into the fabric of the narrative.

My aspiration is that readers not only enjoy the suspense and intrigue of this political thriller but also take away profound insights into the significance of inclusion and the empowerment of women. I want the narrative to inspire readers to challenge societal norms and gender biases, fostering a greater understanding of the importance of transparency and fair dealings in the corporate landscape. Through Olive’s journey, I aim to contribute to the ongoing conversation about breaking barriers and promoting women’s empowerment in all professional spheres.”

Balancing Acts: Asma’s Journey in Juggling CFO Responsibilities

The Arabia Times: How do you balance your professional commitments as a CFO with your passion for writing, speaking, and advocating for women’s rights and empowerment?

Asma replied, “Balancing the demanding role in Finance with my passion for writing, speaking, and advocating for women’s rights and empowerment requires a meticulous approach to time management and a deep commitment to both professional and personal pursuits.

In my capacity as a CFO, I prioritize effective time allocation, meticulous planning, and collaboration with my team to streamline and improve financial processes. People know me as a proactive business partner who consistently delivers tasks with accuracy and timeliness, even under pressure. Simultaneously, I allocate dedicated time outside regular working hours to engage in writing, speaking, and advocating for women’s rights which is an integral part of my identity.

Whether its team counseling, crafting narratives, participating in speaking engagements, or contributing to advocacy initiatives, I ensure that my voice is consistently amplified in spaces where I can make a meaningful impact. By embracing flexibility, leveraging technology, and fostering a supportive work environment, I strive to achieve professional excellence while promoting women’s rights and empowerment through writing and advocacy.”

Asma’s Exploration of Future Writing Avenues Across Genres & Topics

Then we asked, “As someone who has explored both fiction and non-fiction writing, are there other genres or topics you are interested in pursuing in your future writing projects?”

Asma replied, “Embarking on my second career as an author has been an immensely gratifying journey, providing a delightful platform to share my experiences and perspectives with a wider audience. In addition to penning two solo works, I’ve had the privilege of co-authoring “She Dares” and “She is Remarkable,” published by MENA Speakers Dubai, U.A.E. These collaborative efforts showcase powerful narratives of inspiring women from diverse corners of the globe.

As I look to the future, I’m considering the potential development of a sequel to “S.H.O.R.E.: The Ultimate Descent.” Additionally, I am keen on delving into the realms of ethical business practices, sustainability, and advancing the role of women in the corporate landscape, exploring these topics through both fiction and non-fiction narratives.”

Asma’s Message

At last we questioned, “What message would you like to leave for others who seek to make a positive impact in their careers and communities?”

For those aspiring to make a positive impact in their careers and communities, I would offer this message: Embrace authenticity, cultivate resilience, and be unwavering in your commitment to positive change. Recognize that every small action, whether in your professional endeavors or community initiatives, contributes to a larger canvas of progress. Listen actively, collaborate generously, and let empathy guide your decisions. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and remember that genuine impact often stems from passion and dedication. Be a catalyst for positive change, and, in doing so, inspire those around you to join the collective effort toward a brighter future.

Times are changing now from Armored Leadership to Daring Leadership, from “fitting-in” to “standing-out”. In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about mental acuity, but in the future, they will be about hearts. Mere lip service won’t suffice; a robust and proactive action plan is imperative. Let’s pave the way for future generations by making the path forward more accessible.” Asma Concluded

Connect Asma Jan Muhammad on LinkedIn or visit her website to learn more

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