Twenty-two-year old Laidlaw scholar Dilnora Mirpulatova reflects on why women’s rights are so important to her, what drew her to the London Business School Masters in Management and why internships with the UN and US Embassy in Tashkent inspired her to pursue a career that will deliver real social impact
I guess you could describe me as something of a fast learner: as a child, I was a real bookworm and spent hours curled up at home reading and writing stories about adventure-loving girls who travelled to other galaxies. A poem of mine was even published in a local children’s newspaper. Looking back, I think I fell in love with reading because I’d seen my older brother and sister doing their homework when I was four and decided I wanted to join in.
Uzbek values are very conservative; women are expected to get married, become mothers and stay at home. This makes education for women more difficult because it’s not seen as a priority. Why would it be if your main goal is to be at home looking after the children? In Uzbekistan, marriage is the biggest qualifier of success. The mainstream thinking and belief in Uzbek society is that women need husbands to protect and provide for them. But growing up, I didn’t see it that way. I wanted to learn, I wanted to experience more of the world and most of all, I didn’t want to be defined by marriage or a husband.
My greatest inspiration is my mother who has always encouraged my sisters and I to study and to prioritise education. She has also always gone against the rules and pursued what she wants; she was one of the first women in Uzbekistan to get a driving licence 20 years ago when it was deeply frowned upon for women to drive. Uzbek culture is very traditional, but she never forced us to cook and clean, was always supportive of our ambitions to go to university and encouraged us to challenge the status quo. I have a lot to thank her for.
When it came to learning and education, I was keen to get started and ended up going to high school and university a year earlier than my peers. I won a place at Westminster International University in Tashkent (WIUT), Uzbekistan’s top university, when I was 16. It’s the first university in central Asia to offer a western education and UK qualifications, and a university where many of the professors had studied abroad. So despite most of the students being Uzbek, there was an international atmosphere and a shared desire to explore different perspectives and cultures. I loved it there; I loved the learning and I also loved volunteering, being a student representative and mentoring younger students.
After pre-foundation studies at WIUT, I started my degree in Business Information Systems, which focused on the intersection of technology and business. I learnt the basics of programming and immersed myself in the world of tech, but it was project management that I enjoyed most and went on to pursue with two internships in Tashkent. I managed to secure the first through the university’s Career Centre and the second myself.
The first of the two internships was with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Tashkent (the main office is in Vienna). I also spent 10 months interning with the US Embassy in Tashkent. Here, the focus was on introducing processes to help the embassy run more smoothly. Over a 10-month period, I created a database for more than 2,000 American Center Tashkent (ACT) members (ACT is an information centre located within the embassy) and processed more than 600 applications for US exchange programmes. I was also involved with organising talks for women to help motivate them in the workplace, one of which featured a US army representative who spoke about overcoming prejudice and following your goals.
In Uzbekistan, there aren’t many well-paid jobs for women, and some businesses even specify that only men should apply for certain roles. In 2016, I applied for a software development internship in a technology company and was told by their HR team that the company was ‘very’ male and I therefore wouldn’t fit in to their culture. As a woman in Uzbekistan, it can be difficult to forge your own path.
After graduating from WIUT, I took a job in Tashkent as the Assistant to the CEO of an import and export company that managed the transport of goods between Russia and Uzbekistan. It was a busy role with lots of autonomy, and it taught me that I enjoyed working independently and having sole responsibility for different projects. But it was the internships with the UN and the US Embassy that made me think about a career with a social impact, like sustainable development.
During my last year at WIUT, I knew I wanted to continue my studies abroad. At 21, I was too young for an MBA, but I wanted to move to an English-speaking country – preferably the US or the UK – and continue learning. The Masters in Management (MiM) at LBS really stood out: the style of education here is case study-focused so you’re always learning from real-life, tangible examples. I spoke to alumni to find out about their experiences and was super impressed; I liked the fact that the cohort was so international, and that the professors included people like John Mullins and Dafna Goor whose books I’d read during my degree in Tashkent.
Without the Laidlaw Scholarship Fund, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to study at LBS. It’s a brilliant opportunity for young people and it’s so important when it comes to levelling the playing field for future business leaders. When I found out I’d been accepted into LBS, I was so delighted that I rang my mum and she screamed – she was so happy!
My long-term career goal? To work in a consulting role in the public sector or in an organisation focused on development issues; my priority isn’t making money – I want a role with purpose. I’ve always liked projects that benefit communities and individuals rather than private sector organisations; this kind of work is more motivating and ultimately more satisfying. And, after experiencing gender discrimination in my home country, I’d also like to become an ambassador for equality; for me, this is where change needs to happen.