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Kona Haque, or how to find balance and purpose in the world of finance and commodity trading

Updated: Feb 12

One of the most common “issues” that come up during my emotional communication coaching programs is how to manage emotions at work. Emotions, expressed and managed the wrong ways, can hold you back in your career or just make it harder to feel good at work.


One way of doing it can be to try and control emotions on the surface by repressing them. However, it is more sustainable (both in terms of our energy and our well being) to put our efforts into finding - or creating - a work environment in which we feel good in the first place. Often, feeling good at work does not require you to change jobs or become an entrepreneur. We each have the power of turning our work into something meaningful and purpose driven, a place where we can thrive.


Kona Haque, to me, personifies just this. Behind her calm, accessible and humble presence, Kona successfully manages to combine a career, a family life and involvement in causes that are close to her heart. In the high adrenaline world of finance and commodity trading, she is known to create a safe space for those around her to grow. She showed to many that being of Asian origin, Muslim background and a woman has not stopped her from achieving what matters to her most.


In this interview, she shares with us how she approaches work, what it means for her to find purpose in her work and what others can do to find their balance too.


Can you tell us a little about yourself?


I have been working in the City of London in financial services – specifically commodities - for nearly 25 years. At present I work for one of the oldest companies in the world, ED&F Man, a global commodity trading house as Head of Research, where I look after a team of 18 analysts world-wide. I trained as an Economist many years ago as it was something I loved, and it’s great to be able to do professionally. To put is simply, it’s like watching the news, discussing markets and forecasting trends, whilst being paid for it!




On a personal level, I’m of Bangladeshi origin, raised in Italy by UN expat parents. As such I have strong Asian and European cultural affinities. I currently reside in the UK with my

husband, a 21-yr old daughter and a son who just turned 18. I’m lucky that I live in a

household of 4 adults that really like each other – useful in a pandemic lockdown!


What do you look for in your work?


At work I’ve always looked for job satisfaction, professional recognition and, of course, fair

remuneration. These are, and remain, the main criteria; but since I had kids I began to look additionally for a comfortable work/life balance. Being in the City, this was not always

possible, especially at the early part of my career, when I had to prove myself and where

constant “visibility” is important. I was lucky to have reached a point in my career where I

had gained sufficient trust from my employer (in terms of the work I deliver), before asking

for workplace flexibility. As I started to embrace more regular working from home, I realised that I became even more efficient – both at work, but also at home with my kids.


In your experience, what is important in the workplace for people to be valued and

honoured?


Most people want to be valued for the work they put in and the results that come out of it –

irrespective of cultural, gender or other bias-inducing factors such as “who you know”.

Therefore, an unbiased meritocracy approach, twinned with respect for each employee as

individuals are very important.


What does it mean, for you, to find meaning in your work? How do you reconcile having a “meaningful” life and your work?


In my line of work, “meaningfulness” comes from when my research, reports or

presentations get good recognition and make a positive impact on colleagues or clients. That this can be achieved without compromising on my family duties makes the whole thing even more meaningful.


What is success for you?


Being a woman with South Asian ethnicity, of Muslim background and mother of two – traits that have in the past prevented many women from a successful career in the City – were never an impediment to me. I feel I was able to “have it all” without compromising on my other identities. A few years ago I was up for an Asian Woman of Achievement Award, which

was just amazing. I feel so grateful - in equal measures, to both my wonderful work team

and supportive husband - that I even got to such a position.


What has your work enabled you to do that is meaningful to you?


It has allowed my father to be proud of me. He was instrumental in my education and career choice and I feel very satisfied when he sees my published work, media quotes or catches me on TV! The same applies to my family and in particular, my children, who I hope to inspire.


Can you share some of the most meaningful experiences that happened to you in your work?


I chair the Women’s Network at ED&F Man, which was set up to address gender imbalance by supporting the careers of women working here. This has created a great community spirit and is very rewarding in what is otherwise a very male-dominated environment. Another achievement was when I used to work in investment banking, I was the first female Director at Macquarie to pioneer a 4 day/week, one of which was from home. Since then, many other women have been offered such work flexibility, perhaps because I showed that such arrangements in no way diminished my output.


What advice would you give to someone who is in a job where they do not feel valued or to someone who wants to contribute and have a meaningful life but is not able to experience this through their work?


Have a good hard think on why you don’t feel valued, and by whom. Discuss with your

manager on why exactly this is the case; if you are satisfied with the feedback, work on it. If not, reflect on what “being valued” means to you, and if this job offers you such a meaningful life.


If so, a career change could be in prospect, but always talk to your manager beforehand, as often they don’t know what’s going on in your head, and can only help you achieve what you need if they know what you want. On the other hand, if your discussion leads to a career re-

think, then don’t be afraid – it could be the best thing to ever happen, and you should

embrace it!

Are you looking for ways to feel good in your work? Are you facing emotional issues that are stopping you from advancing in your career or from thriving in your work place?


I have just conducted a Webinar on "5 steps to finding purpose in your work regardless of whether your job is your dream job"


If you'd like to watch it (it's free!) send an email to charlotte@ecruu.com and I will send it to you.

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