‘I became the first female Asian store manager and one of the youngest’

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Rubi Begum started working part-time as a Customer Service Assistant for the East of England Co-op when she was a teenager, little did she realise then that she would eventually become one of its youngest store managers.

A third generation British Bangladeshi, born and raised in Ipswich, Rubi also became the community retailer’s first female Asian store manager.

“I grew up in a neighbourhood that was very ethnically diverse. We didn’t see colour as a barrier to friendships,” recalls Rubi. “After high school, I was looking forward to doing my ‘A’ Levels and going on to university, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career.”

At the age of 16, Rubi began working part-time for the East of England Co-op while studying but then decided not to continue with her ‘A’ Levels. She continued to work part-time, eventually progressing to supervisor while also working for a community organisation supporting carers.

Rubi later opted to work full-time for the Co-op to make the most of opportunities. “Within a year I was an assistant manager and at the age of 23 I became one of the youngest managers.

“I was lucky to work alongside two brilliant managers earlier in my career. They saw my potential and encouraged me to take on managerial tasks with their supervision, and to do the NVQ in management.”

Rubi’s ongoing skills development includes attending in-house training for managers arranged by the Co-op’s Learning and Development team. With ambitions to become an area manager, she feels “well supported” and “very valued” and has been eager to give back with her own support.

Along with improving her store’s performance, Rubi cites training colleagues who have gone on to become store managers themselves among her proudest career achievements.

“I challenge myself professionally by getting involved with training and development of staff. I take part in community engagement, representing the Co-op when required, which I enjoy very much. I was also asked to take part in the membership recruitment drive to try to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to join the Co-op.

“The positive encouragement I received myself from my managers when I was a customer service assistant is something I want to replicate, and therefore I encourage my team who show potential to aim higher,” says Rubi, who would like to see more women from ethnic minority backgrounds in senior management roles, particularly in the food sector.

Working on the frontline during lockdown has been a major challenge, she adds, “trying to keep colleagues and customers safe whilst keeping up staff morale and dealing with difficult issues and anti-social behaviour that has increased since the pandemic”.

Away from the stresses of work, Rubi still likes to set herself some big personal challenges, facing her fears with daring activities like taking on the famous 78-metre-high Bali Swing. “The next challenge I am looking forward to is skydiving in Dubai over the Palm Islands!”