This is probably due to several factors, first of all: the baggage of ambition, courage, and the right to pursue a professional career, which I have carried with me since childhood – I definitely owe this to my mother. I’ve always been driven to do something interesting, exciting, and rewarding. Also, I learn the most from people who are different to me, who come from other cultures, other business sectors, or differ significantly from me, for example, in age. This enabled me to become convinced that diversity is so very important – I have a deep respect for it and see it as a business fundamental.
It is also important that I work in a company which is very open and supports diversity. The presence of such companies in the Middle East instigates and encourages others to follow best practice in business and leadership imperatives and fundamentals, including diversity. It is still difficult to talk about a trend here, as it still may be in developing stages, but I observe a great desire for a change.
Immediately after arriving in Dubai I was elected to the Management Board of the MedTech Companies Association – MECOMED. I also received the Forbes Award for the Most Influential Woman in the Middle East, which gave me significant exposure to both the business world and the wider public sphere. I am now invited to various meetings and I participate in many round-tables, where often I am the only woman at the table, but the message is spreading around the region and I am sure that something is slowly changing.
This is a very important question, and as usual, there is no simple way to address this problem, but it is through embedding a culture of diversity within organizations. It must be processed and consistent. Culture builds powerful organizations.
It is worth noting that at the entry level we have a balance between women and men. We build inspiring development programs, including those focused only on women, but it takes many years for those talents to reach the managerial level, and even more to reach the executive level – unless, of course, it is someone exceptional in terms of performance, leadership, and commitment. Men climb faster, they have time to devote themselves entirely and fully engage. At the managerial level it’s 30% women and 70% men, at executive level the ratio is even worse. Mobility, courage, and openness are necessary to make a career, and women are not so eager to practice those, or at times feels enabled to do so. Also, and all too often, they can be all discouraged by their managers or partners. As I said, building ambition and courage at a very early age plays a significant role, and you need the enabling and safe space to cultivate it.
I am not a big fan of regulations which tell us how to run the business, but as you can see, we did not make much progress the other way. So, I think that is an important step and probably necessary, but it is also important to change the mindset at the executive level. It is important is to teach top managers “inclusive & authentic leadership”.
AUTHENTIC means: “You walk the talk”, you build the trust, you treat your people with respect.
INCLUSIVE means: you are open to different ideas, you learn from your people, you reflect on their point of view, even when and if you do not initially agree, however you still encourage them to be a significant part of important business decisions. It is when you are not biased.
In our company, every VP has a KPI related to increasing diversity as part of their business goals – our assessment of leadership skills depends on it. I have noticed huge progress in this area since this model of appraisal was introduced. At the moment, we are focused on strengthening our talent pool.
I have “exported” a lot of women from my region to the EU and to the USA to develop them further. Having said that, perhaps I didn’t focus enough on acquiring new talents externally – I didn’t close the loop. You have to develop what you have, as well as being proactive and rather aggressive at points, in searching for female talent and inviting them to join your organization.
So what? Our role is to support them to grow even if it is a stretch for them. We can’t be afraid of mistakes, they will happen just like they do when hiring men. It is the part of the game. I believe that if we want to change something we have to start at home with our children: teaching girls that they have right to be ambitious and teaching boys to appreciate that. We also have to focus on building a culture of openness and inclusiveness. If quotas will accelerate this process, we will all benefit from it, not only women.