“Nothing propels these Arab women to leadership roles more than their passion, focus and sheer determination. Their passion is not just about their career path but is brought to bear in other parts of their life, including the desire to encourage the next generation of women to strive for success.”
The above extract from the ‘Arab Woman Leadership Outlook’ by the Dubai Women Establishment sums up perfectly the dedication and drive of IQPC’s Managing Director in Dubai Leila Masinaei.
With a passion that is infectious, Leila has spent the last 7 years building and developing teams for IQPC in the exciting yet challenging UAE market. I interviewed her to find out more about her journey and the keys to her success.
ES: Thanks for taking this interview today Leila. You’re not only a senior female leader at IQPC but you run a business in the Middle East which is typically a very male dominated market, can you tell me a little bit about that?
LM: I would like to start by saying that although from a cultural perspective women in leadership is still seen as an oddity here, something that raises eyebrows, it is something that the governments on this side of the world are hugely supportive of. For example the new ministry founded this year in the UAE has several women in it, including one of the office mangers for Sheikh Mohammed himself; so the government is trying hard to change this image of women in society and put women in leadership positions. They are strongly signaling that women are just as qualified as men to lead and having that blessing is critical because people and businesses here look to the government and try to follow suit.
However that does not necessarily always translate into day-to-day action. I still attend meetings where men refuse to look me in the eye; or I will talk and they will respond to my Sales Director who is sitting next to me, just because he’s male. Oh and I have received countless business letters or invitations that have my name at the top and my title but it’s addressed to ‘Dear Sir’.
And it’s not just business It’s the culture here, if I go to buy a new car the first question I’ll get asked is what color do I like? Because clearly that’s the only important issue for me to worry about! Sometimes it’s advantageous, I can approach things from a female perspective and ask questions men wouldn’t want to discuss head on, but then at other times I have to consistently reiterate my seniority and purpose in the room.
However internally in the business it’s not a problem. IQPC Dubai is very multicultural. We have over 25 nationalities in this office and as people come together to work towards common goals and rise above cultural differences I think the gender divide becomes less of an issue.
ES: People have often said that they think there are some real differences between male and female approaches to leadership, what are your thoughts on that?
I agree and disagree with that statement. I think there are lots of different leadership styles and people find a way that is natural for them based on their strengths, their knowledge and experience. Two women can lead the same organization in two completely different ways, as could two men; so I don’t necessarily agree that leadership styles are defined by gender.
However I do agree that women have some different capabilities to men; I think generally we have higher intuition and emotional intelligence and we have a maternal instinct to want to nurture and protect. Those instincts can be really beneficial to an organization. It’s like the tough mum, who pushes her kids to succeed, but she does it because she loves them and they know that. If you can create that culture of provide and protect, of challenge and support, of empathy, it can create a very effective leadership style. It can create a culture where people are willing to rally behind you because they know that you understand them, you feel their stresses, you work with them and for them and you are all in it together. As women I think we do this instinctively and we should harness that.
ES: So what do you think are some of the biggest challenges that women face in leadership roles?
That’s a big question and there are several. But I think one key element is their perception of their own limitations as a woman. As a great example have you seen the ‘Like a girl ‘commercial?
It looks at the perception people have of what it is to run like a girl, hit like a call, and how that perception as young girls starts strong but that as we grow up the societal image that we are not strong enough, not tough enough, that ‘being a girl’ is a disadvantage can change our perception of our-selves and our gender’s capability.
This negative image is something we have to overcome but it is internal, it has to start with us. As a woman you need to say to yourself, I can be a leader I can be an astronaut, I can be an doctor, I can be anything I want to be; my mental capabilities and often my physical capabilities are no less than a man’s. In short, my gender does not limit me.
ES: Great point and I’d absolutely agree with you. Now I know as well as being a Managing Director you are also a wife and mother. How do you balance all these responsibilities?
LM: It is an ongoing challenge. If we talk again about Middle East culture, in this part of the world the woman is predominantly expected to be the primary care giver. So as well as my work, I am also responsible for the home, the cooking and cleaning, plus I have to meet all the needs of my two daughters and ensure they are raised well. We have not yet matured in this society to have equal roles in the household, so yes that is something that I have to constantly balance.
ES: So how do you do that?
LM: Allot of it comes down to great time management, I have a weekly schedule, I try to see round corners and anticipate what and who is going to need my time that week. I sacrifice sleep, I won’t lie, I don’t sleep as much as I’d like to; but I’ve learnt it’s all about quality over quantity. I can’t be everywhere and I may not have as many hours as I’d like to dedicate to everything, but when I’m with my girls I’m with my girls. I turn off the phone, there are no distractions and I focus on them 100%. And it’s the same at work. I’ve learnt to be present in the moment and dedicate myself to each task I do, as I do it. l can’t afford to be distracted and I have to be efficient to get the best result possible within the time limit I have.
Through all this I’ve taught myself not to procrastinate; a deadline is a deadline, if a task has to be done by a certain time, it has to be done. It’s a balancing act and it can be tough, but practice makes perfect and once you establish processes that work for you, then it gets easier.
You also need to surround yourself with people that you trust. It takes a village to raise a family.
ES: And I’d say the same applies to work no? It takes a village to run a business too!
LM: Absolutely, I work allot on empowering my management team here, I don’t think I’ve had to handle an escalation in maybe a year now because the team is trained to manage their own problems. I encourage open communication and empower people to make decisions. This means I don’t have to be involved in every detail and frees up my time to focus on the things that only I can do and hopefully add more value to the business. So yes, it’s a village on both sides I guess.
ES: That’s great and hopefully there’s still some time left for you in this mix as well. So what advice would you give to any woman looking to grow their career in our industry?
LM: Ok, so I guess my top pointers would be number one, your gender does not define you. Number two, despite the fact that gender that does not define you we do still live in a world that is not yet as equal as we’d like it to be and that means you may have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, but don’t get disheartened, or discouraged. Put your best foot forward and know that you can rise above these challenges and the skills and capabilities you’ll learn along the way will be huge.
And don’t forget to be your self and make time for yourself, to be competitive in business does not mean changing who you are or giving up what you love. Work life balance is important.
And lastly level with yourself, identify your strengths and what makes you who you are, both as a woman and as a leader and use that to your advantage. For example the fact that you are probably more sensitive than your male counterpart is not a disadvantage, you don’t have to diminish that part of your personality; instead harness it, turn it into a strength and use it to aid your success.
ES: Thank-you Leila, once again we really appreciate your time.