Irada Aghamaliyeva is leading diversity and inclusiveness initiatives for multinational companies across 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which include gender diversity, cultural agility, inclusive leadership and new ways of working, such as flexible working. Over the course of her career, she has led women’s networks in various countries and is passionate about mentoring women on the important skills for the future work.
IRADA, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THE POTENTIALS AND CHALLENGES FOR WOMEN CONSIDERING THE RECENT FOCUS ON THE GENDER AGENDA IN THE BUSINESS.
The last few years, we have seen a shift in the debate around gender diversity. You can hear a lot about women empowerment in various areas both in public and private sector. You can also observe a lot of companies setting targets or quotas to get more women at board level, however they fail to retain women at the early stage. Therefore, the gender progress has not moved forward in the way we would have expected. The main reason for this is that
companies are not able to create an inclusive environment to include both men and women in the gender conversation.
The more I work on our D&I agenda, the more I understand the huge role men can play in accelerating women’s career growth. Getting access to the sponsorship, mentoring and coaching from male leaders is essential to the success.
ARE WE TALKING ABOUT GAP BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN IN THE LEADERSHIP OR IT'S COMMON FOR EVERY LEVEL AND SECTORS?
I think the women participation in the workforce is still low and can be even lower in the male dominated sectors due to lack of female role models. As an example, I graduated from university with a bachelor degree in engineering however I did not see any role models that I can look up to or be inspired by so it was difficult to imagine a career path for myself. This is one of the examples why we lose female STEM students in the workforce every year. It took me a long time to understand that I need to become my own role model since I don’t see anyone inspirational around me.
THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM ESTIMATES THAT IT WILL TAKE ROUGHLY ANOTHER 170 YEARS TO ACHIEVE GENDER PARITY IN THE WORKPLACE. WHAT GOVERNMENTS AND ORGANISATIONS CAN DO TO CHANGE THAT?
I think the government’s role is crucial in leading equal leadership opportunities for women and men.
Maternity and paternity leave legislation is a good start. If governments establish legislation that supports equal allowance on parental leave then it will not become a women only challenge when they come back from maternity, eg. Norway. When you have both men and women willing to engage in parental leave it stops being seen as the woman’s option.Creating quotas/targets for women on a board level or a leadership position in public and private sectors could really drive the change and accelerate the gender parity. I really hope to see many governments taking the bold steps and always delighted to support them in getting these measurements right.
Organisations need to review their successors on the top position and ensure it is gender diverse.
If that's not possible from the beginning, then it’s key to understand the skills/competencies gap in the existing pool and develop programmes to help women in getting these promotions. This will also establish accountability for progress. When recruiting, insist that all short lists are gender diverse and, if they are not, ask why? Is it an unconscious bias that blocks the dynamics of recognising, nurturing and promoting high potential women?
WHAT CAN INDIVIDUALS DO ABOUT THIS?
Men can start asking themselves if they mentor or coach any junior females in their team.
Have they sponsored women for great opportunities, valuable projects or introduced them to the important leaders? On the other hand, women should start being proactive in reaching out for support. They need to be confident in taking up any new opportunities. We all want to be perfect in getting things right, however in a world of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), opportunities don’t last forever.
You have to be quick in learning, networking, building the right relationships in the business and making your achievement visible to the right people.
In the future personal brand will be the most important success definition among your emotional intelligence. How can you start building your personal brand today so that you can be future relevant?
WE SHOULD PROBABLY MENTION CULTURAL LIMITATIONS CREATED BY CONSERVATIVE SOCIETIES IN VARIOUS REGIONS. ON THE OTHER HAND, TECHNOLOGY SEEMS TO SPEED UP GLOBAL TRANSFORMATION IN EVERY FIELD. WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE TO OVERCOME THESE HURDLES?
Social media and internet play a key role in overcoming these hurdles. I think, the future is female and it does not mean more females over male. It indicates that
we will no longer live in a world that believes that hierarchy, autocracy and masculine leadership are the only viable forms of social organisation.
It instead offers up the alternative that each person has something unique to contribute to the world where emotional intelligence will be the key predictor of the success. I believe we all should start creating space for each other to be at our best and most authentic self.