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Emirati women leaders: how they did it

In the UAE’s golden jubilee year, the theme for this Emirati Women’s Day is ambition and inspiration for the next 50 years. And what better way to inspire the coming generations than to meet the Emirati women who have already reached the highest echelons of business.

We wanted to know – how did they do it? Who championed them? Who inspired them? What was their career path and education? What would they say to the girl today who wants to become a CEO?

In this series on Emirati women leaders, we talk to:

  • HE Maryam Alsuwaidi, chief executive officer of Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority (ESCA)
  • Fatma Al Jabri, assistant governor of financial crime, market conduct regulation and consumer protection for the Central Bank of the UAE
  • Fatema Al Nuaimi, CEO of ADNOC LNG
  • Fahima Al Bastaki, Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX)’s chief business and market development officer
  • Dena Almansoori, group CHRO of Etisalat and founder/ CEO of WhiteBox HR
  • Dr Noura Al Dhaheri, head of the Digital Cluster at Abu Dhabi Ports and CEO of Maqta Gateway.

ESCA and the UAE Central Bank are the regulators of UAE listed companies and partners to Aurora50, while ADX is one of the stock exchanges regulated by ESCA.

Ms Al Nuami is one of ADNOC Group’s three women CEOs and the chair of its gender balance committee, as well as being an independent board director of Emirates General Petroleum (EMARAT). She has been a mentor on the Aurora50 Pathway20 programme. Both ADNOC and Etisalat are Aurora50 partners.

Dr Al Dhaheri is a graduate of Pathway20.

Highlights from the Emirati women leaders series

Can you tell us a bit about how you were raised, and your family values?

Dena Almansoori I’ve lived in the UAE, France, the UK, Brazil, US and Canada. It made me see the world through a different lens and taught me a lot about kindness, hard work, resilience, humility, gratitude, patience and the importance of being grounded and proud of your roots, no matter where you are.

Fatema Al Nuaimi I was raised by my mother and my grandmother in Ras Al Khaimah, and they both emphasised the importance of education and a sense of purpose to my siblings and I. Another value that we were brought up with was generosity – giving without expectations. When you are raised with such values, they become an integral part of who you are and how you function, regardless of your role or job.

Where and what did you study?

Noura Al Dhaheri I chose software engineering because I felt it was a challenge in a male-dominated field. I enjoy challenging norms and breaking barriers.

What was your first job?

Fatema Al Nuaimi Although I studied engineering, marketing gave me better business understanding; it helped me see the bigger picture.

Did you advocate for yourself from an early age?

Fahima Al Bastaki I think my skills were honed by watching my father. He had to leave education early to manage the [family] business. He always talked to me about different cultures and values, particularly the Japanese business and work etiquette.

Dena Almansoori I advocated for everyone around me but self-advocacy was not something I truly learned how to do until I was much older – and I’m still working on it. Advocating is a critical skill for healthy relationships and overall happiness in life.

Do you mentor people yourself?

Noura Al Dhaheri Ensuring that the next generation is ready to take charge is the primary responsibility of any leader. It is something to which we must devote time.

Fatema Al Nuaimi I believe that the benefits of mentoring go both ways. Usually, you think the less senior person is the only one benefiting but, in reality, it is an opportunity for the mentor to learn.

Do you set yourself career goals?

Fahima Al Bastaki In 2001, in the second year of my career in financial advisory, I was interviewed by a magazine reporter and asked where I saw myself in five years. I said I wanted to work in capital markets. I achieved it in a little less than five years. To achieve short- or long-term plans, we need to focus on self-development but also keep an eye on the bigger picture.

What’s your most valuable skill?

Fatma Al Jabri I believe that perseverance has helped me tremendously in my career and got me past any roadblocks.

What’s your motto in life?

Noura Al Dhaheri ‘If not now, then when?”

How do you negotiate the work-life-family juggle?

Fatema Al Nuaimi We live in a nation that prioritises family, and organisations need to realise that they can play an important role in retaining Emirati values and supporting their employees in achieving a healthy balance between work and family.

What do you tell the girl who wants to be a CEO today?

Fahima Al Bastaki Talk to intellectual people, dive deep into a specialised field, be patient and career-focused, empower and develop others, and lead to achieve remarkable milestones.

Noura Al Dhaheri Learn, gather information, create a network and build and work with a great team. Your passion as a female is your strength, and that is what makes your team a family. Women are prime examples of transformational leadership, driving people towards their goals.

Dena Almansoori Be clear on your priorities and the impact you want to make. Know the WHY behind what you do… and ignore the naysayers.

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