With 20 years under her belt in the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) Group, Fatema is currently CEO of ADNOC LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas). She is a board member of Emirates General Petroleum (Emarat) Establishment and of National Gas Shipping Company (NGSCO), as part of ADNOC Logistics and Services, and a board advisory committee member of ADNOC Refining and ADNOC Offshore. She is also a member of the International Association for Energy Economics, chair of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference (ADIPEC) Awards, and a member of ADIPEC’s executive steering committee.
Can you tell us a bit about how you were raised, and your family values?
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.
My mother was nine when she started taking care of the housework. She also worked as a tailor, selling dresses to women in the neighbourhood to support her siblings. She paused her education and graduated high school after having her children. There is a general perception that women in this region are not up to date on global events, yet she could engage in a conversation about almost any issue or topic – be it politics, culture or science.
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. For example, I constantly seek out learning opportunities, and just recently enrolled on a finance course. Values become more visible when an individual steps into a leadership role.
Where and what did you study?
I graduated from Zubaida high school in Ras Al Khaimah – my favourite subject was mathematics. I graduated as one of the top girls and was recognised by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum at the graduation ceremony.
I studied chemical engineering at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain. Back then it was a new discipline with quite a few specialisations, and I wanted to keep my options open. I also have an MBA from the American University in Dubai.
To be frank, I don’t think that what you study is what matters most in your career. The ability to manage team dynamics, build a strong network and communicate effectively, as well as continuous learning and resilience, are what ultimately shape your work success.
Today you are judged by collective results. I come from a different generation, where school education was mainly based on individual work and grading. Today schools better prepare students for that collective approach and it is very important they bridge the gap between academia and industry. I was introduced to ADNOC through an attachment program with ADNOC Gas Processing, which connected what was in books with real life.
Studying engineering (even if you don’t end up becoming an engineer) builds the ability to analyse and solve problems and come up with innovative solutions, both skills applicable regardless of the job you do. My first job was in marketing and research, but my engineering background still came into use to communicate on a technical level with customers.
These skills and abilities are critical for the UAE’s ambitions in innovation and building a knowledge-based economy. To keep up with constant changes in the world, we all need to be open to evolving and improving our skills.
What other training has been most useful to your career?
I have done a lot of training, but the best way to learn is through facing real on-the-job challenges. My best learning experiences were when I was faced with tough, new problems. Delivering within tight and challenging timelines, being thrown into unknown territory, gives you an adrenaline rush that pushes you to work with all your focus and energy.
What was your first job?
My first job was in marketing and research at ADNOC LNG. It was through the attachment program at university that I decided it was the place for me to work. Although I studied engineering, marketing gave me better business understanding; it helped me see the bigger picture. Back then, management also wanted a woman on the team to trigger healthy competition in what was a male-dominant area.
Who has championed you along the way?
I have had such amazing, inspirational mentors throughout my career, although I wouldn’t call it formal mentoring. I think one of the advantages I had was the opportunity to interact with good leaders, who were always generous in sharing knowledge and providing guidance.
I am so appreciative of HE Dr Sutan Al Jaber, Managing Director and ADNOC Group CEO, who has been a huge champion for me and a true mentor. I would also like to mention Abdulaziz Al Hajeri, the former downstream director who recently retired from ADNOC.
I became CEO of ADNOC LNG in 2018 and I really want to thank my fellow ADNOC Group Company CEOs, two of whom are women: Tayba Al Hashemi, CEO of ADNOC Sour Gas, and Muna Al Mehairi, CEO of Fertil. They have shared their knowledge and experience and paved the way for the next batch of female leaders.
Seeing where the support and motivation of inspirational team leaders got me in my career shows how important it is for men to support female colleagues in their journey of development.
Do you mentor people yourself?
I have been mentoring employees throughout my career – both informally and formally through the Pathway20 programme. Preparing women across the country to become influential and successful leaders and to obtain board positions is a very important objective for us here at ADNOC.
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. In time, you feel that your success comes from the success of those around you. Today, the joy I get from seeing both male and female employees performing exceeds joy I get from achieving myself.
Which industries in the region are doing best at attracting women to senior roles? And how can we do even better?
Women in the UAE proved they are up to the challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have seen the work our female front-liners in the medical sector put in, and their persistence. I also admire the mothers who spent so much time and effort supporting their children with distance learning.
In ADNOC, Emirati women work across all areas of operations. We now see an increasing number of women in operational sites – the heartbeat of the energy industry.
As we prepare for the Golden Jubilee of both the nation and ADNOC, we are doing our part to empower women in the sector. I was honoured to be appointed chairperson of the first ever gender balance committee at ADNOC in 2016, and one of the first things was ambitious targets to increase the number of women in leadership. Today we have exceeded those targets, with three female CEOs, more than 17 positions occupied by women across ADNOC company boards and close to 18 percent of all management positions held by women. We realised that establishing women in senior positions was critical to setting the tone for the organisation – and we have ambitious plans to get more women in technical roles. We have come a long way and we continue to seek improvement.
How do you negotiate the work-life-family juggle?
I don’t think there are specific guidelines to ensure a successful work–life balance. It all comes down to different circumstances. It is challenging at times and I say that from personal experience. I was blessed to have the support of my mother and husband in raising my three children. Thanks to them, I was able to focus on my career and development, and I am very grateful that I have been able to rely on both of them.
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?
Today women have made it to top positions across the country, concrete evidence that there are no boundaries to women’s progress and ambition. It is an obligation for us women to support each other but it is up to you to plan your career development – and what to achieve.
I would advise young women to think wisely of their choices and to take calculated risks. Challenge yourself. Don’t settle for your comfort zone. Don’t take opportunities for granted. Working smart is the way.
Women also need to understand that it is not just hard work that helps you achieve good results; it’s also the relationships you’re building. You won’t be able to master everything, so use resources around you, and capitalise on networking and relationships.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way you work?
I feel very proud of the progress and achievements ADNOC has accomplished despite this pandemic. We have achieved great commercial success without compromising the safety of our plant, a transformation that required a significant mindset change. My teams went beyond the call of duty, and continue to take care of every single one of our people – employee and contractor alike.
Where can we find out what you’re up to online?
Come find me on LinkedIn.