September’s – ‘The Power Issue’ – Download Now

Rola Abu Manneh, CEO of Standard Chartered, is a power player in finance. Taking challenges head-on and continuing to achieve is in her DNA. We sat down with Manneh to find out what it takes to lead in business and how the UAE as a nation has for championing women in business.

Can you talk us through your career? Did you always envisage yourself going into finance and banking?

Even from a young age, I was interested in finance and knew that I wanted a career in banking. More importantly, I also knew I wanted to be a leader.

Leadership has always come naturally to me. I used to be on several sports teams and captained a girls’ netball team for a few years, which gave me a taste of leadership. It was a new role for me at the time, but one I grew to love – especially the more games we won. Of course, leadership is hard work. To me, it’s is all about continuously working on yourself and growing from your experiences – of course, while investing in and supporting others. It’s also about constantly reinventing yourself and staying relevant – whether that means developing technical skills like understanding artificial intelligence, or improving leadership skills, such as sharpening your emotional intelligence. I was lucky enough to have great leaders and work with truly inspiring leaders, so I now aim to pay it forward by mentoring, supporting, and creating opportunities for aspiring young leaders.

You’ve worked hard, where do you get your motivation from?

The truth is that I love my work. However, as I mentioned earlier, that’s because I picked a career that I am passionate about and have been from a young age

Choosing a career which you enjoy is essential — it will be much easier to stay motivated through the tough times when you’re already in a job that’s meaningful to you. It’s important to sit down and really think about your skills and talents — what do you want to get out of a career? Then, pursue a job that lets you bring your unique gifts to bear in ways that regularly make you feel challenged and valued. If you do that, you are more likely to enjoy what you do, meaning you are more likely to be great at it.

I try to lead by example. I’m direct, demanding, and inclusive, but I’m also a huge fan of simplifying everything in today’s highly complex world. This is something I always challenge my team with. Whether it’s putting together a new client proposal, coming up with a new process or developing our people, I encourage colleagues to simplify things and focus on what’s essential.

What advice do you wish you had received on the beginning of your journey to success?

While it may sound cliché, the best advice I recieved is to always believe in yourself. I truly believe that, by being confident in your own abilities, as well as following your passion, you will succeed. This would be my advice to any future leader.

Of course, leadership is also a lot of hard work. Success is all about working on and growing yourself, while investing in and supporting others. It is also a lot about constantly reinventing yourself and staying relevant – whether it is your technical skills like understanding artificial intelligence or leadership skills around sharpening your emotional intelligence.

In terms of women working in business, finance and banking in the region – how are opportunities changing for them?

Looking at the UAE, specifically, we have made great strides in improving gender equality in the workplace. This applies to both government entities and private organisations who have made considerable effort in supporting women and fostering an environment for them to thrive. This has been especially evident in the financial sector where, according to the Central Bank of the UAE, Emirati women account for about 75.3 per cent of UAE citizens working in the sector – a significant figure.

Women are also a key pillar of social development across the Emirates and, recently, we have seen the adaption of a number of policies and initiatives aimed at supporting them. It was recently announced that the UAE progressed 23 places in the United Nations Development Programme, ranking first in the region and 26th globally. Also, according to a World Bank report, the UAE ranks among the top ten economies exhibiting the most progress towards gender equality since 2017.

At the Bank, we also take gender equality seriously and we believe that inclusion is an organisational strength. In line with this, we have committed to ensuring that women occupy 30 per cent of our top-four levels of management by the end of 2020. What’s more, two of our four regions, and a number of our large markets including China, Hong Kong, India, Nigeria, and the UAE are led by female CEOs. I am proud to be one of them.

In addition, in 2019 we launched the Art Gap exhibition where we conveyed the message of equal pay for equal work, from the UAE to the rest of the world. It was a local initiative that hopefully becomes a global movement to raise awareness and support for equal pay for men and women for the same role. Organising this event reaffirmed Standard Chartered’s commitment to the UAE’s national agenda, which aims to make the UAE one of the world’s top 25 countries for gender equality by 2021. We would like to inspire other organizations and entities in the UAE to join in the drive towards gender balance, as envisaged by the country’s leadership.

However, there are still challenges that need to be overcome. What would you identify as the challenges for women working in the GCC?

To understand more about how we can empower women and pioneer female leadership, we look to the UAE. HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak announced this year’s Emirati Women’s Day slogan as “Preparing for the next fifty years: Women are the support of the nation”. We are proud to be a continuing part of the UAE’s success story for over half a century and are excited to support the country to achieve its goals in the next 50 years.

The UAE is a progressive country from a labour market perspective, Emirati women are very well educated, and the government supports the advancement of women in all sectors. In theory therefore, Emirati women have a wide array of working options. Yet today, women make up only 28 per cent of the total Emirati workforce, and participation levels are well below countries with a comparably favourable labour market context. In the absence of favourable working conditions, Emirati women are quite entrepreneurial and lean towards running their own businesses.

Although we are proud of the progress that we have made and share the ethos of planning for the next 50 years where we believe we will achieve more change and success. Women in the GCC feel empowered to make their own life choices. They have increasing aspirations for success in many roles: as wives and mothers, as career women, and as contributors to their community and country. They value national and community service and want to leverage their education and entrepreneurial spirit for self-fulfilment. These roles may differ at different life stages – for example, women tend to prioritise family when their children are young. It’s no secret that the financial industry is a traditionally male-dominated field and, despite our undeniable progress, a 20 per cent representation of women on executive committees and 23 per cent on boards is not enough. There is still a long way to go to create an industry in which women have equal access to opportunity and positive outcomes.

Looking back over your career, can you tell us about three major hurdles you’ve had to overcome?

Looking back over the years, a major barrier to female leadership has been organisational structure. Simply put, it’s unconscious bias, lack of equal opportunities, and the absence of your tribe. I faced a lot of challenges while climbing the career ladder. There were times when I struggled just to be on the ladder! It was not easy, but throughout my career I have always focused on business outcomes, open communication and confidence.

Institutional mindsets are another significant barrier and are a major reason that we don’t see more women at the top levels of leadership. People make assumptions about women at work and as leaders based on their stereotypical roles in society. Often, women are limited in their advancement or, worse, never given an opportunity because of bias. Lastly, it’s not enough to be in a certain role or have a seat at the table. One must also speak confidently, regardless of the odds faced. At times, women leaders may fear being criticized or rejected; however, respect comes when one’s voice is heard. Make your presence known as a leader and collaborator for good.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what are your top three milestones from your career, so far?

Leading a massive workforce of an international bank in the UAE in itself is a milestone and a huge responsibility. It’s not easy juggling strategic business decisions with family life, and our UAE franchise has been through tough times over recent years. But I want to put UAE business back on the map and showcase what the UAE can achieve by delivering client-centric, digitally-led and innovative solutions to our clients. We have great potential. The UAE is at the heart of Africa and the Middle East, and we’re well-positioned to connect our clients from Asia and Africa to the world.

And finally, this is ‘The Power Issue’ – what is power to you?

To me, power equals impact. It’s not necessarily the position you hold, but the impact you’re having on the people and the world around you. What impact are you making on people and on the value of the business? Power comes from your ability to do that. Power comes from the relationships you build. Are you truly creating value and having an impact?

September’s – ‘The Power Issue’ – Download Now

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