Mrs. Habiba Al Mar’ashi
Chairperson of Emirates Environmental Group (EEG)
- How have your education and career path led you to where you are now?
If you talk about formal education and professional qualification, the link might not be so clear. if by education, one also takes into account what one has learnt from one’s family, faith, values and upbringing, then yes, I would say that the foundations were laid on early in my life. From a young age, I hung onto every word that came from my late father, who was a renowned scholar, particularly the message of environmental balance and responsibility towards the planet and all species that reside within it, which is one of the principal tenets in the Holy Qur’an. As for a career path, I gave up a professional career to devote all my time and energy to my passion; – working for the environment. So for me, it has been a unique journey to reach where I am now and the journey continues still.
- Over the course of your career, have you witnessed changes in the sector that have launched more women into leadership positions?
I would say it has. Today, we see many women at the forefront of leadership, in the government, the private sector, and civil society to some extent. When I started out in the early 1990s by establishing Emirates Environmental Group, there were a small handful of women leaders in any of the above sectors. Today, the landscape is dotted with knowledgeable, competent and leading women in every sector, not just in any one particular sector. Within the energy sector, there is a conscious move to become more inclusive and proactively engage women in leadership roles.
- Technology is transforming the traditional utility business model into a more modern interactive grid. Some utilities view this transformation as an opportunity to focus on change management and diversity. Research provides compelling evidence that inclusion and diversity unlock innovation and drives better business performance. What, if anything, is your organization doing to attract, retain, and promote more women into senior management positions to respond to the dramatic industry transformation?
The organisations I have established, Emirates Environmental Group,the Arabia CSR Network, and the Emirates Green Building Council from their inception, have been very supportive of women that seek out professional roles. We have trained them and equipped them with the experience required to assume management responsibilities. That inclusion and diversity generate innovative thinking and enrich performance which is something that we have witnessed in our own organisations, and can vouch for it. Currently, the majority of people working in these three organisations are female, and our policy is to ensure that they reach their full potential here, and when they move on to other organisations, they have the requisite skills and competencies to take up senior management positions. As far as technology goes, our women are duly qualified and experienced to view it as a source of creativity and growth.
- Are talented women within your organization making it to top leadership positions? Why/why not?
Yes, definitely are. We have women that have stayed with us for more than a decade, climbing to senior positions and making a difference to our performance. Although you might create an enabling environment and an ecosystem for development, it is ultimately up to the particular individual to seize the opportunities being offered and take the lead through perseverance and hard work. This is my core belief.
- Companies that embrace diversity outperform their competitors. What type of diversity programs does your organization have in place to mentor future women leaders? How does your organization measure and report gender diversity? Is the data publicly available?
As I have said earlier, our organisations are fully active in recruiting women (as well as men) from different nationalities and backgrounds. We have internship facilities, we participate in mentoring programmes for universities and companies alike. We do measure gender diversity and the information is currently made available to the board and committees of the organisations. We haven’t put it out publicly, but are not averse to the possibility.
- What actions should the energy and electricity sector be focused on to accelerate change, increase diversity, and foster a better gender balance in the boardroom?
Well, there is no simple solution to what is actually a systemic issue. From starting at the first touchpoint, which is education, and onwards to every other step in the woman’s life, a change to enable, empower and engage women across sectors, is the need of the hour. Recognising the largely untapped potential of women in professional and vocational spheres, a concerted and collaborative action from government and business is an imperative. At the macro level, the energy and electricity sector, with its resources and influence over policy making and systemic transformation, should not shy away from advocacy and responsible lobbying to bring women into the sector, and at all levels of it as well. At the micro level, each utility and related company, has its own share of responsibility to achieve diversity and inclusion.
- In your opinion, what do you think makes a successful female leader?
I would say, there is no difference among the criteria of success for female and male leaders. Vision, clarity of purpose, dedication, committment, ability to motivate, resolve conflicts, manage diverse interests and needs; – all these are essential characteristics of a successful and mobilising figure. For female leaders, the responsibility of family is no less than their male counterparts, although the type of commitments may be different in nature. In the end, to succeed in today’s fiercely competitive and unforgiving environment, one needs to have belief and confidence in one’s abilities and a dogged determination steadfast dedication to change the status quo for the better.