“Aspire HR Consultants” Strives to Add Women on Corporate Boards | Interview with Founder Rania Abdalla

December 3, 2020
By: Dina Al Mahdy

Rania Abdalla

WoEgypt: Do you think Women are underrepresented in executive positions?

Rania Abdalla: Many women reached high careers in all sectors and industries, some are holding leadership/executive positions, e.g. ministers, board positions, CEOs. In Egypt females represent 48.5% of the total population. We have 8 female ministers which represents 24% of the cabinet. Also, women occupy 90 seats in the parliament. I personally believe there is a significant development in this area and surely there is room for more. 

            A 2019 survey by catalyst.org showed that 29% of global executive roles are held by women. It’s the highest percentage of women holding senior management roles ever on record. The survey also showed that 87% of large companies have at least one woman in a senior management role.

            Furthermore, over the past 50 years, 68 of 153 countries have had a female head of state. According to 2019’s World Economic Forum article written by its Managing Director Saadia Zahid, “at the slow speed experienced over the period 2006–2020, it will take 257 years to close the gender economic gap.” With the COVID-19 pandemic, the gender gap will increase, and it will take longer than the estimated 257 years to close it. To achieve the aimed results of leadership and narrow the gender gap, women must learn new ways to face a range of challenges or roadblocks, through their career journey. 

WoE: What are the efforts of Aspire HR Consultants (Aspire HRC) towards bridging the gender gap?

RA: Aspire HRC works hard to close the gender gap. We provide mentoring to our clients on the benefits of diversity and its effect on the global organization’s objective. We work jointly with our clients on diversity initiatives using a variety of tools, e.g. effective organizational structure, recruitment policies and quotas, transformational cultures, business commitments and action plans. We guide concerned stakeholders in developing a “playbook” for closing the gender gap via a set of tools, resources and processes, with the objective of achieving gender parity. We also launched a ‘Leadership Mentorship Program’ for women in the Middle East and Africa tailored for Women on Board and C-Suite positions.

            In 2019, Egypt became the first country, in the Middle East and Africa, to launch a “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator”, which promotes our efforts in this regard.

WoE: As an executive woman, what are the steps you are taking to help narrowing this gap? 

RA: I use my personal experience as an International Executive Board, my passion on reinforcing female leadership and the support of our local and global partners to work with female leaders. This year we launched a Female Mentorship Program for women in the Middle East and Africa with on-the-ground representation in Egypt, UAE, South Africa and Nigeria. We support female leaders running their organisations efficiently and hone their leadership skills.  The program provides a range of services to cover a variety of topics, using different leadership assessment and development tools. We also support placing and promoting female talents on boards and in C-Suite positions. 

            To stay updated, I’ve recently completed “Corporate Director Certification Program”, on the tools of improvement of corporate governance practices and their impact on the long-term planning and procedures of the board. The progress of gender gap closing will be achieved by leveraging women’s leadership voices and their contribution in senior management positions, like CXOs, board members and others. 

WoE: Aspire HR Consultants is one of the leading HR companies in MEA, with a track record. What makes it stand out from its competitors?

RA: Aspire HR Consultants is a firm specialized in Human Resources Services. Since our start in 2008, we deliver robust Human Resources solutions to help our partners and customers excel. We cover the Middle East and Africa Region, with our 3 divisions: Executive Search, Consultancy, and Assessments & HR Services. Together with our strategic partnerships, we serve our clients as an “HR One-Stop Shop”.

We stand out because of many factors, including: Our uniquely competent, well-selected team members, who are highly equipped with a wealth of corporate and consultancy experience, strongly believing in what they do and are genuinely passionate about it. 

            Our techniques, tools, business understanding, and solutions design are based on global best practices and are tailored for each client based on their needs. Our inhouse developed methodologies, tools and techniques, have proved to be effective and easy to adopt in numerous organizations. We make sure we see positive results.

            At Aspire HRC, we map existing processes, assess gaps and ultimately find solutions to bridge them. We know employees’ engagement is important and we have special tools that make employees’ engagement a seamless part of company culture. We assist/guide our clients’ teams to implement those tools, we track their implementation progress and assess their success. Moreover, Aspire HRC partners with well selected international providers to offer end-to-end solutions to our clients. We are proud to be partners with the best leading global providers in “Executive Search”, “Assessment and Outplacement”, and “Objective Key Results (OKRs)”.

WoE: Being a Global Executive Board Member in the largest Executive Search Alliance (IRC Global Executive Search Partners) and also the Global Practice Leader for Consumer & Retail, what are the lessons you have learned working with cultures in 6 continents and more than 90 cities. 

RA: People rally together, against opposing forces, despite of their differences. Respecting differences makes us stronger. Most people around the world, despite their many differences, stand together against dangers threatening humans or humanity.

            Cherishing both our differences and similarities, helps to bring us together, fine-tune our souls, understand other’s perspectives, and explore ourselves. People around the world need to understand and learn to accept other cultures. Take for example the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has created an unprecedented global crisis. This crisis, which negatively impacted most industries and companies around the world, reminds us that we are all connected, and we may together cross the hurdle only via unity, solidarity, patience, understanding and compassion.

            Being a part of an international board team of five from different regions, added a lot to my experience and perspective.  I learnt a lot about the best practices in corporate governance and various problem-solving techniques. Listening to different perspectives around the board table makes you realize the great value of adherence to best practices and widen your scope. Same applies to my experience as the global practice leader for Consumer & Retail with the addition of getting closer to this industry specifically in terms of trends and creative client- solutions. 

WoE: How do you manage to maintain a work-life balance?

RA: Aspire HRC team is managed via a “Flexi Time” model, which allows the team members to work from home, whenever this helps them to efficiently perform and deliver. I am goal-oriented, so the focus is on deliverables, irrespective of hours worked or physical presence in the office. 

            I follow the “Wheel of Life” system, where every month I set goals on several core areas, including family, business, personal growth, career, exercise (a huge area of development for me), spirituality and financially. I track my performance and record my progress at the end of each month. I limit checking news updates (social media, newspapers, internet, etc.) to 30 minutes/day, as I found it time consuming, moreover it negatively reflects on me, as the world is increasingly suffering crises.

            Time management is another “Keyword” for me. I set my schedule of priorities and allocate time to each task, then keep an eye on their progress, to make sure all tasks are efficiently performed and meet deadlines. One of my favorite tools is delegation, so I delegate whatever I cannot do, to whoever may do it and be good at it. Delegation allows me to save time for other priorities. At least 20% of my time is allocated to self-development/learning priorities, as I’m always committed to acquire knowledge in all aspects. A daily part of my schedule is preserved for my personal, social and family responsibilities.

WoE: With a broad repertoire of management styles, tell us more about the styles you found most effective considering the diversity of both your clients and employees? And how did you develop them?

RA: By experience, I believe management must develop leadership competencies/skills to best lead their organizations. In my opinion, these competencies include:

– High level of emotional intelligence and empathy;
– Good listening;
– Ensuring everyone’s voice is heard;
-Working on providing an inclusive environment, which promotes employees’ experience; 
– Being Flexible at work;
– Being a coach and mentor;
– Believing in continuous need for learning (including management and staff);
– Engaging in “Corporate Social Responsibility” and ensuring time allocation for it, to contribute to community development; and
– Being agile, risk taker (yet being alert to risk) and willing to innovate.

            I’ve acquired some of those leadership competencies via: acquired experience, trainings, self-development and reading. I’m working on developing them to always keep up with the ongoing changes. I’ve applied my acquired leadership skills to diverse stakeholders, while considering the flexibility of reforming some applied leadership techniques, whenever needed, to accommodate their diversity.  

WoE: Some believe being thirty is already late start to fulfill their dreams. What message do you give women who have dreams but reluctant to pursue them in fear of failure, especially, if over thirty?

RA: If I’m in a position to give an advice to women over thirty, I would advise them to use their mind and heart, no matter at what age they are. Women are risk-alert by nature, so it’s very important to have the willingness to take risks without fear of failure.

            Success has no age, everyone, at any age, has the right to take the chance of trial and should cherish failure, as it’s a learning opportunity, that helps to refine operations and strategies. It’s the way to achieve success. Scars you get when you fail make you who you are. The more you fail, the more you learn and the closer you get to your goal. Businesses may have a role in avoiding age discrimination, by selecting potential competencies regardless of their age. Some organizations don’t allow discriminatory data (age, gender, religion) to be included in applicants’ resumes.

WoE: As an inspiring woman and change maker, what advice do you give to Egyptian women?

RA: Find your passion. If you don’t know it, explore different areas until you identify it. You may invest the first few years of your career to identify your passion. Learn what you like extensively and develop yourself. Invest your time to explore yourself, your strengths and capabilities. Work hard and compete only with yourself and with what you’re capable of achieving. Don’t be afraid to fail, failure means you are learning and learning fast. Perseverance is very important! Use your strengths and you will shine. 

Rania Abdalla graduated from the American University in Cairo majoring in Economics. She holds a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management from Kingston Business School, UK. Rania has more than 25 years of experience in Human Resources where she held senior managerial positions in Pepsico UK, UAE and Egypt prior to founding Aspire HR Consultants.

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