Women's Day special

Women's Day special

We celebrate women who have earned a name for themselves in the world of business and have made the country proud

Sayyida Rawan Ahmed al Said

 Chairperson, National Bank of Oman

Please tell us about your career journey and your transition from the public sector to the private sector.

I knew the financial services industry was the right career path for me from a fairly young age, so all my education choices after school were geared in that direction. I completed my undergraduate studies in Economics and Political Science at the American University in Cairo, before going on to do a Master’s degree in Economics and Finance at Loughborough University in the UK. I then gained further specialist knowledge when I completed a postgraduate diploma in investment analysis. 

With these academic foundations in place, the next priority was to hone my skills and broaden my experience. I have had the opportunity over the course of nearly three decades to see the financial services industry from the perspectives of both the private and public sectors, which is a real advantage for a CEO, chairperson or board member as it helps you to see the bigger picture within your industry and country.  

As deputy CEO of Investments for the State General Reserve Fund of Oman and managing director and CEO of ONIC Holding Corporation, I oversaw the execution of many big ticket international investments. These positions gave me a great deal of experience of the financial services industry, which helped to guide the next phase of my career. 

I was next appointed managing director and CEO of Takaful Oman, a Shari’a-compliant insurance company, and more recently as chairperson of National Bank of Oman and Oman Investment Corporation.

Alongside these important roles, I am also able to share my experience as a board member of great Omani organisations such as Oman Oil Company, Riyada, ONIDCO and Oman Oil Marketing. Outside of Oman, I sat on the boards of Jordan’s International General Insurance and Bahrain’s National Finance House.

How was your experience of being the first and only female CEO of a listed company in Oman? 

Women have held senior positions within both public and private sector organisations in Oman for many years. So my appointment as CEO of a listed Omani company, while a significant milestone, was also emblematic of a longstanding trend in the sultanate.  

It is important to provide some context. Currently, only approximately six per cent of Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO, which is the highest number in the list’s history. Interestingly, the figure is almost exactly the same for FTSE100 companies, with just six women leading Britain’s biggest listed companies. So increasing the number of women CEOs and chairpersons is a global challenge that will not be resolved overnight.

I am involved in a number of great initiatives that help women to develop their careers. National Bank of Oman has a great programme called women@nbo, which looks to build the bank’s pipeline of future female leaders.  

Living in Oman, women are certainly in a good place to make their ambitions a reality. Oman has been a pioneer in the region when it comes to creating an equal landscape, and there are many, many hugely talented and highly experienced women ready to take on roles in the highest echelons of Omani business. 

What were the challenges that you faced in your personal and professional life? And what in your view are the challenges for all professionals?

When I started out in the financial services industry almost 30 years ago, the sector was male-dominated but it was also merit-based. Once I proved what I could do, the issue of gender became insignificant.

Another challenge that many women face comes when they choose to start a family. As a mother of six children, I know how hard it can be to balance time between a family and a career, but the bigger challenge can be keeping your career ambitions on track. There is a misconception that because a woman chooses to have a family that she no longer holds the same career ambitions. This is by no means true, with a recent Accenture study finding that working mothers and those without children aspire equally to senior leadership positions. I am proof that being a mother and being a CEO are not mutually exclusive.  

More broadly, the challenge for all professionals in Oman is to find a way to make an individual contribution to the sultanate’s long-term objectives and the delivery of its ambitious diversification strategy. By directing funds and support to strategically important pillars of the economy, those working in the financial services sector are obviously very well placed to do this, but people working in all sectors of the economy have important roles to play and significant contributions to make. 

You have made history by becoming the first Omani female chairperson of a leading Omani bank. Do you think that the glass ceiling is finally broken?

I think we are at the beginning of an exciting new era for women in the highest ranks of the corporate world both here in Oman and internationally. 

A young Omani woman entering the workforce today has so many opportunities to go on and have a really great career. Thanks to the sultanate’s diversification strategy, new industries are emerging as established ones are changing.

In this environment, how far a person goes in the career will depend less on their gender and more on their skills, experience and drive. With so many talented women entering the workforce each year, I fully expect to see many more women taking on senior leadership roles in Oman over time.

As a person with almost 30 years of experience in both public and private sectors, what according to you is needed to navigate the country out of the current economic turbulence as well as set a course for sustainable growth?

By working with some of the sultanate’s top private and public sector organisations over the last few decades, I have had a front row seat as Oman has transformed into a diversified, innovative and knowledge-based economy, creating enormous opportunities for Omanis of all ages.

If you look at recent figures for the first half of this year, non-oil revenues are up 40 per cent year-on-year, which is a source of encouragement. The impact of the global economic downturn and low oil prices is actively being addressed in Oman. 

Ambitious plans to grow sectors like tourism, manufacturing, fisheries, mining and logistics will further diversify our economy. The 2040 Tourism Strategy, for instance, will see the sector transformed over the coming years with perhaps half a million jobs created in the process.

The government also intends to leverage the sultanate’s geographic location to act as a redistribution hub for the wider region, with key projects such as the developments we are seeing in Duqm that are already starting to attract foreign investments into the country. Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector continues to expand, buoyed by investments from both home and abroad. Spending cuts, taxation reforms and boosting private sector activity will also play an important role in reducing the fiscal deficit. 

The focus on supporting entrepreneurs and growing the SME sector is key to ensuring the sustainable growth of the economy. NBO has been particularly active in this area, by providing direct support to SMEs while working to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs through initiatives like the Innovation in SME Award.        

More broadly, I believe that Oman’s future success will be underpinned by continued investment in education. This will be particularly important as companies in Oman deal with disruptive forces like Fintechs and artificial intelligence. These represent an enormous opportunity for companies but they will require new skills and new ways of thinking. 

At NBO, we have an ambitious long-term strategy in place that will not only help us overcome the present challenges, but will also create a bright future for the bank: We are focused on delivering a consistently superior customer experience, scaling up our business by building a strong technology platform, diversifying our revenue streams, offering innovative products and services, developing training programs to equip employees with the skills needed to thrive in a changing financial services industry, and supporting Oman’s economic agenda by financing projects of national importance.

What is your advice to the youth, especially women, who are entering the work force?

In order to excel in any field in the corporate world, firstly, I believe it is extremely important to have strong values as a foundation. If you do, you will not settle for less, and are likely to end up going down a career path that you are happy with, and more inclined to invest time and energy in it.

Secondly, you must always keep learning – learn from others and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Continuous learning leads to continuous improvement. Commit yourself to advancing your knowledge, skills, and expertise. Absorb as much knowledge and wisdom as you can, every single day. The business environment is always changing, and your understanding of the leading practices, thinking, and emerging tools will lead to better results. Be a lifelong student.

And thirdly – whilst it may sound obvious – you must work hard and remain dedicated. Have a purpose. If you want something you have to go after it, grasp any opportunities that may arise.

Gender stereotypes are hard to break, but we need to push the boundaries by actively seeking new opportunities. By doing so, we can show how valuable the contributions of women are, as we enter a new era for females in the workplace and begin the journey of changing perspectives.

Be bold, be exceptional but also be patient. Climbing the corporate ladder takes time and there will inevitably be a few delays along the way. It is all part of the journey, but once you arrive, it will have been well worth the effort.

hanaa

Hanaa Al Kharusi

Deputy GM – Corporate Banking Division, ahlibank

What attracted you to this field?

Being a science graduate, I never thought that I would enter the world of finance, which I happened to join by accident. I joined the management trainee programme at a leading local bank in Oman whilst looking for a job in my field. However as I excelled during the programme decided to stay on and take a career twist (not turn). The fulfillment of providing a service to people and corporates, by being in the heart of the economy as well as the career potential in banking attracted me to stay on and continue.  

What is your response to people who say that finance is no place for a woman?

They need to think again. On the contrary the finance world sees no gender. Women excel in finance in all sectors of the industry and we have live examples within major companies, banks and financial institutions in Oman and across the world to prove it. 

What is the major challenge that you faced in your job and how did you overcome it?

Being a science graduate and a female in the corporate banking world, was a challenge initially. People would underestimate what I was capable and willing to do. In the early days they always thought a ‘girl’ could not cope with the demands, pressures in a male dominated discipline of corporate banking. I needed to constantly challenge the barriers and prove my capabilities through hard work and dedication and go the extra mile to do more than what was expected and have the stamina to keep going. I must say though that once you have earned the trust of both colleagues and superiors, the sky is the limit. 

How do you balance family life and professional commitments?

It is still an ongoing challenge, I must say. However I have learned to prioritise what is important and acknowledge the fact that sometimes I do need to make sacrifices on both fronts. Alhamdulillah I am blessed with my family's support which has helped me very much through out my career. 

What qualities are needed, according to you, to succeed in this field?

To succeed in this field, analytical and problem solving skills are vital However i always say the story behind the numbers is key, so communication and interpersonal skills are just as important to be able to convey all the number crunching and analysis results and how it impacts the business. As technology disrupts every field of business these days, it goes without saying that being technology savvy keeps you ahead of the game. 

What is your advice for young women who want to pursue a career in this field?

Do not hesitate, pursue your goals, challenge yourself and you can achieve what you put your mind to. Hardwork and dedication with a positive attitude is key to success in any field you choose. 

Amina

Amina Nasser Al Falahi

Assistant GM & Head of Govt Relations, BankDhofar

What attracted you to this field?

I entered this field at the young age of 16. In fact I did not have a clear plan to become a banker. Since I was looking for a job, I took the opportunity given to me at that time to join Union Bank.

What is your response to people who say that finance is no place for a woman?

I believe that women are very good at finance.It is innate in them as they have to manage finances whether on a professional level or on a personal level at home. Women, in banking sector, hold various positions, and they play an important role in driving the growth of this sector.

What is the major challenge that you faced in your job and how did you overcome it?

The most challenging aspect of my job is dealing with customers. Every individual has different needs, desires and expectations from the bank. Our role is to deliver excellent service in order to meet or exceed the customers’ expectation, and this requires a deep understanding of our customers, through listening to them carefully.

How do you balance family life and professional commitments?

It is all about time management, making the right decisions and taking the best choices to achieve balance.  Sometimes it requires making decisions on which opportunities to pursue and which ones to decline, while carefully balancing work and family activities.

Nevertheless, these decisions will not always guarantee complete balance between your career and your personal life and family. Sustaining a demanding career and family will always be a challenge that requires support from colleagues and family members to who will support you to move forward and achieve more success. Time management is also very important in order to provide quality time either at work or at home.

What qualities are needed, according to you, to succeed in this field?

The banking industry is highly competitive. For a career with bright outlook in the banking sector, candidates need to be efficient in managing multiple operations, should have good organisational skills.

One should also have strong problem-solving abilities as finding solutions to daily situations that arise is quite crucial. Being a quick learner is also important, as technology in banking is updated regularly, hence adapting to changes is required. Moreover, having good communication skill is one of the important skills required. Bankers deal directly on a day to day basis with customers and it is important to communicate financial matters to customers clearly without confusion. Team work is also significant, so one should be able to work within a team while also be able to make independent decisions when required. In addition, transparency is an essential quality as a bank job deals with finances.

What is your advice for young women who want to pursue a career in this field?

The banking sector used to be viewed as a male dominated industry, but today this is no longer the case. There are more women joining the sector in Oman. Climbing the corporate ladder in any industry is challenging. Therefore, young women should take up the challenge to join the banking industry as it is offers a promising and fulfilling career with great opportunities for advancement.

NADIA

Nadia Mohammed Al Harthy

Head – Electronic Payments, Bank Muscat

What attracted you to this field?

The progressive policies pursued by the government have paved way for healthy gender diversity in Oman with ample space for women to make valuable contributions for the country’s progress and development. I was particularly drawn to the banking and finance sector because at the heart of economic development is the financial system which serves as the engine of growth and development. A career in banking also helps to achieve success, satisfaction and work-life balance.

What is your response to people who say that finance is no place for a woman?

The banking sector in particular is favourable for Omani women in pursuit of successful careers. Commercial banks were mandated by the CBO that by the year 2000, at least 75 per cent of senior and middle management positions should be held by Omanis. In the clerical grades 95 per cent of staff were to be Omanised and 100 per cent in all other grades. Data show that nearly half of the banking staff in Oman are women.

What is the major challenge that you faced in your job and how did you overcome it?

The leadership role in Bank Muscat is challenging, but the professional and friendly environment helps to tackle challenges. The bank supports women employees in career development and is focused on developing its leadership pool from among young Omanis and thereby contribute to the country’s future.

How do you balance family life and professional commitments?

Bank Muscat is considered as the best place to work in Oman and a great deal of this achievement is attributable to the healthy work-life balance maintained by employees, especially women. The bank promotes the cherished Omani family values integral to social development in the sultanate.

What qualities are needed, according to you, to succeed in this field?

To make a difference and achieve success in career, one must constantly endeavour to remain a cut above others. The readiness to face future challenges and determination to stretch the boundaries will keep one focused on performance excellence.

What is your advice for young women who want to pursue a career in this field?

With high level of Omanisation, the banking and finance sector offers attractive job opportunities across the Sultanate. With academic and professional competence, those keen on leadership roles can achieve success.

noor

Noor Al Moosa

Head of Collections & Remedial, Alizz Islamic bank

What attracted you to this field?

The banking industry has evolved so much over the years into a different organisation from its earlier role of accepting deposits and giving finance. Banking is an integral part of the financial sector worldwide and our lives and an opportunity to be a part of this sector was hard to refuse. I have been fortunate that I have been given so many opportunities to learn and grow in my career over the years

What is your response to people who say that finance is no place for a woman?

I don’t think being a woman is a deterrent in the finance field at all or in any field for that matter. Women play an important role in our community and I have never been discriminated against for being a woman. There are so many women in leadership roles in the finance and business sector in Oman and these numbers are progressively increasing.

What is the major challenge that you faced in your job and how did you overcome it?

In 2013 I was enrolled in an Executive Leadership Program through Cambridge Judge Business School (at Doha) whilst I was in charge of overseas accounts. The training programme necessitated frequent travel to Qatar. It was a challenge to keep pace with my work responsibilities as well as my education and of course my young family. I am happy with my perseverance and family support, and alhamdulillah I successfully met my annual targets and improved asset quality at work as well as successfully completed my training.

How do you balance family life and professional commitments?

Every woman has to balance her family life and professional commitments. There can be no fixed roles in life, these too have to evolve with changing times. Most professional women agree that family support is critical for their success. Parents provide the basic foundation of character and value systems in our lives. Our spouses help us to build and grow on this. Their unwavering support is critical to not just meet the demands at work but to excel too. I have been blessed with very supportive parents, my husband and our children and our families too. It is important not to carry work pressures home or the personal family issues to work. It is not easy to draw a line of distinction but it can be done. I think utilising domestic support staff is good for getting that little extra bit of time for family.

What qualities are needed, according to you, to succeed in this field?

Irrespective of the level of automation in banking, the profession demands good technical knowledge, excellent communication skills and good interpersonal skills. The ability to communicate in the local language as well as English is very important as banking is no longer limited to the boundaries of your town, city or country. Be willing to learn as there is something to learn from every person you meet and every situation you face at work. Long hours of hard work and accuracy are also important

What is your advice for young women who want to pursue a career in this field?

The key is to enjoy what you do and accept fresh challenges at work. In this age of fast paced changes, one must keep abreast of changes in the business environment and upgrade their skills. Take time to read and educate yourself as well. Be a willing learner and work hard and you will surely have a great career in this field. Take time off to relax daily with walks or exercise to ensure you are able to do full justice to your duties at work and towards family.

hinai

Hanaa Al Hinai

Deputy GM – Retail & Private Banking Division, ahlibank

What attracted you to this field?

Finance was always an interesting field for me from when I was young. I graduated with a Masters in Finance from Melbourne, Australia and before that had done my Bachelors in Financial Risk Management. I then got an opportunity to work for Westpac Financial Institution, Australia as a financial advisor and since then have always enjoyed being in the field of finance and investments and find it very rewarding.

What is your response to people who say that finance is no place for a woman?

Quoting His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said “No nation can realise its goals unless its people work together to build its future and develop its potential. We are confident that all of you – both men and women – will play your part in developing and building up this Omani enterprise”. These powerful words have resinated in the hearts of every Omani and corporations are no different. Women play an integral part in every industry and finance is no exception.

I have been fortunate to work for organisations that value their female co-workers and encourage their development. What women can bring to the table is no different to what men can in any sector be it in finance, medical, oil & gas etc.

What is the major challenge that you faced in your job and how did you over come it?

The banking industry overseas was very different to that in Oman, in terms of products, services and regulations. I had to adapt to what would work in Oman from designing products that suited our Omani and expat customers to different marketing methods. Market research and surveys add a great value in understanding your customer needs and wants which assists in developing products & services in this market.

How do you balance family life and professional commitments?

I strongly believe in the ‘work-life balance’ attitude and having the right support at work and at home is as equally important. I try to balance it all in three steps.

Priorities: My priorities in life are my family and career. On the work side, I set specific goals and ensure that my time at work is spent on more important activities aligned towards those goals. On the family side, I make priority for quality time every evening and on weekends with my family. Empower: I delegate both in my professional and personal life. By allowing other people to help me, it frees up some of my time to focus on strategic matters.

Reflect: It is important that I separate my professional and personal commitments; otherwise, it will be difficult to focus on or enjoy either completely. At the end of each day, I always find time to unwind and reflect on the day. I also like to exercise. It helps me to focus and build my stamina for work and life.

What qualities are needed, according to you, to succeed in this field?

You really need to love being in this industry for starters. Knowing the markets, the economy, customer preferences is key. You also need to possess analytical skills, assertiveness and initiative.

What is your advice for young women who want to pursue a career in this field?

Be passionate about it, be bold to take on new challenges and never give up.

Women's Day special
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