My guest on today’s show was ranked by the Financial Times as one of the Top 5 “Global Champions of Women in Business” in 2017 and 2018.
Rana Ghandour Salhab is the Talent and Communications partner at Deloitte, Middle East, covering 16 countries in the region and with numerous responsibilities, from building strategies in the field of human capital to overseeing Deloitte ME’s media, communications and CSR activity. Rana also advises governments across the Middle East on gender equality laws and practices, and serves on the advisory boards of multiple organizations such as Reach Mentoring and the 30% Club.
We talked about the skills of tomorrow and how artificial intelligence will not take away all our jobs. We explored the pros and cons of having choice, and Rana’s perspectives reassured us that very few decisions are actually momentous and have life-long impact. We also discussed confidence, risk-taking and the imposter syndrome – this is actually a great follow-on from the last episode, how we raise boys to be brave and girls to be perfect. Finally, Rana shared her thoughts on what corporations and governments could do to help women thrive and deliver.
To find out more about Rana or get in touch with her, head over to her LinkedIn profile.
Thank you for listening to this episode. While you’re here, please remember to like, subscribe, rate or review.
Read the Transcript
Rana Nawas: (00:00)
Hello ladies and gents. My guest on today’s show was ranked by the Financial Times as one of the Top Five Global Champions of Women in Business in both 2017 and 2018. Rana Salhab Ghandour is the Talent in Communications Partner at Deloitte Middle East and is on their executive committee. Rana covers 16 countries in the region and has numerous responsibilities from building strategies in the field of Human Capital to overseeing Deloitte Middle East’s Media Communications and CSR activity. Rana also advises governments across the Middle East on gender equality laws and practices and serves on the advisory boards of multiple organizations such as Reach Mentoring and The 30% Club. We talked about the skills of tomorrow and how AI will not take away all our jobs. We explored the pros and cons of having choice and Rana reassured me with the thinking that very few decisions are actually momentous and having lifelong impact. We discussed confidence, risk taking and the imposter syndrome. This is actually a great follow on from the last episode with Reshma Saujani where we discussed how we raise our boys to be brave and our girls to be perfect. And finally we talked about what corporations and governments can do to help women thrive and deliver. So let’s get into it.
Rana Nawas: (01:14)
Rana, thank you so much for taking time during your Dubai visit to come on When Women Win, I am really delighted to have you on the show!
Rana Salhab: (01:27)
Thank you for having me. I mean the top show in the Middle East, I’m privileged to be here, I would say.
Rana Nawas: (01:35)
Now there’s all this talk about future proofing and how AI and automation are going to come into the workplace. What are your thoughts on what skills Millennials and Gen Z should be developing?
Rana Salhab: (01:46)
Firstly on AI and all that area and the scare that is around of machines taking jobs – I don’t believe machines will take the jobs that need thinking, that need certain human traits that machines can’t replace. What machines would replace are the mundane tasks, the speed of providing data and providing choices based on data, but not choices based on other skills which humans will still have. So they will not replace many jobs that we care to do. They would replace the jobs that we have been doing since the Industrial Revolution. They will also replace the jobs that are repetitive, mundane, and those type of analytics. So to your question on the Millennial Generation – the Millennial Generation is a wonderful generation. I would have loved to be part of that generation, it’s so exciting! Everything changes all the time, but humans are humans. Our ability to extract data and extract information that is useful to us from all that is available is a challenge they have to have. They’re bombarded with so much around in Social Media, in big data, in small data, in data science and so on. The skill they have to, I think, master is how to be able to survive in this world and how to be able to change it while being able to prioritize what they take in and be able to make it into usable information. And that applies to everything; it applies to their career choice. The range of choices they have, when I compare it to the choices my generation had, is a joke. Even if I had lived in the US or the UK or in the West or East, we had a number of choices. Now they have unlimited choices and that is a blessing and a curse. And so that ability of being able to maneuver in this world is something that requires, again, the human skills much more than only data and choices and trying to map. And in a way, what I see in the Millennial Generation is when they make choices they think they are permanent; my advice to them is there are so many forks in the road and there are none that end. Let no one tell them they made a choice that will derail their careers. And I am speaking about careers because this is my field. It will not happen. They will have force on the road and they will reinvent themselves. And so be less stressed about making choices when you go into the workforce. Then making choices, while you are in the workforce, on whether to leave or stay or how short to stay here or what you want your resume to look like and so on. Let them relax and try to really think more strategically and not be afraid of making choices. They are forces on the road and not endings.
Rana Nawas: (04:50)
I think it’s a real relief to know that there are no dead ends. Like, you make a bad choice, that’s okay. You’re not going to live with it for the rest of your life. All right, I’m going to come back to education, if I could. You stayed in that field for about ten years, I believe, and you decided to move into consulting. Is this part of the choice you were talking about?
Rana Salhab: (05:12)
It is part of the choice, but I think my thinking at the beginning of my career and in Saudi Arabia…which is now one of my favorite countries in the Middle East because of the pace of change that is happening. And I have great admiration, if we talk about women, for the woman who are now going into uncharted waters. That takes a lot of courage. I’ve seen more courageous Saudi’s women than I’ve seen of any nationality, given the circumstances. And I admire the leaders of Saudi Arabia now for the changes they are making into that. So I guess what I was thinking was that I do what I have to do. So many people ask me, what is your favorite country that you lived in? And I always say the country that I living in at the time. And that’s a conscious decision because if I don’t make myself think it’s my favorite country, I will be miserable. And I will have to fight that, “oh, I don’t want to be here and so on.” And that sort of applies to my choice – when I left Saudi Arabia, I said, “I want to choose what I do” and you know, consulting sounded vague and nice. I had no clue what consulting was, I knew a bit, but not much. I didn’t know many consultants and I decided I wanted to go into the consulting field and by chance, a couple of months into living in Egypt because my husband’s career and moved him to Egypt, I met a young consultant who worked for, at the time, Anderson and I gave her my resume and they called me, but they offered me an entry level position. And I had over 10 years of experience and I had become a very senior leader in organizations in Saudi Arabia, education organizations, and I could not swallow that. So they’re my pride, my ego or whatever it is you want to call it, came up and this is where I took some grave decisions and took risk, which people claim women don’t take risks.
Rana Nawas: (07:06)
Oh, this one. Tell us about it.
Rana Salhab: (07:08)
I took a risk. They gave me an offer with about 10% the salary I was making, at the time, literally 10% of the salary.
Rana Nawas: (07:18)
10% of the salary you were making in education!
Rana Salhab: (07:19)
Which is a position that is not highly paid! So you can imagine, because it was literally an entry level and I was 12 years out of college. And so I went to the managing partner, I asked to meet him and I said, “I’ll work for free and after three months, I would ask you to appoint me as a Manager or we shake hands and I leave.” Manager was a big deal at Anderson and he smiled and said, “what? Go ahead.” And that’s how I started with Anderson. And they forgot me with no salary, no title and nothing for four months and it was a difficult period. I would go home and my husband would literally laugh at me and say, “are you sure you’re working for free?” There is no end in sight.” And then they actually remembered me and they gave me a much higher salary and a Manager role. In a couple of years. I made it to a Director role of a region which was pretty big; The Growing Economies Region, which covered Central Eastern Europe, CIS and so on in Human Resources.
Rana Nawas: (08:34)
Well, I want to go into this a bit, Rana. As you say, they say women don’t take risks and women don’t push and you know, all of this. What was it that made you think that you could do that job? I mean here you were, an Educator who’d never been a consultant and a major consultancy was telling you “no, you don’t have the skills to be a manager.” What made you think that you actually did?
Rana Salhab: (08:58)
I don’t know. Look, what gives people confidence? Successes; a series of successes. So I was successful in my career in Saudi Arabia. I had feedback, it wasn’t only me, so I presume I felt that I could be successful. The confidence that you have comes out, some of it is innate, but a lot of it is originally from what you get feedback on. And that’s why as leaders and in managerial positions and leadership positions, an organization giving feedback to employees is really, really important because that builds in them the realization that others think I can do it, not only I think I can do it. And I know I had great mentors in my work at the beginning of my career. And so I was 30 at the time, so I wasn’t young. I didn’t feel that I should be put with the junior people in that role. And it just happened, I don’t want to over analyze it.
Rana Nawas: (10:07)
You took on a job that involves long hours and a lot of travel, right? And your husband was doing a similar role. So I’m asking you, as a dual career-er also, how did you guys make it work?
Rana Salhab: (10:21)
I’ll go backwards a little bit. When I first met my husband and he proposed to me, we were young. I mean we were really young at the time and I remember very well…
Rana Nawas: (10:33)
How young? Sorry.
Rana Salhab: (10:35)
I was 20 when I met him, which in hindsight I wasn’t 16, but 20, I mean it’s still young. And he proposed to me and I remember very well, we were sitting at the balcony of my parent’s apartment in Beirut and I told him, “look Assad, before we formalize this and before we decide what to do – because I was still at college and so on, I want to tell you that if we get married and if I have children, I will be doing things for you as my future husband. I will be doing things for my children, but there are always going to be things I will only do for Rana.” And I remember very well that his eyes smiled. Assad has that ability and that’s probably what made me fall in love with him. His eyes smiled, he smiled and he sat up in his chair a little bit and I knew that was a good choice because I think he was even more motivated that this is the woman for me. So I always tell young people these days, women, “the most important career decision you make is choosing your partner in life and your husband.”
Rana Nawas: (11:47)
I say the same thing! Exactly the same thing!
Rana Salhab: (11:51)
Come to your question now, all the way now to when we started to have competing schedules, this was the right man in the first place. He never put his career ahead of my career. So we will have to put our schedules on a colored excel sheet and he’s an engineer and he loves excel sheets. So he would put Rana, when I’ll be there, which month…etc. Then he puts his in another color and literally up till now we do it in outlook. And it’s different now because our daughter is grown and so on. And we used it to compare and see if there is a clash, what are we going to do? Is he going to be able to postpone his meeting or change the date or am I going to be able to? And sometimes both of us couldn’t, so then we asked for help. It could be his mother at the time. My mother traveled to multiple countries. She came to Switzerland when we lived there, she came to Cairo, she came to Saudi when both of us had to leave and we asked them, could you help? And I am personally making sure that at least my organization is giving that flexibility to women and having that dialogue of “how can we have you?” And not only with your career, because it’s to my benefit, it is to my benefit in Deloitte that the person, be it man or woman, is able to manage their life, deliver and help the company grow. And so now we’re putting these inside the policies and the processes.
Rana Nawas: (13:10)
Well, let’s talk a little bit about how corporations can support two career families and for example, what you’ve been doing at Deloitte?
Rana Salhab: (13:17)
Sure. If you look at diversity and inclusion, the problem with corporations is that they were focusing on the diversity element more than the inclusion element. Diversity is saying “we have so many nationalities and we want to make sure these nationalities are all treated equally. We have gender…etc.” Inclusion is over and above doing all the studies, the statistics, the policy and thinking of the culture. Because you can have all the policies in place, all the processes in place but the tick is in the implementation. So when I started working in this field, we were ticking boxes. Every corporation in the world was ticking boxes. Let us have a flexible time policy. Let us allow part-time policy but thinking now that women who take the flexible time and part-time should not be put on the shelf and not assigned to challenging tasks or not promoted and so on. You cannot write that in the policy and you don’t think fighting that at the beginning. So that is the level we’re working at. Now, conscious and unconscious bias, you can policy policize, if there’s a word like, that you treat everybody equally, there should not be harassment, there should not be blah, blah, blah. But you cannot write “there will be no unconscious bias.” Define unconscious bias. So now we’re working on making people aware that in human nature there is unconscious bias. You tend to lean to people who graduate from the same university, come from the same nationality, have had the same experience, played golf or your kids go to the same school. You have an affinity to these people. And that’s all right because these are our social circles. However, if you make decisions based on that, then you are really keeping out or biasing people who are not in that click with you. And their presence in your team is by far more important because they’re not similar to you. So what corporations are doing now and what Deloitte is doing now is that we have a global inclusion and diversity inclusion strategy called “All In.” So that’s strong. And we’re looking at behavioral economics. We’re looking at how people behave and how people are, unconsciously, subconsciously or whatever you want to call it, are making a decision, the outcome of which will be to limit the career of others and specifically of a woman. Now in all that formula, woman do enter the picture, and the three most important traits in success are: aggressiveness, confidence and assertiveness. There’s a Stanford study on that. Women tend to have less of the three than men do. And so these are when you ask men, “why did you promote this man and not this woman?” And sometimes they say that women lack confidence. I have faced this many times, for example, I come to a woman and say, “I’ve assigned you to lead this.” “Thank you, but you know, I’ve never done this before. Will you be there to help me?” Well, if you go to an average man and tell him that they will say, “I’m up for it. I will make you proud. You have made the right decision.” And I know for a fact that their skills are the same, they just portray them differently. And so we’re working on this. We’re working on the unconscious bias. We’re working on letting a woman be aware of this. We’re working on processes. You can have a gender agenda and a gender strategy but what is more powerful is putting gender in the DNA of the organization. So we could be talking about an assignment in Dubai and we think to have a balanced team. It is not about what programs for inclusion we have or diverse ethnic groups, it is in everything we do in recruitment, in promotions, in our day-to-day work, in a meeting saying who would write the minutes? It doesn’t have to be a woman every time and saying, who will do this task? It doesn’t have to be a man every time. And so you bring it in the DNA of the organization. I think this is the new way, if not new then certainly the better way of making a change.
Let’s get practical. How do you enforce that through the ranks and you’re a managing partner, you see this, you’ve got the 30,000 view, you see how important it is, you see the macro-cultural change required. How do you get the manager who needs to enforce this, who says “of, they want half men, half women on my team, there’s only 20% of this level of female employee. How am I going to do that? I need people who are going to work all hours. I need people who aren’t going to give me a headache on the travel.” How do you deal with these situations?
Rana Salhab: (18:15)
There is no one way, one tactic. It’s a family, pot pourri, of tactics. One of the tactics is not the stick, it’s the carrot. It is coming to these leaders and saying “what goals make sense to you?” If you have only 10% in a certain place in the Middle East of women in your team, who am I to come and tell you you’re going to have 25% in two years? What type mandate is this? I come to you and say “how can we put the stretch goal?” And we have gender goals at all levels in businesses in Deloitte Middle East. We have gender goals for PDPs (Partners, Directors and Principals). We have gender goals in hiring, in how many people we hire. We have gender goals in promotions.
Rana Nawas: (19:07)
You call them “gender goals,” not “quotas.”
Rana Salhab: (19:09)
And by the way, we used to use the word “target” but now lawyers are telling us that “targets” should not be used because if you don’t meet them, there could be consequences and so on. So this is for whoever is interested in hearing me: use “goals” don’t use “targets” because lawyers will be upset. So one key driver for making change is to put gender goals at whatever levels make sense. We call them “representation goals.” So women representation in the managerial ranks. Women representation in the leadership. Women representation in the entry level. We’re looking at everybody now, especially the UK, who are looking at the pay gap. We’re looking at the number of years it takes a woman to be promoted to manager versus a man, and we’re measuring that. Typically, it takes women longer because women get promoted generally because of achievements. Men get promoted because of potential. So if you go to the political arena, because I’m active in that as well, in terms of advancing women economic empowerment and so on, for a woman to be able to make it to the Senate or the Parliament or in the Middle East, she has to have 3, 4, or 5 PhD degrees and has to have proven herself. She has to have been awarded 10 awards while suddenly a man appears and he becomes a Minister. And so I was in a conference the other day and somebody from Italy, a very prominent women, said she hopes that she lives to the day that an incompetent woman makes it. And I thought what a crazy thought. But I think she was sending a message that we, women, have to be super at everything to make it to this leadership position. But in any case, one of the tactics that we’re using is goals and then measurement, tracking, reporting and dialogue. Okay. We didn’t reach that goal in that business unit…we have that exact situation this week in Dubai because I had to report to the Executive Committee I am on, and so I had a discussion with the partner in charge of that unit and I didn’t say, “why didn’t you make it?” I said, “how can we better work together because I’m accountable as well for your finger.” And then you filter it down like anything else and you cascade it down and look at where the problem is. Because the problem with gender is that a lot of money and effort is spent on the wrong thing. I’ll give you a quick example. A lot of funding is put in place because the thinking is that women leave the workforce and leave companies when they become pregnant and have children. And we found out that at Deloitte, mostly globally, women and men leave at the same rate at that strata.
Rana Nawas: (22:03)
Really? That’s interesting!
Rana Salhab: (22:04)
And women don’t leave because they get pregnant and have children. It is because it becomes too difficult for them to juggle all the balls. So what do we do? We have to make sure the environment takes into account that they are in a special season in their life so they’re not leaving because of that. Because men are also leaving for other reasons. And we used to spend a lot of time and effort on that specific area. What we found out was that when we hire experienced people, we hire predominantly men. And so what are we finding out? That this is the area to invest in now and not that we’re afraid they are leaving. At the end of the day, they are living at the same rate.
Rana Nawas: (22:40)
And what are the practical tips that you have on making the environment easier for parents who have young children?
Rana Salhab: (22:51)
You start, as always, with policies, but they’re not enough. We now have paternity flexible time, part-time, we’ve introduced sabbaticals and we’ve included purchasing. I mean taking time and purchasing leave. And it’s not money you give the firm, there is a mechanism behind it. So we have a whole family of policies, but the tactic we’re using is talking to the partners and leaders and say, “allow people, men and women to take this and don’t judge them afterwards that they are not loyal enough and they’re not sincere enough.They ask for a sabbatical for over a year and so on. But do not think “oh, I cannot promote this person because she’s going to deliver now and next year she will not be available because you have to not only promote her for what she did, but also for her potential in the long-term, not only in the next year and so on.” These are the types of things. And then we have a family of other types of interventions from awareness to networking and very important for us is mentoring men and women. But we have definitely done a good job in mentoring women at the senior manager level. And we have the mentors be very senior people who are not their bosses.
Rana Nawas: (24:16)
And then also you’re involved with the Lebanese government on gender equality laws and practices. What can governments do to improve gender parity? I mean, let’s talk low hanging fruit and long-term plans.
Rana Salhab: (24:27)
Firstly, you will not believe in the Arab world how many laws discriminate against women in above 13 Arab countries. A woman cannot get a passport without the permission of her husband. So you’re talking about her traveling for her career – it is at the level of traveling, not even traveling for her to career. And you may say, “but there is no law that says she cannot get a passport if she wants to.” The process of getting a passport requires a letter from the husband. In a number of Arab countries, I think five or six, a woman has to take the permission of her husband to be employed, although the preamble to all the laws in the Arab world says “all people of all men and women are treated equally” that’s the preamble, bil destour (in Arabic meaning in the constitution). But when you go to the laws, there is a huge amount of difference. Another macro and really a multiplier effect type of law is around maternity and in allowing childcare. The childcare industry sector needs a tax relief. So we encourage more companies and more people to start a childcare. So not only mandate on companies to have childcare facilities, we can have the entrepreneurs create that but give them relief, give them tax relief, give them incentives, give them special loans. But the move I’m seeing in the Arab region is, at last, very encouraging.
Rana Nawas: (26:01)
Great. That’s a relief. That’s very good news. I’m going to come back to something we talked about earlier, Rana: confidence. Somewhere, I read that you’ve got this massive accolade from the Financial Times, the number one in the world, a hero, and then you felt a bit strange after it. I think you put it in words which I’m going to summarize as you had the “imposter syndrome.” So can we talk about that for a little bit? Obviously, the imposter syndrome is when women work very hard and then once they get recognized, they feel that they suddenly have to prove the basis on which they were recognized. Why does that happen to successful women at the highest levels all over the world? And why did it happen to you and what have you done with it?
Rana Salhab: (26:49)
I think it could happen to men and women, but it happens more frequently to women even when they sit at the leadership table, they feel like they are lucky. Ask many women, why did you reach here? They start with the words “I’m lucky.” Of course luck plays in it. You are lucky to have been born to that family who gave you opportunities, who had the means to give you the opportunity to get educated and so on. So there is an element of luck being born at this certain time and place. But there is effort. I don’t know why women feel it more. It has to be based on our upbringing. It has to be based on that. So many women did not get to leadership positions. You and I are a few so we must be lucky. Something must have happened around the way.The others worked as hard, so there is an element of luck. Men, on average, don’t feel that they got there because they’re lucky, instead they look at everything they’ve done. I think it’s because of how we’re treated from our youth until now. It’s how we’re judged; when we are assertive we are called bad words. When we are strong, in Arabic “ekth erjeyl” which means “the sister of men,” in a not such a nice way. So you get to feel that, despite all of this, when you go and get something, you think maybe they made a mistake, I don’t know how it happened.
Rana Nawas: (28:24)
Yeah. We always use this”I slipped through the net.” What tips do you have for men and women who are feeling that right now?
Rana Salhab: (28:31)
Don’t fight the feeling, just leave it and move on. It’s like guilt. It’s like guilt with woman; the best advice I got from a woman, who I considered my mentor for life early in my career, when I had my daughter she said “Rana, you’re going to feel guilty now. Don’t fight it because it will never go away. You’ll feel guilty if you leave work to be with your daughter. You will feel guilty if you are with your daughter and not looking at the time, for email and social media.” And to be honest, now I recognize this devil “guilt”, this animal. I always feel guilty and I think women do, all the time. They’re made to feel guilty. My mother, who passed away a couple of years ago, used to say “Assad (my husband), still traveling? Poor guy. He’s sacrificing so much, getting so tired.” And when I travel, she says “Rana, how can you leave your daughter and travel?’ That was my own mother. So if you tell me how do I not feel guilty, how did I not feel the feeling of “Oh My God, imposter,” look at where it started. I don’t blame my mother for it. It is the action of expectations of women. We’re expected to do other things than be successful career woman, especially at my generation.
Rana Nawas: (29:50)
Yeah. Well thankfully, it is changing. I’m going to end with a rapid fire round of personal questions, if that’s okay. What is a question you wish people would ask you more often?
Rana Salhab: (30:04)
I wish people would ask me about my expertise more often and not about being a woman and how I succeeded and so on. People interview a lot of women, regardless of the context of this meet, this call, they interview women and the first question that comes to their mind is “how are you balancing family?” Men are not asked “how are you balancing fatherhood?” I want women to be interviewed as lawyers, engineers, professionals, data scientists. And we asked about what will happen to the Middle East in the next five years in data science? They don’t, even if the interview is on data science, they ask them, tell me about yourself. How do you balance your career as a woman? Did you find any difficulties? So a few years back, I know you want a drop it story, but there was a project in Lebanon that was very good. They produced a booklet of women in certain professions and gave it to all TV stations and newspapers and said, “if you want a woman, an expert on this field, this is the list and so on and so forth.” And I hope when they do interview them, if they do interview them, they ask them about their expertise.
Rana Nawas: (31:13)
What is the biggest challenge that you’ve ever faced? Personal or professional?
Rana Salhab: (31:17)
You know, I cannot really answer that question because I cannot think of one big challenge and that’s it. I had a series of challenges and then when you just move through them, they pass. People want a magic answer, sometimes, of something big that must have happened that pushed me over the cliff and then move on from that. And I honestly cannot remember one that was in itself so significant that it lasted forever.
Rana Nawas: (31:54)
And that’s consistent with what you said earlier about success being a series of small decisions and I really love that. And that’s my big takeaway from today; is that success isn’t built on one big action or one big deal. It’s the small choices you make along the way.
Rana Salhab: (32:11)
It is. That’s my belief and that should be a relief to young people because it’s not like everything is momentous. There are some momentous decisions on leaving college or not leaving college or on doing some big things. But even that, it’s just decision after decision. I would tell them, make decisions so you have more choices later on. Do not make short decisions that have long-term impact.
Rana Nawas: (32:42)
That’s a perfect place to end. Rana, Thank you so much. Where can listeners find you?
Rana Salhab: (32:47)
Thank you. Where could they find me? Somewhere on a plane! And I’m happy to be contacted on Linkedin at any time as well.
Rana Nawas: (32:55)
Lovely. Thank you so much for your time.
Rana Salhab: (32:57)
Thank you Rana. Thank you for your pioneering work.
Rana Nawas: (33:00)
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