The When Women Win Podcast has featured over 40 boss ladies and we’ve covered everything about them and their lives. In this episode, however, we are going to do something different.
I’ve asked someone very special to take over the podcast: Hala Gorani. Hala needs no introduction – she is the legendary anchor on CNN, where she has her own nightly news show, Hala Gorani Tonight.
She was also the final guest on Season 1 of When Women Win.
And on this episode, Hala will be interviewing… ME.
A little about me in the third person: Rana Nawas is a keynote speaker, strategic advisor and host of the very podcast you’re listening to. She left the corporate world after 17 years to pursue her passion of helping women shine.
I hope you enjoy this episode, and I look forward to seeing all of you in 2019!
Read the Transcript
Rana Nawas: (00:01)
I know what you’re thinking; why is everything different? Why didn’t the title include a guest’s name? What’s going on? First, a deep breath. I’m actually on Christmas vacation with my family. As you’re listening to this pre-recorded episode, I’m on a comfy chair, binge listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History,” eating another mince pie. Today is an all new episode with a twist. On When Women Win, I’ve sat down with over 40 boss ladies, finding out everything about them and their lives. But today I’ve asked someone very special to take over the podcast; Hala Gorani. Hala needs no introduction. She’s the legendary anchor on CNN, where she has her own nightly news show, Hala Gorani Tonight. She was also the final guest on Season One of When Women Win. And today Hala will interview me. So sit back, relax, and let’s get into it.
Hala Gorani: (01:11)
Good morning, you’re in my kitchen in London.
Rana Nawas: (01:13)
This is fabulous. Thanks, Hala!
Hala Gorani: (01:14)
Why did you want to be interviewed on your podcast?
Rana Nawas: (01:19)
Two reasons: listeners have asked for it and also guests. So when I contact the guests to come on the show, typically they don’t know me and they don’t know anything about me. So they ask for this.
Hala Gorani: (01:30)
And what’s the most important thing that your guests need to know about you before they come on your show?
Rana Nawas: (01:38)
There’s lots of aspects to me, but if I had to point one out, I would say my positivity, you know, this is about the show and me. It’s all about giving a platform to amazing women and about helping other women achieve. It is about inspiring and educating. So it comes from a very positive and optimistic place; that we can make a difference and that we should. So, that’s where I’m coming from, that’s where the podcast is coming from and that’s what I’d like guests to know before they come on.
Hala Gorani: (02:07)
The podcast is When Women Win.
Rana Nawas: (02:08)
Hala Gorani: (02:09)
So when do women win? When they’ve done what or achieved what?
Rana Nawas: (02:15)
It’s different for every woman. Obviously, success is very subjective and it means something different to every woman. Every woman has a different definition of success and that’s totally fine.
Hala Gorani: (02:26)
Is success achieving something that can be measured in numbers? Is it something that can be measured in how happy or joyful you are? Is it something intangible? Is it fleeting? What is it? I just, I wonder because I ask myself that question. When do you say to yourself “I’ve achieved a certain degree of success and I can be happy with myself for it?”
Rana Nawas: (02:51)
I think again, everyone is different.
Hala Gorani: (02:52)
Rana Nawas: (02:54)
For me, I could sit back right now and say I’ve achieved it because I’m doing what I love and I’m content with life. But a lot of that really comes from contentment and being satisfied with what you already have. So I think someone’s own version of success is, well, how quickly can you convince yourself that you’re blessed? You know, if we’re happy with what we have, then we’re already successful. So to me, when I look at other women, you know, winning or succeeding, are you doing what you love? Are you good at it? Are other people learning from it and gaining from it? To me, that’s someone who is successful.
Hala Gorani: (03:34)
What are your current projects? You have the podcast, you also have other plans for the future. You have these big successful conferences.I was a speaker or a moderator at one of them in Dubai. How do those fit into what we’re now calling, you know, achievement or success, for you?
Rana Nawas: (03:56)
If I go back to talking about doing what we love…so for me, I stumbled across a passion a few years ago which is advocating for women and supporting women in the workplace specifically because that was my environment. So I really, really care about helping women stay, not only stay in the workforce, but be happy in the workforce and being able to achieve. And so a lot of that is, for example, trying to level the playing field between men and women, helping women build their confidence and helping them with skills. If I had to summarize my key findings in this arena, I would say, if you want us to rise in the corporate world or if you want to be a happy working woman, there are two things you need: you need role models and you need networks. And so when I sort of crystallize that, everything I do now is about giving women access to role models and networks. So When Women Win is about highlighting amazing role models, like yourself, and giving women all over the world access to people like you to inspire them, to educate them, to teach them a new skill or to broaden their horizons in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Hala Gorani: (05:13)
But you didn’t start out as a solo female entrepreneur. You had a big shark corporate job for a long time. So you’re an Oxford University graduate, you then worked for Mckenzie in London and then you were at General Electric for I believe, about 13 years. And then you just left all that behind and decided to be your own boss. Right? Why did you do that? It’s a huge risk.
Rana Nawas: (05:41)
Yeah, it is. I think I was ready. So, for me it was a natural next step. I had been in the corporate world for 17 years. I had thrived and I had grown. I learned a lot and then in the last few years, my eyes were really opened to what other women were experiencing in the corporate world, in the business world. They were having very different experiences than I was having. And so I realized, for example, a mistake that I’ve made, which was judging other women by my own experience. Just because I never had a boss who rolled his eyes at me for asking if I could go to a women’s network event, didn’t mean it wasn’t happening. In fact, this kind of stuff was happening all the time. You know, women were routinely passive aggressive or even just outright aggressively discriminated against by bosses and by managers.
Hala Gorani: (06:32)
And you’ve never experienced that yourself?
Rana Nawas: (06:35)
I wouldn’t say it was gender based. That was the difference. It’s not that I..
Hala Gorani: (06:39)
How do you know?
Rana Nawas: (06:39)
Well, it could have been. I just never felt it, right? But just seeing it in others, it was so clear and therefore I really grew and changed and became a big advocate for women at GE and things like our maternity policy changed. It was 45 days when I took over the GE women’s network. One of the first things I did was get it pushed up to six months, three months full pay and up to three months unpaid. You know, I went out and benchmarked other multinationals in Dubai, what were they doing? And so that was a hard win. Now we need a pumping room on the facility where we have a lot of women. So, it was really an education for me, an eye opener, that women were having a very different experience. They were routinely being judged, discriminated against, especially mothers. I mean, life becomes much more difficult when you have children in the corporate world.
Hala Gorani: (07:33)
If you’re a woman.
Rana Nawas: (07:35)
If you’re a woman, yes, quite right. So in fact, there’s something that’s very interesting. There’s the motherhood penalty, so you start earning less and you start to not get the juicy assignments and all of that. When a man becomes apparent, there’s the fatherhood bonus because they’re viewed as more committed, not less committed to the job.
Hala Gorani: (07:56)
Because they have a family to support…
Rana Nawas: (07:57)
Hala Gorani: (07:58)
But is that across the board? I mean, I am not a mom, so I haven’t certainly directly experienced that, but I see a lot of women in my industry, on my network, who were promoted while on maternity leave and people actually highlighted that. So perhaps, maybe there’s a change in culture; there’s a bit of a shift here and there? And #MeToo might have something to do with it, a bit.
Rana Nawas: (08:20)
Yeah, I definitely think things are changing and they’re moving in the right direction, but we really have a long way to go. And I say that…you know, I was for years in corporate before I became a mom. And so the change was just so stark and so obvious to me and I’m married to a very progressive guy, you know, who fully supports my career and you know, is very committed to the family. But at the end of the day, the burden resides with the mom and really we have to change this. You can’t have gender parity in the workplace until you have gender parity at home and right now, society, all society, it’s not just any one particular place, we’re so far from that.
Hala Gorani: (09:08)
Yeah, certainly. And in different parts of the world, it’s more obvious than others. But I’m wondering…
Rana Nawas: (09:16)
In England, you know, if you don’t have reliable daycare, I have so many friends, women, who have amazing educations and had great careers and can’t afford childcare. So what do they do? The woman steps out of the workforce to care for the kids because they can’t afford childcare.
Hala Gorani: (09:34)
And this, you say, you can’t have gender parity in the workplace unless you have it at home, but it starts much earlier than that. Doesn’t it? It starts with little girls.
Rana Nawas: (09:45)
At the age of seven. We all, boys and girls, have this view of what girls do and what boys do, what men do, and what women do. So that’s a very tender age – five to seven.
Hala Gorani: (09:56)
And how has that been reinforced, in other words, what needs to change?
Rana Nawas: (09:59)
Right. So the most important thing is, they say, seeing dad in the kitchen, right? So kids need to see their dad involved in household chores, whether it’s cooking, cleaning, it doesn’t matter, but they have to break this thing that the household is the mom’s domain. You know, of course, role models matter. Again, life is all about role models and networks. So for example, if your mom doesn’t work, you know a woman who works or your doctor, for example, me and my kids, their pediatrician is a woman. So in my kids’ world, my two sons, they only know female doctors, which is pretty unusual, right? So what happens at home is really important. The things we say, the stories we read are really important. And you know, for example, there are books now, there’s a lot of research done in a lot of new books released that are not like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella, all these beautiful women who fell asleep and had to be kissed and rescued by a charming prince, you know, that’s nonsense in today’s world. So lots of new books out.
Hala Gorani: (11:09)
But as a kid, as a little girl, those were the stories I was reading. So I think that many, most or maybe all, even little girls, are raised with this expectation, not expectation, but you’re raised thinking that the gender roles are of the dominant rescuer figure and then the kind of weaker in need of assistance. It takes a long time to break free of that.
Rana Nawas: (11:43)
It does. And it shouldn’t, right? So, of course it takes a long time to undo damage. So let’s try and prevent the damage to begin with. And the words we use and the things we say are really, really important, with our kids.
Hala Gorani: (11:59)
So you have two sons though. You don’t have a daughter. How old are they and how are you kind of making sure they grow up with a different mindset?
Rana Nawas: (12:09)
They’re one and a half and three and a half and I’m very, very aware about the language we use. For example, if my son says, if we see a police car, you know, he loves police cars, “where’s the policeman?” And I’m like: “well how do you know it’s not a policewoman?” So I’m very aware. Or when I’m reading books, for example, Thomas the Tank Engine, everyone thinks it’s this innocuous thing, right? And I would read this, of course I have the gender parity lens, and it’s just shocking. So I stopped reading those books. So we have to be very deliberate about the language we use and when he says something like, “oh pink is for girls,” you know, you can’t just let comments like that slide. So to get back to your question of what can we do as parents, we need to be very aware of stereotypes – in any time they float stereotype language, we need to nip it in the butt because again, by the age of seven, these stereotypes are formed.
Hala Gorani: (13:07)
So, your eldest is three and a half, so you’ve had been there for him, he speaks in full sentences, presumably. So you’ve had an opportunity to measure and to monitor any kind of progress with regards to how he sees the world. When he says “pink as a color is for girls” or “where’s the policeman?” Have you noticed a change in the little bit of time you’ve had to kind of try to reprogram that view of the world?
Rana Nawas: (13:34)
Yeah, I did not reprogram…he’s not yet programmed. So, I think, I hope it’ll be a while before…
Hala Gorani: (13:41)
Well, if he says policeman, he’s seen or heard that somewhere, if that’s his first instinct…
Rana Nawas: (13:44)
You know what it is?
Hala Gorani: (13:45)
What is it?
Rana Nawas: (13:46)
Youtube and the stuff that kids watch. So, this is where they see more policemen than policewoman, but if you go, for example, walking around in London, he’ll see policewomen in real life. He knows that.
Hala Gorani: (13:58)
But to be fair, there are more men police officers.
Rana Nawas: (14:00)
Right. Right. Which is why we have to be deliberate. So there’s definitely way more male doctors and female doctors, but again, in my son’s world, he only knows female doctors.
Hala Gorani: (14:09)
And there are way more male world leaders than female world leaders, where it seems that there’s only just a handful still to this day and CEOs in fortune 500 CEOs. I think there are more men named John than female CEOs of fortune 500 companies which tells you something and we’re in 2018. But your kids… But you also live in the Middle East, right? So what are the particular challenges of living in that part of the world, do you think, for gender parity, for female empowerment and those types of things?
Rana Nawas: (14:41)
We live in a bubble. Dubai is a bubble. Okay. So Dubai is very different. I mean you’ll know from your visits to the Middle East, Dubai, the UAE, it’s a very different place than the rest of the Middle East. I mean you cannot compare the UAE to Yemen for example, on gender parity or any other place. So the UAE government is very intentional and purposeful about thrusting women forward. They’ve got so many female ministers, they really, I mean they really encourage women in business. It’s a very, very progressive place. I mean they have way more maternity leave for example, which is something that exists in the UAE that doesn’t exist in the US.
Hala Gorani: (15:17)
How much does the UAE give?
Rana Nawas: (15:18)
It depends on whether you are a UAE national or not. But the government employees get three months I think, paid. And private sector is 45 days but they’re talking about increasing that and I really hope they will because I mean, that does not gel with all of the other stuff, the great stuff they’re doing to keep women in the workplace. So hopefully they’ll fix that. And it’s a big one. It’s a big point because changing maternity policy is a quick fix. It’s actually also really important. It’s not just a quick win of little value, it’s a quick win that can have tremendous value.
Hala Gorani: (15:58)
And how does it impact the functioning of the business? Because I think maybe some bosses, male bosses I’m guessing, would say, well if I give this woman three months paid and the option to take three months unpaid, that’s productivity I’m losing.
Rana Nawas: (16:13)
Yeah, it is. What to do? You know, suck it up. We have to have children, like does your wife not have children? Who’s looking after your kids? You know, and it’s important. What I like about what you just said is that it also flags the need for paternity leave. So I’m a big advocate, actually, for parental leave because men also want to spend time with their children, especially after they’re born and they should have that right. When we talk about gender parity at home, I’m not just talking about, you know, men doing dishes. Men want to have the right and even the permission to spend time with their young kids, you know. And it’s funny, I was just talking to a friend of mine who works in Germany and he had two children – their age ten and six – and he was working in Germany at the time and his German bosses, he worked for two different companies that had paternity leave policy and both times his different bosses told him “you could take it, but it might give the wrong message about your commitment to your job.”
Hala Gorani: (17:21)
Right. Women hear that a lot, don’t they? So for a change, a man is there.
Rana Nawas: (17:24)
Yeah, exactly. So now he’s this big advocate for parental leave and supporting women in the workplace because he felt it. He was at the end of that. Right. So, I think we really should look at workplaces being more parent friendly because the focus has been on women, as it rightly should, because they bare the brunt of the kids and the home and all of that…
Hala Gorani: (17:49)
Also they are needed with their new born.
Rana Nawas: (17:49)
They are needed and physically, they are way more tired and less able to go straight back to work. Right. So it’s totally understandable why the focus has been on women, but now you know, men are more and more aware and much more assertive about their rights to be involved at home and they want to spend time with the kids. So I think the corporate world is going to have to catch up with that and restructure in a way that’s better for men and women.
Hala Gorani: (18:17)
But what’s interesting is in the UK you have pretty generous maternity leave, but leave for fathers, new fathers, is only two weeks, for instance. And some men I know have said this is too short, it is basically you blink and it’s gone with a newborn.
Rana Nawas: (18:33)
Certainly, it is too short. And there was a Peterson Institute study that came out, it was a huge study, 22,000 companies I think in 91 countries, and what they found was that women rose to the top in places that had the most generous paternity leave. Okay. So it’s places that encourage, that create this environment for men to be more involved at home. And those are places women can thrive too. So this is really about men and women thriving together and we need to stop looking at it as just a woman thing. Women are very important for the reasons we talked about. There’s also the physical strain and really fundamentally more burden on the women. But we need to really look at redesigning the way we work to be better for parents.
Hala Gorani: (19:25)
We talked about the Middle East as the place you live, but it’s also where you’re originally from. Your’re half Palestinian and half Lebanese. So from the Levant, not from the Gulf. Has that in any way had an impact on, I don’t know… How has that impacted you, you think, in how you see the world and your work ethic and how you want to raise your boys?
Rana Nawas: (19:49)
There are definitely societal norms and expectations, but fundamentally it comes back to parents and who your parents were and how they raised you. So my father and my mother always told us, you can be anything you want. My dad always told me and my sister that “you are my sons, like I don’t understand why Arab men want sons. You are incredible. You are like, man, you are so powerful. You are so smart.” He always instilled it in us. So growing up, we were very confident and we truly believed that we could achieve anything any man could achieve. So I believe, yes, there’s definitely societal norms, but parenting is so key and our parents were just hugely supportive and basically oblivious to the norms around them.
Hala Gorani: (20:42)
Which is quite rare, right? I mean I think in the Middle East to have a father say to his daughters, you know, why would you want sons? You can achieve anything a man can achieve…So, that’s interesting coming from that background.
Rana Nawas: (20:58)
And with my father, it was deeply personal because he was an OBGYN; gynecologist obstetrician. And so he had a lot of patience, and he had two daughters obviously and thought the world of us. And so he would be so upset and heartbroken and angry when he would deliver a lady and the husband would come into the delivery room to find out if it were a boy or girl, then the husband would find out it was a girl and be so angry and storm out. That would devastate my father because he would be like: “I just don’t understand why these people want sons. Daughters are so special.”
Hala Gorani: (21:33)
Well, it’s what society values and tells you should be valued and I think, that is not so unusual and not just in the Middle East, in many parts of the world, I think, there is a desire for more sons than daughters. What would you want this podcast to achieve? I mean, I know that you’re going to say, “well, I want to empower women and open networks and things like that.” But fundamentally, what role do you want it to play? It’s by the way featured on the Middle East iTunes page, it’s a highly recommended podcasts. So congratulations.
Rana Nawas: (22:09)
Hala Gorani: (22:10)
What would you like it to achieve?
Rana Nawas: (22:13)
Well, I’ll go back to the reason I started the podcast, which is when I realized that women, maybe two levels below me in GE weren’t having the same opportunities to interact with incredible women and role models. So me as a) heading the GE Women’s Network and then b) also becoming President of Elevate Dubai, which is how we met and those conferences you were talking about earlier, I get to interact with amazing women on a regular basis and those conversations are so enriching and so inspiring to me. They must be valuable to other women. I mean, I’m not special, right? So if I find these conversations incredibly enriching and educational, other women would too. So when I realized that, you know, women even just two levels down or women everywhere all over the world might not have access to these incredible role models that I’m meeting. And that really drove me to create this podcast. It’s about highlighting role models to give women everywhere access to insights, access to education, access to inspiration. So that’s my hope for the podcast, is to reach millions of women, who speak English anywhere on the planet.
Hala Gorani: (23:25)
Have you ever received feedback from listeners and if so, what kind of feedback?
Rana Nawas: (23:28)
Yeah, so the feedback has been great, which has obviously led to Apple featuring When Women Win and what they love…I mean, everybody’s different. Here’s the great thing, right? You say, do you get feedback? I do, and a lot of it is conflicting. So the one common thread from the feedback is that they like the diversity. So every guest is different and you know, it’s not women from one industry, it’s not women from one function, it’s just a diverse field of awesome women and this diversity appeals to the listeners. Now, some listeners would like some more international women, some listeners want more regional women. So again, I just keep it diverse.
Hala Gorani: (24:09)
But have you heard from someone who said something…
Rana Nawas: (24:15)
I get direct messages on Instagram and Linkedin all the time from women saying, “thank you so much. I really gained a lot. I found that so inspiring.” The word they tend to use is “inspiring.” But when I really drill down and I push women to what is it that they really like, they say it’s the practical tips. “We love practical tips.” So that’s what I try to drive every guest towards, and before I get a guest on, I think “what practical tips can you share?”
Hala Gorani: (24:43)
So I’m going to ask you that then. Well, I’m going to break it down for you. A woman starting out in a corporate job. Give her a practical tip.
Rana Nawas: (24:56)
Okay. Networking is key. Speaking up in meetings is key. These things, you know, having role models is key. Getting a sponsor, not just a mentor – you need a mentor for sure – but you also need a sponsor.
Hala Gorani: (25:12)
Talk to me about the sponsor because I find that interesting.
Rana Nawas: (25:15)
Okay. So people are very familiar with what a mentor is – someone who is sort of a bit down the road and who guides you, guides your way. A sponsor is someone who take a chance on you and advocates for you.
Hala Gorani: (25:26)
How do you find that person?
Rana Nawas: (25:27)
It’s a very, it’s a very…that is the secret. This is the secret sauce that every corporation is trying to crack. So it has to be an organic relationship that will hopefully grow up. Maybe your sponsor will be your manager, maybe it’ll be your mentor, if it’s different. It could be anyone and it has to come organically. That’s why networking is so important. You have to build relationships. By the way, that’s all networking is, it’s building relationships and so these are the things that I think a corporate woman starting out should focus on and I mean I’ve created videos on my website, if you like, on tips on how to go about networking or on how to be…
Hala Gorani: (26:06)
What’s your website?
Rana Nawas: (26:07)
Hala Gorani: (26:08)
Rana Nawas: (26:10)
And you know, it’s a learned skill. You know, people will say, “well I’m an introvert and I am this and I am too junior.” No, it’s a learned skill and it just comes with practice.
Hala Gorani: (26:21)
I can tell you that’s not something I’ve ever liked doing.
Rana Nawas: (26:24)
No. People don’t like it, but you know how that, I mean, I’m sure you have stories on how it’s helped you grow and we all do.
Hala Gorani: (26:30)
Yeah. But not as much as I think I should have. I have not used that strategy as much as I should have. When I see other younger women in my industry who are clever enough to find that patron, that sponsor, early on in their career, and I did not have that…
Rana Nawas: (26:46)
No one gave you that advice?
Hala Gorani: (26:50)
No, I just don’t…I really honestly don’t think it’s something that I enjoy doing as much as I should and I guess I kind of didn’t do it. But anyway, this is not about me. It’s about you. So that’s the advice for the junior starting out in her career. How about the mid-career crisis? Because we all have one, a female employee stuck, didn’t progress as far as I thought I would, not making as much money as I thought I would, I don’t have the passion for this in the way that I thought I would. Practical advice?
Rana Nawas: (27:30)
Well, everything I talked about for junior women is still important later in life, even more important to your networks. And you know, you’ve got to be part of professional networks. And by the way, networks aren’t just professional. Do you have your personal network? Do you have people around you, friends and family to support you in those decisions that you need to make? I think that a very different set of circumstances hits you mid- career. So for example, do you want kids or not, right? Because then the choices have to be made and not that you’d sacrifice your career, certainly not, but you need certain things in place, like a support network to help you get through that. And I always tell women, if you want kids and a career then the man you marry is the most important career choice you’ll ever make. So you need to be with someone who is supportive of your career and who will, again, be supportive at home.
Hala Gorani: (28:29)
Yeah. But for that then yes, it can be someone who’s traveling. I mean you have to make difficult choices because the reality is when you have small children, someone needs to take care of them. So there’s no way you’re spending 14 hours at work every day, both of you, you know, even if you have the money for a nanny, why are you having the kid if the nanny is raising the kids? So there are choices that need to be made and I totally agree with you. The man you marry is the most important career choice, not just career choice, but certainly one of them.
Rana Nawas: (29:01)
It’s very relevant. Yes, exactly. I think also you have to become very…another tip is to become brutal with your time management. I think you can’t do that early on in your career. You have to say yes to everything and you have to prove yourself. You have to build your credibility. You know you’re not just going to get a sponsor because you want one. You’re going to get a sponsor when you demonstrate that you’re good at your job and that you’re someone worth supporting. Okay? So another tip to young women is you have to put in the hours. Like, this isn’t just going to come because you want it to happen and you’re passionate about it. You know, you need to put in the work. Now later, 10-15 years in your mid-career and you’ve done all that and you’ve built your credibility, then you can start to push, right? So for me, what I found, because I’ve been with GE a long time and I was 15 years corporate when I had my first kid, I got to push, I got to set my agenda a bit and I got to say no to things, right? And that comes with credibility and it comes with confidence, which really only comes later as you have more and more experience. You just can’t rush that unfortunately. But one thing I would say, when you become a career, you need to start saying no and you need to be brutal about your time management.
Hala Gorani: (30:19)
It’s hard to say no.
Rana Nawas: (30:21)
It is. Always.
Hala Gorani: (30:25)
But you have to remember… Because it’s not unusual for people to question your dedication. All the extra hours are easily forgotten the first time you say no, right? Because then it’s, oh, well, yeah, “how committed are you?”
Rana Nawas: (30:42)
And that is a tone that we need to change in corporations, right? Because that question should be asked of men and women and that shouldn’t just be asked of parents, right? So that’s the tone we need to change. But I’m not only talking about brutal time at work. I also mean in your personal life. So basically, time becomes your most precious commodity, way more precious than money, right? At some point in mid-career…we’re talking obviously about people in a corporate setting.
Hala Gorani: (31:09)
I mean, I believe frankly, that some people would forego raises for more time off.
Rana Nawas: (31:15)
I’ve actually said that. I said that at one of my jobs, you know. I said, “look, okay, fine. You don’t want to pay me more? That’s fine with us. No problem. I’d much rather that, you know, than a promotion.”
Hala Gorani: (31:26)
You’ve said that to your boss? That’s awesome. And what was the response?
Rana Nawas: (31:29)
Nothing. I mean, nothing happened. Shocker. Neither a raise nor extra time off. So I quit. I think in terms of time management, there’s one hack that really everybody should implement right now, as you’re listening to this podcast: click off all your notifications. Switch off all your notifications, your WhatsApp, your e-mail, everything except phone and you will be amazed at the impact it has on your lifestyle, you know, just not getting a buzz every time I get a message or an email or whatever.
Hala Gorani: (32:09)
That’s very disruptive. Switch off all your notifications. Yes. And also, you can delete apps when you’re on vacation or delete apps altogether from your phone, whether it’s Facebook or a Twitter or the rest of it. If you don’t need it for your job, you don’t really need it on your phone during the workday.
Rana Nawas: (32:25)
Yeah. And a big time saver for me as a working mom is meal planning. So I plan all my meals in advance. I do the shopping, I try to online shop as much as possible. The mission is to eliminate any emergency, right? That’s the mission. We don’t want any surprises. I don’t want any emergencies, you know. And then of course you need friends and family who, if there is a crisis, can go and help out.
Hala Gorani: (32:52)
And that’s one of the difficult things for scattered families. You’re in the Middle East and you’re from that part of the world, but so many Middle Eastern families are scattered – the parents live in one country and the sister lives in another and it’s always difficult. You don’t have those close knit networks that are such a wonderful part of Middle Eastern culture oftentimes.
Rana Nawas: (33:12)
In the Gulf… you’re absolutely right. But a lot of people in the Gulf are expats and whether they’re Arab expats or not, they’re still expats far away from their parents and their cousins and their siblings. And so this is a real issue.
Hala Gorani: (33:28)
I have one piece of advice for someone looking for a sponsor and as someone who’s become a source of guidance, I don’t think anyone’s patron per se, but it’s very flattering to be asked for advice. It’s just a natural human instinct to want to help someone who asks you for your wisdom, right? If an intern, especially when they are clever and they know a thing or two about writing, so they’re already on their way somewhat. If they asked me to review a script of theirs, I’m always very happy to do it. My piece of advice to anyone listening who’s starting out would be, whatever your job is, whether you’re a lawyer or you’re working in accounting, whatever, you put together something and then you go to the superior or you go to someone who’s got a certain amount of power in the company and you say, can you please help me improve this? It works because it helps the junior partner and it helps the senior person because when you read a junior person’s script, in my case, it reminds you of the basics of your job, which is something that you don’t do anymore because when you’ve reached a certain level of seniority, everything is an automatic reflex.
Rana Nawas: (34:49)
So my frontier is world domination of When Women Win. That’s as far as I can see right now. I really want to impact the lives of millions of women and the feedback has told me that women always…
Hala Gorani: (35:02)
So it’s still the podcast?
Rana Nawas: (35:03)
The podcast…I’m not looking for…I think it’s an ambitious enough goal that I want to reach millions of women all over the world.
Hala Gorani: (35:15)
So you would format it or is it just conversations with one woman at a time? Would you consider other changes?
Rana Nawas: (35:24)
Sure. I’m open to innovation and change and all of that for sure. I think we’ll see how it goes. I am sourcing feedback all the time to find out a better connect and better communication. I’m going to start a Youtube channel down the line and hopefully even further down the line develop some Arabic content. So, there’s lots of things we can do with the platform.
Hala Gorani: (35:52)
What is your biggest challenge right now? Because you’ve had some health issues?
Rana Nawas: (35:57)
Yeah. You know, my biggest challenge right now is not my health. It’s more, if we talk about the podcast, there’s two things about the podcast: there’s creating the content and there’s promoting it. So one challenge is that in the Middle East, people aren’t yet used to listening to podcasts. It’s not a thing, it’s not a culture like it is in the Western world. So there’s a lot of education around what a podcast is and how you can fit it into your life. People say “I don’t have time.” Well actually if you have a commute then you have time. If you are at the gym…
Hala Gorani: (36:32)
That’s where they’re so popular…
Rana Nawas: (36:34)
That’s why they’re popular because it’s a side activity.
Hala Gorani: (36:38)
So the challenge being promoting and changing the listening culture of people…
Rana Nawas: (36:44)
Get people to consume podcasts is a big step…
Hala Gorani: (36:47)
…because they are the hottest thing now in the US and Europe as well. I mean CNN shows are put on, mine isn’t, but there’s this new show, it would date very quickly, but shows that are not necessarily news shows would just be a wholesale. They would just put the whole talk show on a podcast and people who don’t watch TV, which is more and more people, unfortunately for us, they have an opportunity to download the whole program and listen to it in their car, on the tube in the subway or walking through the park. So that’s a good thing. So I’m going to ask you a few personal questions. Is that okay?
Rana Nawas: (37:29)
Hala Gorani: (37:29)
What is the biggest love of your life?
Rana Nawas: (37:32)
All my life… It’s got to be my kids. Sorry for the cliche.
Hala Gorani: (37:36)
Well, no, I wasn’t expecting you to say pizza.
Rana Nawas: (37:37)
My kids and then chocolate!
Hala Gorani: (37:42)
But of course. But the career, I mean obviously fits into that. That’s one of your biggest passions as well. Clearly it’s huge.
Rana Nawas: (37:50)
It really is. It’s huge and I think for women who want to leave the corporate world and do something entrepreneurial and this is cultural entrepreneurship, don’t do it unless it’s something you’re super excited about and don’t do – and I don’t want to be so UNCLEAR and say “don’t do anything unless you’re really passionate about it” because that’s not real world.
Hala Gorani: (38:10)
Well, you know, there is a routine on a daily slog and we all have to go.
Rana Nawas: (38:13)
It’s real world, right? We have bills to pay and you have to take jobs that you don’t necessarily like, and that’s part of life and that’s okay. Once you’re in a position where you know, you’re fortunate enough and sometimes even if you’re not fortunate enough to take the plunge, then it’s got to be something that you’re really passionate about because right now, the way I feel, I mean, I work very hard on this podcast – the way I prep for each interviewee, the way I select them, the way you know, everything, nothing has happened by accident. It’s a lot of hard work and yet it doesn’t feel like work. And again, I’m sorry, it sounds cliche, but I love what I’m doing. And so when I’m working, it really doesn’t feel like work…
Hala Gorani: (38:53)
…and you’re very fortunate. For a lot of people that’s…
Rana Nawas: (38:57)
Very, very. And I’d love more people to get there.
Hala Gorani: (39:00)
Do you have a favorite book?
Rana Nawas: (39:04)
I have many. I’m a big reader, always have been. I think I really like “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell – I am a big Malcolm Gladwell fan. I like his podcast too. His book “Outliers” in particular, how ironic,stood out for me. It’s very, I don’t know, I would say empowering because it shows you that awesomeness isn’t accidental. Like there’s a confluence of factors that feed every incredible story, you know. It’s not like, “oh that person was so awesome that they achieved.” No, there was circumstances, a circumstance be so… you know, there’s no such thing as a self-made person. No, there’s no such thing as a self-made man or a self-made woman. It is always a confluence of factors and the whole 10,000 hours to perfection thing. So I really enjoyed that book. Another book that I read that’s really given me a lot of perspective is “Sapiens,” which is history of Homo sapiens, if you’d like a very short history. It shows you just how our species has come about and that really gives you perspective on life, on how long we’re here, on how relevant we are in the big scheme of things and it really kind of helps take the fizz…
Hala Gorani: (40:17)
Perspective is always good. We are all here for five minutes. What is your dream guest? Just given me one.
Rana Nawas: (40:25)
Oh my God.
Hala Gorani: (40:26)
You can only have one guest, guaranteed, I’ll book her for you. Who is she?
Rana Nawas: (40:31)
J.K. Rowling. Yeah, she’d be my man – as they say.
Hala Gorani: (40:38)
That’s a good one. I would be very happy to interview J.K. Rowling as well. What is your biggest fear?
Rana Nawas: (40:56)
I’m okay to talk about the cancer, but we don’t…
Hala Gorani: (41:00)
We don’t want to end on this note because you are going to have a very long life, I can tell by your positivity.
Rana Nawas: (41:07)
That’s just my biggest fear.
Hala Gorani: (41:08)
But you, you have some sort of “okay to talk about it,” you have in the short time I’ve known you shown such positivity and determination in the face of incredible bad news and rotten luck because that’s when the end, what it is…
Rana Nawas: (41:25)
It is. Unfortunately, you know cancer and this statistic is just going to affect more and more of us. And I was shocked, you know, when I was diagnosed in November last year because as far as I know, I’m the healthiest person I know, like I’ve always eaten very well and I exercise and all that. So I had a general itch and I went to many doctors for a year and a half and nobody figured it out. And then I started to develop this horrible cough and when I got a chest X-ray, you know, a couple days later it was confirmed, I was told I had lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is blood cancer. And I was really shocked because, you know, you keep thinking this is not going to happen to you, right? Especially if you live a healthy lifestyle.
Hala Gorani: (42:16)
I’m a raging hypochondriacs. I’m always thinking it’s going to happen to me.
Rana Nawas: (42:19)
So most people are the opposite of me, which is you get signs and symptoms and you ignore them because you think you’ll be fine or there’ll always be time to deal with it. Now, I don’t know, something in me said this was a serious enough thing that, you know, I had a cough in November and everyone said, “forget about it. It’s just November. Everybody’s coughing.” But I just didn’t feel right about it.
Hala Gorani: (42:44)
So that’s good. You had a good instinct there.
Rana Nawas: (42:48)
Yeah. And that’s one lesson, I’ve learned many lessons from cancer, and this is one of them. So I got that checked out and then I found out that actually itch is one of the first, the earliest symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and none of the doctors that I saw, five, none of them knew that. So anyway, yeah, I was… so why am I positive? I don’t know. I left GE in October. I was diagnosed a month later and I had already started my podcast and I was really excited about it and being diagnosed, obviously I had to start chemotherapy and I did that for quite a bit. I did six months of that and so it was every two weeks, so I had 12 sessions and the first week I would feel like crap. I mean I just literally sometimes couldn’t get out of bed. Then the nausea and the headaches and the you know… I’ve written an article about this, but the first week was really difficult and the second week I’d be full of energy and really buzzing. And so how, how did I stay positive? I get asked this a lot…
Hala Gorani: (43:57)
But it’s mental positivity…
Rana Nawas: (43:59)
Hala Gorani: (43:59)
How do you keep it?
Rana Nawas: (44:00)
I don’t. I mean, look for sure my baseline is I’m a positive, optimistic person, right? That’s my baseline and people can raise their baselines. Okay. I’ve read about this. So if your natural baseline is a bit low or whatever, just work on it – get a coach and raise it. So definitely, but I had a lot going for me. I had a great support network. I have, I mean, I’m not out of the woods by any means. I have a great support network. You know, my husband, my sister, my mom, my friends, my extended family, you know, everyone has been there for me, it’s been really amazing. So that’s one thing. The other thing is again, I was working on my podcast, which is something I just love and meeting amazing women every week and that’s exhilarating, you know? So, I kept focused on that and yeah, just having fun. I mean, it sounds silly to say, but I’ve really been in a happy place since I got diagnosed. It sounds pathetic and if anyone who had cancer told me this before I was diagnosed, I’d say they were lying. But truly, yes, I was going through shit and chemotherapy sucks and cancer sucks and definitely because it’s the looming threat of you leaving loved ones, which is really hard to accept. But there was just a lot of other… It was just part of my life. It was just a sliver of my life. It wasn’t me, you know, it was just part of me, so I wouldn’t let it define me.
Hala Gorani: (45:25)
No, absolutely. And the fact that it happened after you left your corporate job as it happened when you were essentially free of all the constraints of being in the schedules, in the meetings and on the trips and you are your own boss and there must be something very liberating about that.
Rana Nawas: (45:44)
Yeah, and also I imagine if I were still doing my corporate job, I may have ignored the cough, you know, for example. You know, you’re just too busy when you’re in the daily grind, you’re just too busy to give the little things like an itch and a cough any attention.
Hala Gorani: (45:57)
These big challenges in life teach you things that go beyond the disease, the illness itself. What has it taught you?
Rana Nawas: (46:08)
Yeah, absolutely. Look, I’ve learned so much from this disease and I really, I know it may sound silly, but I’m sometimes thankful for it. Truly.
Hala Gorani: (46:19)
That sounds really…
Rana Nawas: (46:21)
Hala Gorani: (46:21)
…surprising… I wasn’t going to say crazy.
Rana Nawas: (46:24)
I just want to be very clear that…
Hala Gorani: (46:25)
But it could help other women…
Rana Nawas: (46:27)
Yeah. And I know that other women have felt the same because I’ve talked to them in my group, but obviously it doesn’t apply to all women. So what I’m going to say now couldn’t have my lessons learned from cancer really just apply to me. But I think as we talked earlier, listening to your gut is very important. If you think you’re sick, take the time out because you matter, you know, get checked out. We are so busy when we work and you know, you, especially if you have kids at home, you know, even if you don’t, you’re just so busy in today’s world, it’s so fast paced and we always think we’re going to have time to get to it. No. There’s no other time. You are the most important thing, you know.
Hala Gorani: (47:03)
But the symptoms are symptoms of so many minor issues. So I mean, having a cough for a few weeks is nothing. Right?
Rana Nawas: (47:12)
And imagine my shock when I found out that my tumor was 11 centimeters by 7 centimeters in my chest, crushing my windpipe, which is why I was coughing.
Hala Gorani: (47:22)
Rana Nawas: (47:23)
Hala Gorani: (47:23)
So 11 by 7? And so you must have been coughing all day and all night.
Rana Nawas: (47:30)
It had been getting worse and worse for months. But, by the end, the reason I just couldn’t ignore it anymore was because I was waking myself up in the middle of the night coughing.
Hala Gorani: (47:40)
Sure. Well, that tells you there’s something wrong. And the itch is something you could have because of a dermatological…
Rana Nawas: (47:47)
It could’ve been anything else, yeah.
Hala Gorani: (47:48)
So listen to your gut?
Rana Nawas: (47:51)
Yeah, number one.
Hala Gorani: (47:51)
Number one. What’s number two?
Rana Nawas: (47:53)
Number two was that I must do less. I just take on so much. Again, this is the thing about learning to say no that is so important. You know, it shouldn’t take a disease to me…It shouldn’t have taken a disease to make me realize that. But I was overstretched and you know, just doing so much. And it’s not just your job. It’s your job, it’s your home, it’s your kids, your family or your wellness, you wanna exercise…you know, there’s just so many things; community, you know stuff for the benefit of the community, like running every week pro bono and anytime somebody asks me to speak, you know, I was saying yes and asking me to mentor and I was saying yes. Do you know what I mean? So I just took on too much. And so the lesson here is to do less. Definitely, we have to learn to work and be more efficient, but there is no replacement for reducing the volume, if you’re alone.
Hala Gorani: (48:51)
When you do less, you do less better?
Rana Nawas: (48:54)
Yes, exactly right. Exactly. I found that I’ve always got something to be thankful for and that really hit home for me, you know? Yeah. I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma or have, I don’t know but you know, there’s people who are way worse off, you know, and I was really thankful. I’m like, okay, I’m sick, but you know, I have treatment options. I can afford them. I have a support network to help me manage, to help cover my responsibilities when I’m flat in bed, like how blessed am I? You know? So it really hit home how blessed I am. So that’s a lesson; that it doesn’t matter what you’re going through, truly you have a lot to be thankful for. So try to focus on what you have…
Hala Gorani: (49:40)
I know that’s a recurring piece of advice people get. It’s just probably one of the hardest things to do because people are worse off but you’re the one going through this. It’s still a crappy, you know, situation to be in even though others are worse off. But it is probably one of the most valuable pieces of advice anybody could give.
Rana Nawas: (50:04)
Yeah. And I try to practice it. Like even now my son is three and a half, so every night when I put him to bed, you know, I ask him, okay, he’s still too young to understand the concept of gratitude and thankfulness. So I ask him, “what are your three favorite things that happened today? What three things happened today that made you happy?” So the purpose here is I’m trying to create, in his mind, a habit of gratitude and you know, an attitude of gratitude. I’m trying to cultivate that.
Hala Gorani: (50:35)
Also verbalizing it helps. I mean, if you asked me now “what three things are you grateful for?” I will have to say them out loud. And when you say things out loud and put words on them, you give them more importance if you just think about them in that way. It’s interesting. So you have this really terrible piece of information and one of the most surprising things you say to me is in some ways you’re grateful because it opened your eyes to some things. What are some of the other things?
Rana Nawas: (51:05)
But even in under the ugliest shadow, you can build something amazing because truly I am very proud of When Women Win podcast. I mean there’s of course a long runway, there’s so much more to achieve and we’re only not even scratching the surface, but it’s something that’s already impacted some women.You know, the women are saying that strangers who I’ve never met are writing me on Instagram and Linkedin, thanking me for creating this, that, you know, the women’s network of my husband’s company in San Diego did a luncheon listening to my podcast. They’ve created a Podcast Club, like a Book Club to listen to the show. I mean, it’s just, this is real impact, you know? And they wrote to me and said, “my God, we listened to this show,” you know, I think at the first day they contacted me after they listened to Episode One and they’re like, “we learned so much and it’s incredible and I’m going to have that conversation with my boss” and for me, everybody has their one thing. For me, my one thing is impact. So having been able to have impact even under the shadow is amazing. And that’s what it’s taught me. It’s taught me that whatever your circumstance, you can still have impact.
Hala Gorani: (52:25)
Even in the darkest times, you can figure something out and maybe also it’s therapeutic, don’t you think?
Rana Nawas: (52:32)
Sure, definitely. Gosh, I can think of nothing worse than lying in bed thinking about my situation all day.
Hala Gorani: (52:37)
And there have been studies on the impact of positive thinking, of creativity when you have an illness that you’re dealing with, that helps you, I think even physically.
Rana Nawas: (52:49)
That’s what they say. And they say that it’s your mental attitude that defines, you know, your life expectancy.
Hala Gorani: (52:55)
So are there any more? Because I’m getting a lot of good advice out of just dealing with everyday issues.
Rana Nawas: (53:05)
There’s I guess one last thing that I learned, it’s not really a practical tip, but it’s more that for me, again, it’s very personal. I watched my father die of cancer and I myself had fought cancer and really it was worse watching my dad.
Hala Gorani: (53:26)
So you’re worried for your family?
Rana Nawas: (53:28)
That’s what I would say to people supporting their loved ones who are sick because I’ve been on both sides and really watching the person you love go through it is harder. At least that was the case for me.
Hala Gorani: (53:43)
I can understand that. Absolutely.
Rana Nawas: (53:45)
So people don’t, I don’t want people to, you know, feel sorry for me. I’m more concerned, for example, about my mother and my husband and you know, my kids haven’t got a clue, thank God.
Hala Gorani: (53:55)
They are too young and by the time they’re able to understand the concept, you will be well and recovered as vibrant already. If you’re as vibrant now, I can’t imagine the dynamo that you will be in just a short period of time. I want to finish on…I just want to let you know, where will you be a year from now? And then we’ll talk again. What’s your dream scenario?
Rana Nawas: (54:24)
My dream scenario…
Hala Gorani: (54:27)
With the podcast? With your life? You’ll be 40 next year, right?
Rana Nawas: (54:32)
I’ll be 40. So next year is actually a big year. Yeah, a year from now I’ll be 40, I’ll have had two celebrations – one back home in Dubai and one probably in the summer in Ibiza. Yeah, next year is a big year. You can have all these big grand plans. So for example, with my husband’s job, we’re going to have to relocate at some point, maybe in a year or two. So that’s big on the cards…etc. And then for the podcast, I mean my goal is clearly defined and very ambitious, which is to reach millions and millions of women all over the world and not just reach them, I mean impact them, move a needle and I want to hear those stories. So these are kind of the big plans. But really in terms of the life that I want for myself, I just, if I could adjust, I want more quality time with the people I love. Like for me, that would be success. You know, just quality time with people I love and who love me and I’ll be content because yeah, we’ll move and we’ll have the work and all of that. But at the end of the day, it’s the small things. It’s the small things that make your life happy on a daily basis, you know, it’s the fun things you do. Am I having enough fun? That’s a big focus for me in the next year. I want to learn to have more fun, you know? And my kids are a riot. I mean it’s really hard with kids this young, you know, one and a half and three and a half, it’s physically exhausting, especially for someone my age, you know…
Hala Gorani: (56:02)
Someone your age? What? That was 10 years older than you.
Rana Nawas: (56:08)
I mean you don’t have two toddlers. But it’s also incredibly, really fun. I mean, these guys are hilarious. They make me laugh every day and even like the silliest things, like my three year old dropped his first F-bomb the other day.
Hala Gorani: (56:25)
Rana Nawas: (56:26)
Because unfortunately, I have a bit of a foul mouth and so you know, I don’t censor myself at home, so obviously this is going to… role models are very important and I see it in my eldest imitating me and my youngest imitating my eldest, like my one and a half year old does everything my three and a half year old does. Role modeling is everything, I’m convinced, but even that like I was supposed to tell him off, I know and I did, but I had to…like, I was laughing so hard. These things that I don’t know if…
Hala Gorani: (56:57)
You want more of those precious moments.
Rana Nawas: (56:59)
I want more moments. That’s it. That’s my big goal.
Hala Gorani: (57:01)
But I think that’s the secret, to be honest, it’s just collecting moments because there’s no grand happiness formula recipe, right? It’s just appreciate the specs here and there of joy that can come into your life. I think that’s the best way to end it. Just to appreciate the moments of joy.
Rana Nawas: (57:23)
Hala Gorani: (57:26)
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
Rana Nawas: (57:28)
Thank you, Hala. Thanks so much.
Rana Nawas: (57:30)
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. I’d love to hear from you, so please head over to whenwomenwin podcast.com to give feedback. While you’re there, you can find all episodes and show notes and sign up for our monthly newsletter. Wherever you’re listening right now, do remember to hit the subscribe button to be notified of future episodes and please write a review when you can to let others know what to expect. Thanks, and have a great day!