Hard work, dedication and vision placed her among some of the most prominent names in the business world; the first woman to be made partner at Deloitte Middle East. She is the Lebanese Rana Salhab; the regional Talent and Communications Partner and member of the regional management team at Deloitte firm in the Middle East; whose network of offices covers 16 countries and over 22 offices in the region. She oversees talent and human resources management, brand, communications, corporate responsibility, diversity and security in the region.
She holds an MBA and BSc in Public Health (Biostatistics) from the American University of Beirut and has worked across 3 continents.
She is an active champion of promoting women advancement, employability and entrepreneurship skills building in youth in the Arab world, and sits on numerous NGO boards in the region.
Arab Woman Mag had the honor to interview Ms. Salhab and learn from her journey and expertise.
Why did you choose this career path?
It didn’t actually start this way! I studied health sciences at university and then worked in the education field when I relocated to Saudi Arabia with my husband. I then had a shift of careers completely to professional services firms and consulting. Before joining Deloitte, I was an HR Director in the EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa) regional management team at Andersen based in Switzerland. Prior to that, I was the HR Director of the Growing Economies region at Andersen which spanned Russia, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. While in Geneva, I was approached by Deloitte in the Middle East to spearhead to relocate to the region and lead human resources. Now, a little over a decade later, I progressed and was admitted as a partner in the regional firm in 2006.
What are some of the challenges you faced and still face as a career woman to get to where you are today and how did you overcome them?
I think that the biggest barriers to women’s access to leadership positions if they are qualified and are willing to put the effort are tied to the predominantly male corporate culture that is not sufficiently inclusive. Add to that conscious and unconscious bias in developing and promoting leaders, inadequate leadership accountability for gender equality, lack of women role models or adequate coaching, and mentoring. There are also other challenges tied to women themselves, such as readiness to take career risks, or build appropriate business networks. I believe we do not have a shortage of women in leadership positions merely due to a lack of ambition and so should not only focus on ways in which women hold themselves back. It is much wider than that.
My expertise and previous experiences may have paved the way to partnership, but the Deloitte culture, values, and the firm’s strong commitment to attract and develop women leaders as a business strategy were essential ingredients.
Is it a man’s world in the professional arena?
In theory it should not anymore in the 21st century but in practice, it would appear so at first glance. But there are now attempts, and even some successful programs that are getting women in the door and fostering retention and development. Despite this, we are still not seeing women advance to leadership positions quickly enough in the region. Inclusion strategies are required to better empower and advance women to top-level positions in both the private and public sectors.
Having said this, there are promising signs in awareness and perceptions of women leaders. According to Deloitte’s 2015 International Women’s Day (IWD) webcast survey, 48% of the respondents believe gender diversity is treated as a C-suite priority by their executives, indicating progress is being made, but there is still work to be done. Moreover, 68% of the 1,700 respondents believe that is possible to ‘have it all’ when it comes to sustaining personal and professional excellence and 65% believe their organization is improving the representation of senior women within their company, citing flexible working programs and gender diversity targets as examples.
Do you find that women get treated differently at the work place because of their gender? Do they miss opportunity, less pay etc..? What are things a woman should do to become as equal to her male colleagues?
Working in a predominantly male environment is a challenge in itself and conscious and unconscious bias are very much present. The expectations seem to be either fit the mold, built on mostly male related attributes, or risk being an outlier. Consequently, it is important for a woman leader to go the extra mile to voice her opinions, build her network, continue to seek mentors and sponsors, and connect with other senior women who could provide valuable support.
Another challenge is that along their career path and more so when they reach leadership positions, women are faced with decisions that will be more impacted by non-work priorities than men do, such as building families, having children, and caring for parents.
For me it all comes down to prioritization and finding a proper work/life fit. Each woman needs to find the proper balance that works for her specific situation and I understand this when I support women in my organization.
There will come a time in your career where you will need to prioritize between work and family demands, so plan ahead and continuously build your skills even if you priorities shift.
How do you see Arab women progressing in the work force? In your professional opinion what are things they could do to succeed?
It is important at all times to remember that women advancement in any sector should not only be addressed as a matter of fairness and equality in human rights, but there is a strong business case for having more women on such leadership platforms. The business case is clear, diverse and balanced teams improve an organization’s bottom line.
The Middle East region has the lowest female labor participation globally, and the governments in the region are the dominant supplier of jobs, especially for women. While they have made significant strides to encourage more inclusivity through initiatives, progress is part of an ongoing journey that involves steady changes, education and action. The public sector could serve as a model for the private sector.
Transformations are just getting started, and there is a lot more to be done, but in all cases, the ingredient for success does not only boil down to women. It is important to involve men in the conversation, and continually challenge long-held assumptions and traditional ways of working in order to accelerate progress. Businesses simply will not be able to be competitive and innovative if they do not take their share of the responsibility.
What are some of your future goals and dreams?
I would like to see qualified and able women in leadership positions across all sectors and in public life in the region. Not a few here and there but in solid numbers as I am convinced this will improve the economic competitiveness of the countries in the region in the world. Gender quotas, whether we like them or not, are essential, and are proving to be the only route to jumpstart this process across the world. With the current geopolitical, economic, education, and other challenges in the Middle East, gender quotas could go a long way toward having more women co-lead in addressing their challenges by taking seats in boardrooms, in parliaments, in governments, and in leadership positions in all sectors. Effectively the issue of gender diversity needs to become part of every private or public sector organization’s DNA, and not merely a program they need to adhere to.
What is your motto in life?
What motivates me is making a difference wherever I have the opportunity to do so, whether at work or in the community. I am also a strong believer of Deloitte’s purpose in making an impact that matters.
Anything you would like to share with our readers or advice?
A woman leader needs to resist the pressure to be a perfectionist in everything she does. You need not be at all times a super professional, super leader, super mom, super spouse, and super daughter with your elderly parents. You have to be confident and comfortable in your life and career choices, and develop thick skin to ward off guilt and unrealistic expectations. You need to develop your own formula, build your own brand and simply move on.