“The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has shown that women are very adaptable. In many ways we can be born leaders as we often have to juggle work and home lives and families,” says Ayesha Al-Shoily, department head, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Ooredoo. “Ask any woman how challenging being a full time working mother can be! Working from home and at the same time getting results at work and getting things done means focus and managing time between different aspects of our lives,” Ayesha adds to the Purple online.
Women across the world in companies often get into what is termed ‘gender double bind’ – when they become aggressive in their work, they are ‘insensitive’, when they exercise empathy, they are ‘indecisive’. Does it bother you?
Have you heard of the story of the couple and the donkey? Well, here’s how it goes: when the couple walk instead of riding the donkey, people whispered, how foolish, they have a donkey and yet they choose to walk. So, the couple sit on the donkey to continue their journey. Further down their path, people start talking again, but this time about the poor donkey and how could he manage all that weight? Doesn’t the couple feel his pain? So the husband gets off and starts walking and lets his wife sit. Still further along their journey, people start talking again about the wife – how can she sit while her old husband walks – so she gets off and lets her husband ride. A few miles later, people observe the man riding and start questioning how a man could sit while he lets his poor wife walk.
The moral of this story is that no matter how hard you work or what decisions you make, people form their own perceptions (often due to miscommunication). Others may be seen as insensitive, indecisive or aggressive, but that isn’t necessarily the intention. These are things we just have to deal with and find what best works in the long term for them.
It’s no secret that women have been challenged, both in the past and today, and in some ways, our challenges will remain. It’s how we learn to deal with them and respond to them that’s important. Does it bother me? Of course it does, because you can often be put in a situation that invokes a ‘fight’ or conflict response. But you have to choose wisely how and when to respond to these things, so as not to be labelled as ‘insensitive’ or ‘aggressive’ and at the same time not be viewed as ‘weak’ or ‘oversensitive’.
I have to hold the sword in the middle and be diplomatic and assertive, but in some ways, no matter what you do, this battle of communication and race, and of hierarchy between men and women, is at the core of our existence, and it is our emotional intelligence, particularly in the workplace, that sets us up for successful and strong communications, without being seen as either too soft or too hard. I should also point out that this can apply to men as well, not just women, and if both communicate in this way, it makes for a more balanced and equal set-up at work. So don’t waste your time trying to please everybody like the couple and the donkey. Find a strategy that works best for you and gets the job done.
The global pandemic was a sphere in which women leaders showed their mettle. What is this essence of a woman that helps them dismantle the usual narrative and help them veer their companies from disaster to success and beyond?
The whole pandemic was such a mysterious journey, one which initially required us to ‘go with the flow’ and yet think out of the box. But once people settled into the new normal, I realised that this was not going away anytime soon, so what can I do? Creativity, patience and persistence were the key elements. Being able to survive long lockdowns and being able to motivate yourself every single day didn’t come easy, and required me to be creative when it came to balancing home and work life. Being at home means that your personal life can, to some extent, be your work life – the two became entwined. For me, it was important to use one room for work, so that moving from one room to another was like creating a separate place specifically for work. This way I could maintain balance. And although it didn’t come easy, it was fun. Things like learning to cook sushi because your kids really like it; learning to shave and cut your grown boy’s hair and learning to integrate work and home in a whole new way. These are things that strengthened us as women and wives and mothers and this learning process, creativity and new way of thinking translated into the workplace to produce creativity and adaptability that helped the business to thrive also.
Many qualities of women come to the fore in a crisis – how do they (or you) transpose this into the work ecosystem?
I have so far survived the pandemic and have survived so much more during the pandemic than I did in non-COVID times. Not giving up, being creative to make it work for me to make it work for my family and to make it work for work. It has been quite a roller-coaster ride, but women are very adaptable. In many ways we can be born leaders as we often have to juggle work and home lives and families anyway. Ask any woman how challenging being a full time working mother can be!
Working from home and at the same time getting results at work and getting things done means focus and managing time between different aspects of our lives. And let’s not forget women in the medical sector, who had to make decisions that often opposed the usual ones, to keep their loved ones safe and stay away, to serve patients and put their own lives at risk. These are big sacrifices that many women and also men made, to protect the wider community.
While you may argue that women are at present ruling the world, when will the time come when they will, without a doubt, rule the world?
We are ruling now – just maybe in a slow and steady and more subtle way. Perhaps one day we will surprise everyone – it’s our secret weapon, our smart strategic positioning. But what is the real definition of ruling? Mothers rule, wives we know rule (look out for posters that read I AM THE MAN OF THE HOUSE in bold with a fine print at the bottom that reads WITH MY WIFE’S PERMISSION). You don’t have to look around much to see many amazing, powerful women, ministers, bloggers, business owners, mothers, a handful of great influential women. We rise further every day and a little more tomorrow maybe. And perhaps in the near future we will be more visibly ruling many more things. But equality is everything, so I don’t necessarily see a world solely ruled by women – perhaps a better balance between the two.
What are the fundamental characteristics that help a woman shine in the corporate world?
I would say high heels, but no one is ready to have that discussion! But on a more serious note, it would be persistence and not being deterred by enemies along the way. Think of them as challenges that strengthen you while you reach your dreams or destination.
Ayesha Al-Shoily is the head of corporate social responsibility, Ooredoo, a certified coach, motivational speaker and with over 26 years of work experience in training, marketing and sales.