Sahar Khan, marketing director, dubizzle and Bayut, on why performance, passion and results can transcend bias
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Sahar Khan, marketing director, dubizzle and Bayut, on why performance, passion and results can transcend bias

Sahar Khan, marketing director, dubizzle and Bayut, on why performance, passion and results can transcend bias

Khan says we need to stop thinking there are gender-based challenges and embrace the opportunities instead

What are the key challenges to women achieving parity at the workplace?
The only real challenge women face today continues to be the perception bias. The very notion that there are challenges to women achieving parity is what fuels this mindset. Women have been part of every type of workforce imaginable now, so it feels a bit strange that we are still talking about parity. Creating an environment where both women and men think beyond this bias, an environment where performance, passion and results are only the matrices for success is key. We need to stop thinking there are gender-based challenges and embrace the opportunities instead, and I truly think the UAE is one of those places that has certainly overcome this bias. I personally know so many women here who are not just doing what they love but are excelling at it.

As a woman in a senior leadership role, what have been some of the key takeaways from your own career journey?
I feel it’s very important to create an identity for yourself, both personally and professionally, based on what you love doing. I’m very fortunate to have started my career with Bayut at a very early stage. I have a very simple but effective formula: don’t chase after the dreams of others. Find something that you are truly passionate about, work hard to make an impact and do it so successfully that no one is able to question your abilities. I’ve always looked within for competition and hence the sky has never been the limit for me when it comes to the passion with which I do my job.

I’ve also been very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from the best, and the best takeaway I received all along in a managerial role was to work on creating a team of superstars, help them to become what you aspire to be, be a mentor and guide to them in the best manner possible so they can take up your job if need be. When you work selflessly with someone and help them in realising their potential, you’re doing your job in the best manner possible as a manager. Helping someone develop and even take on some of your responsibilities should never be seen as a threat. It’s just one more opportunity for you to find new avenues for growth.

How can companies, particularly in the UAE, build a more gender equal work environment?
I believe that we are blessed to be in a country where the government is focused on creating equal opportunities for all. Very few countries, even today, can say that they have policies that mandate a woman’s presence on the board of directors in all government entities and corporations. And this has happened thanks to the importance placed on empowering women through continuous efforts.

Companies in the UAE should follow the examples set by the government and offer women the opportunity to grow and develop. We have various departments headed by deserving, capable women, because our senior leadership team has never thought of gender when giving them these responsibilities. More companies need to break the bias and give everyone equal opportunities, so both organizations and individuals within them can grow and thrive.

Unfortunately as the human race, we’re very judgemental. The moment you meet someone, you can tend to form assumptions based purely on visual cues, even before they have a chance to introduce themselves. These biases may be prevalent more in some parts of the world than others but it very much exists. Companies can only overcome this by having a diverse team of individuals from the very initial stages of the hiring process, so each candidate has the opportunity to fully present what they can offer, and as a company we’re able to hire the best talent for any role independent of gender, race, or any other trait that should never come up when hiring good talent.

What advice would you give women aspiring to senior leadership roles?
Leadership is all about leading from the front, being a mentor and guide who needs to not just do their own job, but also help others in the team work to their best capacity. You can only become successful in a senior leadership role when you take the effort to understand the challenges of your department, create achievable goals and help your team ace them one by one. This is not a process that happens overnight.  You need to invest time and effort to build capabilities with the teams and projects you are working on to create efficient processes and systems to deliver the best results. So take the time to understand the strengths of your team and become the leader they deserve by helping them to channel those talents in the right direction.

What are some of the roles you see women increasingly in making their mark in?
I think there is no role where women are not making a mark. Within my team alone, four out of six senior managers are women. Women are also doing well in areas such as sales. Some of our other departments like tech and product also have a lot of female representation but not as much as I, as a woman, would like to see, but that’s purely because of more male candidates applying for such roles. This gap can only be bridged if we encourage our daughters to take on roles that have traditionally attracted men more. Be it coding, accounting, artificial intelligence or any other field for that matter, we need to stop having preconceived notions and actively encourage the next generation to make their mark, irrespective of gender.

Has the pandemic resulted in a shift in hiring trends that favour women or vice versa?
 The pandemic has certainly created a difference in the way traditional companies work, and created more openness around the concept of hybrid work models, which are particularly helpful to working parents, particularly mothers.

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