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Mai AlOwaish: Inspiring inclusion and celebrating achievements

International Women’s Day (IWD), observed annually on March 8, is a global celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for gender equality. It serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made and the work that remains to be done.

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International Women’s Day (IWD), observed annually on March 8, is a global celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for gender equality. It serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made and the work that remains to be done.

The Times Kuwait features five women from Kuwait published in KPMG Kuwait’s report Global Female Leaders Outlook 2023–24. These Female Leaders who are Shaping Resilience in a Polycrisis share their amazing stories of challenges and success.

The report finds that despite shouldering increased responsibilities, Global Female Leaders remained optimistic about corporate expansion, societal progress, gender parity, and their own professional aspirations. This resilience in the face of a volatile economic and social backdrop sends a positive message.

The opinions and insights of the Global Female Leaders presented in the report reflected their confidence in future prospects and the importance of equality in ongoing transformation endeavors and emphasize that diversity is not just a buzzword that companies are trying to catch on.

The KPMG report also underlines that despite advancements in promoting diversity, inclusion, and legal structures, considerable hurdles remain. Numerous women still encounter bias, often switch jobs to progress in their careers, are underrepresented in leadership roles, and navigate male-centric networks within organizations.

Overcoming these hurdles is crucial to unleashing the complete potential of equal participation. The report illuminates evolving trends that Global Female Leaders are driving within their companies. They are adjusting digitalization strategies, with a greater focus on employee development rather than technology investments, and they are strengthening cybersecurity measures.

This ability to respond to external changes through internal adjustments indicates a promising enhancement of organizational resilience. Global Female Leaders underline that certain personal qualities are gaining prominence, particularly adaptability and foresight.

The fast-paced advancement of technology, evolving stakeholder demands, compliance requirements, and market disruptions, such as those triggered by geopolitical factors, emphasize the importance of quick response and operational flexibility, while keeping strategic, long-term objectives in mind.

These qualities resonate strongly with the Global Female Leaders KPMG spoke to, enabling them to proactively assume leadership roles despite the complexities of the current polycrisis.

KPMG Kuwait hopes that the Global Female Leaders Outlook 2023–24 will offer fresh perspectives and help foster a deeper recognition of the female leaders’ ability to navigate challenges with resilience and agility.

Mai AlOwaish
Chief Data & Innovation Officer, Gulf Bank

Our report finds that there is a lot of skepticism around women in technology. How did you overcome that?

With only 20 percent of engineering degrees awarded to women, being an engineer made me realize that women need to challenge some stereotypes in the workplace and deliver a social impact on their profession.

Going into technology, I was aware that it is a big challenge. However, I have enjoyed every step of it because having that awareness helped me see beyond bias and misconceptions.

Instead of fearing doubts and fighting skepticism, I strived to be original and show my true commitment and passion for technology — my mind was set that I was going to break stereotypes.

As women in technology, we might be outnumbered, but we can lead, we can inspire, and we can contribute at the highest level. Instead of being intimidated by my male counterparts, I reached out to them, learned from everyone around me, and went further to collaborate and network. Our male counterparts will mentor and support us when we defeat stereotypes and work together, not compete against each other.

How do you ensure that your digital transformation initiatives align with your organization’s overall strategic goals and values?

Digital transformation initiatives touch every person, system, and process in the organization.

Communication is key when it comes to making an impact and driving change cultures that align with strategic goals. As women, we are naturally great communicators.

I capitalized on that ability to connect with stakeholders across the organization to ensure buy-in from everyone at all levels, as well as listened to them to align the digital transformation initiatives with their input. This interaction was an integral part of the digital and data literacy programs that we ran organization-wide, spanning all employees from juniors and new hires to top-level executives.

Throughout these sessions that spanned over three months, I managed to hear from the organization’s top leaders and frontlines to synchronize the digital transformation agenda with the goals and values of our business and operational teams.

Companies are investing heavily on the technological aspects of digitization. What is the key to inspire young female leaders and employees to embrace new technologies?

Whenever we are asking people to embrace new practices or technologies, there are two factors enabling adoption: the why and the motivation.

First, “the why” ensures that they understand the impact and the case for adopting something new. Second, which is especially important for young talent, is showing them “what’s in it for them?”, i.e., how their knowledge, experience and career will be impacted when they adopt digitization. I experienced this firsthand while rolling out our data-driven initiatives, asking analysts to digitize and automate their reporting practices. My philosophy was “people, then technology”.

The technology and digitization rollouts came after we demonstrated to the analysts how the new practices will improve their daily operations, impact the bottom line of the organization, enable them to become better analysts, and future proof their career.

They felt empowered and better connected to the organization’s overall success. Moreover, once we developed this group as digitization leaders, they became champions of change, and will soon mentor and inspire the next generations.

What is your advice to young female leaders seeking a career in technology?

First, love what you do. What you do for a living doesn’t have to be the norm for your gender, age, or profile overall. If you have a passion for what you do, you will excel no matter what. Second, keep learning. Continuing education gives you a competitive edge in the market, especially in this rapidly changing tech industry.

The options are now endless when it comes to learning new skills or achieving certifications as there are different learning mediums that fit any schedule and lifestyle. Last, when you’re performing your job, do it to the best of your abilities, but always think bigger.

Ask yourself how you can bring even greater value to your company or tech industry and what else you can do, even if it’s not part of your current responsibilities. If you’re thinking about growing your career, be proactive about your development and the newer, bigger things you can take on.

Mai AlOwaish is the Chief Data & Innovation Officer at Gulf Bank. She is a seasoned information systems and data analytics expert with 20 years of experience between Kuwait and the United States where she spearheaded a variety of data analytics and e-commerce initiatives and enabled digital transformation and innovation for financial institutions, retailers, and airlines, among other domains.
Mai is a published author, speaker, and an award winner. Her thought pieces have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, the Applied Marketing Analytics journal and the Analytics Interpreted book. Mai is a former Board member of the Digital Analytics Association (DAA) and the recipient of the DAA President’s Awards. Mai was also a featured presenter on Google Summits and The Economist events.

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