For this week’s spotlight, we have Mrs. Aisha Hyder Al - Kindi who currently works as a Foundry Platform Engagement Manager at World Food Programme. Her work experience stands out with her previous experience in reputed firms like Accenture , GE, Booz Allen Hamilton etc. She has even worked as a freelance project consultant as well as launched a hair-care products imports business.We catch up with Aisha on her work experiences as well as how she adapted to the different external circumstances over the last few years.
CODA: We’d like to hear from you about how you started your professional journey. We can start with what made you take the career path that you are in right now.
Aisha: I graduated in 2005 with an MIS degree which was among the highly demanded academic qualifications at the time. There was a growing demand in technology as it continued to serve a lot of our needs. While I started my academic pursuits in computer science, I quickly realized that I enjoyed solving problems through human interactions more than coding. This led to a career in IT consulting where I analyse complex business problems across industries, collaborate in the design thinking of the overall digital transformation solutions with various stakeholders and functional teams, articulate the business requirements into technical logic with applications of industry best practices and test products in preparation for user adoption. Being in a position to contribute and deliver the strategic outcomes and supporting end users across all levels in adopting technology to become more effective in the role and efficient with their resources continues to be a rewarding outcome and a purpose driven commitment. I was fortunate to start my career with Accenture where I established a strong foundation in delivering high performing solutions while addressing the customer needs and learnt some of my best lessons in being a servant leader through mentors and leading successful teams.
CODA: Ok, that's amazing. So I'm guessing this was in the early 2000's and women taking up this career wasn't rare but did you feel like there was anybody from your family or people around you who were questioning your choice or was it smooth sailing for you?
Aisha: It was smooth sailing. I come from a family that supports a lot of the career choices that I made. At that time, mine also made sense because of the way the world was trending. I did graduate from the United States of America and the opportunities for women at that time was on a rise. There was a clear move to ensure that there was a space created for women in technology and for them to thrive. If it was probably a decade before that, it would probably still be a bit of a struggle but it definitely did come at the right time. With that said, I still often found myself as a single woman standing in a mass of male colleagues but they were always supportive and inclusive and that made my journey smoother and rewarding.
CODA:In terms of women in technology, we've progressed even more from the 2000's but have you personally witnessed a dramatic difference in the companies you've worked at?
Aisha: Certainly. Compared to where I started and where we are right now, there's definitely been a growth of women in technology and in leadership roles. I mean, during the onset of my career, within a few years, many of the leading companies in the world like PepsiCo had female leaders that had taken over. Even if it wasn't at the top seat, they were on the secondary seat. But more importantly it’s in the mid-level management where being able to have women in technology was absolutely important.I think that growth happened more in the last decade or so where women would take off for maternity leave or other personal reasons and it wasn't sort of a punishment to them. It was something that was celebrated and accommodated for and they were welcomed back in the most supportive way.
CODA: Just as you mentioned, do you think tech and other companies are more flexible now in terms of other things, apart from maternity leave...Something that you saw in the last five years that positively surprised you?
Aisha:Yes, they have been more accommodating. You see a lot of calls for return to career programs for women and women could apply for any reason. It's also good to see that some companies offer paternity leave for men which is one of the main drivers of why women were leaving work to start with. I have to admit that it's definitely different region to region. Having sort of lived in the Middle East for the last five years, it was a struggle for me because I was an outsider applying for a job within the UAE. But I did get an opportunity to work in GE. My CIO was a woman, and that was fantastic. That was a return-to-career program as well.
CODA: What are your viewpoints of the current situation of work-life balance. Yes, a lot more companies are advocating for a positive work life balance but don't you feel like it's two very different things for men and women in the workforce?
Aisha: Absolutely, unless within the house, there is a good balance of responsibilities. I happened to have been a mother to four step children while I was there in the UAE and the demands of a parent fell more on me than on my spouse and that's also because my spouse was a pilot. So really, it depends on the profession, availability and willingness of the other person to pick up some of those responsibilities when they come home and enable an environment for the female spouse to thrive in the career that they have. The other privilege that a lot of people have within the Middle East is the affordability of having help. That brings the opportunity for a household that is clearly organized and strategized to still be able to thrive on a mixed working household.
The company needs to offer a work-life balance and allow somebody the flexibility to make up the hours if needed, in addition to proper strategizing and communication from the employees, because you can make it work. You can start early and have an appointment that's towards the end of the day. Now the fact that you can work from home a lot more easily means being able to pick up on those deliverables that you have to do in time and not negatively impact other people. Communication and strategizing around the demands of what the work is as well as the company being flexible enough to allow you to make up your hours is the ideal situation.
CODA: In the multiple companies that you've worked with, how important was mentorship? Or were you given the chance to be a mentor? And how did you maximise that opportunity?
Aisha: I was fortunate to have worked with a senior colleague (Karthik Chandrasekar) who was very intentional in being my mentor, and an executive (Mark Gurguillo) who advocated and supported this. This goes back to when I was working with Accenture and it was amazing to have this experience and interactions with individuals who were invested in our successes as a team and as individuals. Prior to this, I didn't have any personal mentors in this career since I was the first woman and person in my wide circle going into I.T. Hence I made sure that within any organization that I worked with or anybody that I crossed paths with, I'd always share some of my key lessons. Once I saw that they were more interested, I gave them tidbits of how to look for certain opportunities, skills up-skilling etc. Basically, I'm one of those people who likes to share and lift others up without any conditions. So I definitely put on my mentor's sleeve very often so that I can give somebody the opportunity to thrive.
CODA: That's brilliant! Also, because you are in tech, have you ever felt that you would have to upgrade your skills or constantly learn? Are you still doing that or do you plan to do that in some way?
Aisha: While working for Accenture, we had a routine process for promotions which came with up-skilling opportunities. I've been working on my up-skilling independently but at a slower pace - I have completed various courses on AWS cloud computing and Data Analysis. You know, There's just so much that the world offers right now. Unfortunately, there are people who down play your experience over the lack of certification . Personally, I feel experience is so much more valuable than that piece of paper that says - you know how to do it. An experience proves it. Perhaps I'm a little averse to the concept of an MBA, although it's become such a need criteria for so many organizations. Fortunately, in some organizations like Accenture, having an MBA didn't necessarily mean that you are more valuable.Your work experience covers the same use cases that you attend an MBA for, thus you can still bring value from day one to a client or any organization
CODA: Apart from the challenges that COVID kind of threw at us in terms of work - Do you feel like there are new challenges coming up? For example, I talked to somebody and they said that a couple of years back , they didn't have to worry about constantly trying to up their social media game on LinkedIn because employers do look at how much of a voice you have in certain career paths.
Aisha:I mean, I see a heightened interaction from several people and now influencers on LinkedIn but personally, I don't see how that necessarily adds so much value. Again, it goes back to what kind of work diversity do you have? What kind of challenges did you face? What did you learn from those challenges? What did you learn from your success? Did you learn from your failures?I think if we're shifting from other social media entertainment platforms into the professional, it should really be discreet and distinct while adding meaningful value in the platform and professional context.
CODA: Was moving into a working from home culture easy? How did that change your work life?
Aisha:When I worked as a consultant , we were at the client site for four days and working from home for a day and this was around the mid 2000's.From 2007 - 2008, there was a huge push on being able to work from home so that we work one week from home and one week at the client site. This was a great accommodation strategy to be able to allow people the flexibility of work life balance because we were constantly on a plane heading to the client and then headed back home at the end of the week. And now, It's a shift caused by the pandemic where we’re able to trust people to work from home . It would be great to see companies give people a four day work week once or twice a month, where somebody gets to have a three day weekend and it's done in rotation to accommodate business needs effectively. I'd love to be able to see that because it really allows you to get out and smell the roses. It really allows you to kind of get in touch with your world because most of the time now a lot of people are rolling out of bed, having their meals, working and then shutting down within the same space. There's very limited opportunities to decompress. So that mental stability and that work life balance really needs to be evaluated a lot deeper. You've got your own human demands that sometimes take a toll on a person or take precedence and you still want to retain your best employees. So you could offer them flexibility and it's just a win-win!
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