In this interview, Suzanne Gandy, Director of Talent Management at DMCC, shares her experience of gender diversity in the workplace and how she progressed into a leadership role.
1. Tell us about your progression into your current role
Like many of my industry peers today, HR was not the profession in which my career began. I have however, always had a keen interest in human behaviour and how to harness individual strengths to enhance team performance.
I originally chose to study for a degree in psychology and after successfully completing this, I joined the British Army, where I subsequently retired as a Captain in the Royal Logistic Corps. It was at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where my interest in the field of HR began. Here, I was given the opportunity to enrol in some basic HR qualifications through the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). I continued to pursue more qualifications with them throughout my army career.
I’ve faced a plethora of leadership challenges in my career from the many different people, places and situations I encountered. After building my HR foundations in the military, I shifted to non-military positions in government, including the Ministry of Defence in London. I then moved to Dubai when a job opportunity at a commercial partner to the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) arose and soon enough, transitioned into my current role with DMCC.
2. Did you always aspire to reach a leadership position in your career?
Yes, I suppose on reflection I have always aspired to be in leadership positions, from school days as team captain, to going to the military academy after university. In this way, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to turn my motivation into a reality. Good learning opportunities have enabled me to become equipped with the skills and experiences that I now draw upon on a daily basis.
3. In your opinion is there a difference between how men and women plan to progress in their careers?
I think that naturally women have to consider the implications of having a family alongside their career. The statistics are quite clear on how this can often be a career pause, or even a stopper. An example is the high number of mums at my son’s school who are highly qualified and experienced, yet have decided to put their career on hold to take on the full time role of mother.
4. Do you think that there are any differences within the industries in which you have worked?
The military was very male dominated and as a female officer, I learnt what being in the minority is like, and how to deal with it. With regards to HR, there does appear to be more females than males working in the profession, which I think offers a huge opportunity for driving positive changes in removing obstacles for women.
DMCC, a government entity, is the world’s leading Free Zone for trade and enterprise and master developer of Jumeirah Lakes Towers. As with the UAE as a whole, it is highly invested in the development of female leaders, whom are ever increasing and gaining momentum in the region. I am hopeful that in the future, we will not need to discuss women in leadership in the same way, as it will simply be the norm in all sectors and industries.
5. Have you encountered any gender linked challenges or obstacles in your career?
As a British Army officer, there are naturally some physical challenges that must be addressed early on in order to be successful. I took the view that to be treated the same as my male counterparts, I had to be equally as fit. Furthermore, by demonstrating commitment, I could build a good reputation and earn the respect and trust of my male peers. Once I left the military, I believe the obstacles became more psychological and related to perceptions and stereotypes in the workplace, which you can choose to disregard to stay on path.
6. In your experience, do you think women have the same career opportunities as men?
Historically, there were many obstacles that would prevent female career progression and unfortunately, these obstacles do still exist in some parts of the world. There is strong evidence, for example, linking low female participation rates [in the workforce] with weaker economies. However, in more progressive economies, my own experience has shown that women are provided with largely the same opportunities. Any hindering factors are often socially and culturally related i.e. with some roles/professions being viewed as more ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ and vice versa. If only half of a population is being utilised to their full potential, then this is clearly an issue.
7. Have you noticed any differences in career opportunities for men and women based on geography?
I think the UAE has successfully managed to strike a fine balance between celebrating femininity and providing increasing educational and career opportunities for women. Breaking down cultural barriers and giving more opportunities to women in historically male-dominated careers, changes mind-sets. Additionally, evolving laws that enable women to strike a balance between their careers and family, will further consolidate the UAE as a regional leader in this matter.
8. Do you think flexible working has any bearing on career progression opportunities for women or men?
Flexible working is something that is not as prevalent in the UAE as it is in other regions. It is not yet a widely-accepted norm and for that reason, it can in some instances, have a negative effect on career progression. To overcome this, businesses have to change the perception that presence in the office leads to performance. Until this happens, I believe that there will remain a stigma associated with flexible working.
9. Does your organisation have any diversity and inclusion programmes in place?
Yes we do. DMCC is wholly committed to diversity and being fully inclusive of all demographics from gender and disabilities, to age and ethnicity.
Specific to gender, DMCC is a gender neutral organisation. This applies in all organisational processes including recruitment, promotion opportunities and salaries. If you have the skills, demonstrate experience and qualifications for the role, then you have the opportunity to succeed. Moreover, diversity at DMCC is demonstrated in our most senior positions, with our executive committee equally divided between men and women. Empowering women and women in leadership is also part of our organisation’s CSR strategy.
10. Going forward, what more do you think can be done to create a culture that enables women to thrive in their careers?
Part time working, flexible working, remote working and further development in the labour law to enable employers to easily and legally implement such practices will further enable women to thrive. As a result, current practices such as ‘Presenteeism’ that prohibit women in their careers as they are expected to be in the office 9am-6pm, will become less prevalent. I believe these more sophisticated working practices are already gaining momentum in the region and are opening up great opportunities for women to succeed in their respective professions.
11. Do you have any advice for female professionals who are in or who are looking to progress to a management or leadership role?
Don’t let history dictate your future. Write your own story as you will soon be changing those stories that came before you. Stay positive. Don’t consider that your gender will hold you back.
There will unfortunately always be naysayers, like those family members or friends who might say it’s a ‘man’s career’, which was my experience when joining the British Army. However, it is your choice whether you listen to them and make it an excuse not to pursue your dreams. In my case, after seeing that negativity as their ‘opinion’, I was determined to change that opinion by demonstrating my successes.