Posted by Hays UAE, March 2016
In this interview, Bethan Robbins, Commercial Director, Hays UAE, shares her experience of gender diversity in the workplace, her progression into a leadership role and provides insight into our Global Gender Diversity Report.
I joined Hays 18 years ago as a fresh graduate recruiter and I progressed through the channels of promotion. I started with Hays in the UK and moved to Dubai three years ago, the majority of my career has been in London, but I wanted to move so that I could gain international exposure.
The position I’m in today is a result of meeting targets, hard work and dedication. I have been lucky and found positions in Hays that have suited me and spurred me on. I moved up from consultant to manager, to a business director role and on to a regional director role, which led me to my current role as commercial director for the UAE region.
Tell us about your progression into your leadership role?
I knew that I wanted to be promoted and be the best I could be. I have always been conscious of driving my career forward. When I moved into my first managerial position I realised I liked the decision making aspect of the role and I enjoyed having more responsibility. I think that once you reach a managerial level it is natural to want to take on more. As you learn, you accept more responsibilities and this certainly motivated me.
I’ve had some inspirational managers throughout my career which has helped me a lot. It was good for me to work with professionals who were excited about what they do, whether male or female this inspires you to want to be like them.
When I moved into a regional director role, I was supported by a director in the business. He really believed in my ability which was invaluable for me as I wasn’t sure I was ready. He encouraged me to take this next step in my career which today has definitely given me more confidence in what I do. I believe it’s important to move into new roles with a ‘can do’ attitude. It might be hard, but nothing is going to be insurmountable as long as you can learn how to do it. This is what has pushed me forward throughout my career – pushing me outside of my comfort zone and continuing to challenge me.
Did you always aspire to reach a leadership role in your career?
I always knew I wanted to be successful in what I did and wanted to keep taking the next step forward. I set myself a goal of reaching regional director level, so I was very proud of myself when I reached this position – it felt like a great achievement. Since then lots of different things have happened but this was the most significant promotion as it was my first step towards ‘proper managerial responsibility’.
Our survey revealed that globally 12% of women feel that to be successful they would need to reach an MD/CEO position. Compared to 18% of men. Does this surprise you?
The result is not that surprising. I think that it’s good that the percentages aren’t much higher or have a wider gap because not everyone should feel that to be successful they have to reach the very senior positions. There are other roles that should be considered successful and that people should be proud of. I also believe this is a very personal question and not everyone will feel the same way. I’m not surprised by the gap between men and women. I am also not too surprised that men will regard an MD/CEO role as more successful compared to women.
In your opinion is there a difference between how men and women plan to progress in their careers?
For me I knew where I wanted my career to go but I didn’t know how to do it! Parts of my career progression were conscious decisions. I knew I wanted to achieve a certain position before I was a certain age and I do think it is important to set yourself these types of goals. I think men are probably more aggressive in career progression and setting goals, but I have come across women who are incredibly driven and have each step mapped out too. So I think that career planning is down to individual desire but that overall some men are probably more aggressive about it.
Have you encountered any gender specific challenges or obstacles in your career?
The UAE has a very male dominated work culture. Many businesses are run by males and it is certainly a male oriented working environment. I am pleased to say this is not the case with our business. However there are some very ambitious females in the UAE and there is a lot of emphasis on supporting women’s careers and driving female success. HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, is really driving this locally. She is Patron of the Dubai Business Women Council which was established in 2002 under the umbrella of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This is a really positive movement in Dubai and you now hear a lot more about gender diversity in the workplace. There are discussion groups, women’s networking groups and small business support groups setting up. I believe this is because driving female success in the region is being very much promoted and talked about.
When I was working in the UK there were no specific gender challenges to my career progression. Hays is a very open and diverse company and gender diversity is ingrained in the business. Promotions are given to those that work hard and generate results; they are based on performance and happen regardless of if you are male or female. If you are working for a company that supports you and if you have confidence in your abilities, you are treated equally.
Hays is an international company with a good reputation in the UAE. I can say that I have not faced any gender specific obstacles during my career in either the UK or the UAE.
Globally, 44% of respondents said that their organisation did not have formal gender policies in place and 28% weren’t sure. Are you surprised by this? Do you think this is the same in the UAE?
I’m not surprised by this. I think gender policies in the UAE are something which is becoming more of an agenda item but it has not been heavily promoted here before.
Globally, 45% of women do not think they have the same career opportunities as men. What do you think about this?
I’ve always found that the same opportunities are available for men and women regardless of gender. This may be different in other industries but then there are also certain jobs that women don’t want to do and vice versa. However all positions should be open to men and women. I wouldn’t say I agree with the percentage but I do believe it depends on the company you work for. There are challenges for women i.e. having to return to the workplace after having children can hinder a women’s career progression, but it’s not stopping them. Progression is down to desire/want, as well as personal circumstances.
Globally, respondents (both male and female) believe that the following initiatives will have the biggest impact on gender diversity in the workplace: flexible working practices and education across the organisation to change workplace culture. What do you think about this?
I believe these two initiatives are high on the agenda for businesses. Flexible working practices definitely help and support women who have a career break or young family and want to return to work. I think that education across the workplace is about making an idea more inherently accepted. Education will increase the skills of the workforce and will of course have an impact on gender diversity.
Globally, 64% of respondents, both male and female, think there is equal pay between genders. This is the same percentage compared to last year. Does this surprise you?
This isn’t surprising as I think there is equal pay in some sectors more than others. However if the majority of respondents say there is equal pay then you can’t ignore this. If we look back 10 years or so, there was probably more of a disparity in perception. I think equal pay is slowly being addressed and it is positive that the percentage has remained constant.
The gender pay gap is a hot topic at the moment. In the UK there are plans to bring forward rules to make firms with more than 250 workers reveal whether they pay men more than women. What impact do you think this will have on gender diversity in the workplace?
By disclosing this information, companies would have to address the salary differences (which they should be doing anyway for diversity and fairness) but this could cost industries quite a lot of money and potentially cost jobs. I don’t necessarily disagree with the policy but it depends on how it is implemented and what companies do to address any gaps. I’m sure the implementation will impact how important and positive the policy is.
Do you have any advice for female professionals who are in, or are looking to work in, a management or leadership role?
Work hard and don’t doubt yourself. Be confident in your ability because women are equally great at making decisions, this isn’t just a male trait! Women make excellent leaders and are capable of running organisations and taking on senior leadership roles. I would say don’t be afraid to take the next step up in your career. Everyone makes mistakes but it’s about what you learn from those mistakes and how you use the extra knowledge and skill to improve and develop your career. Just jump in and have a go! Finally, having a supportive boss or mentor and having someone you can go to for impartial advice is invaluable.
I hope you find this Q&A valuable. You can view the full Hays Global Gender Diversity Report here or click on one of the links below for more professional insights.