IWD: Hard work, skills and determination, not gender, define leadership

Laila Almheiri:  Everyone has their battles to fight
IWD: Hard work, skills and determination, not gender, define leadership
Laila bin Hareb Almheiri, Founder & CEO of Alive Group

Laila bin Hareb Almheiri,  founder & CEO of Alive Group, is an expert on multiple disciplines with more than three decades of experience in transforming the aviation, cybersecurity, public transportation, and holistic healthcare sectors.

On IWD, she offered the below heartfelt Op-Ed to Economy Middle East.

Can I be honest? It irks me when people introduce me as a ‘woman leader’ or a ‘woman entrepreneur’. Sure, I’ve been blessed to lead as a Board Member in various organizations, and as an entrepreneur, I’ve launched multiple ventures. Yet, none of my accomplishments, ambitions, or achievements have been built on the narrative that I’m a ‘woman’. Gender has never been the defining factor of my leadership or entrepreneurial abilities.

It’s time to recognize hard work, skills, determination, and experience without perpetuating the stereotype or prejudice that women have been ‘gifted’ leadership positions rather than earning them.

That said, there’s no doubt that globally there has been a historic, systemic bias and a lack of equity in opportunity based on gender, but the same socio-economic inequalities have been witnessed across race, religion, caste, class, ethnicity, indigeneity, disabilities, and more.

Read: WD: Customizing training programs to break barriers to gender diversity, inclusion

I believe that everyone on this planet has their battles to fight and their challenges to overcome – and sure, some of us have far more difficulties than others. I know this first-hand, having had to fight and overcome paralysis through painful physiotherapy to move even one step forward in life while others were running ahead.

gender leadership

Yet, there are no shortcuts to setting goals, putting in the hard work, learning and upskilling continuously, networking and building genuine professional relationships, being flexible, taking risks, seeking feedback, and proactively turning one’s weaknesses into one’s strengths.

During my time as a regulator in the GCAA (General Civil Aviation Authority, UAE), I saw wide-eyed girls entering the industry aiming to make a difference. However, while their confidence was sky-high, they had not devised a career plan that could accelerate them to the top.

While it’s true that we as women often possess incredible confidence, it’s also true that without the right mindset, application, and an encouraging system, that confidence will slowly wane away.

My time at the GCAA was filled with advocating for women to take on challenging roles and disrupt the status quo. Many of them couldn’t fathom roles that were essentially dominated by men. They couldn’t understand that they had what it takes to compete with men and to better them.

After many years of training and policy changing, we finally saw women take on more roles they aspired to become. Their confidence was driven in the right way and their determination was no bounds. They realized the need to excel at what they did, regardless of their gender.

Years later, I still mentor young women in aviation. They often asked me what inspires me. My answer is always the same: I am inspired by the idea of equity. I believe that women should be treated equally and fairly, not because they are women, but because they are capable and talented individuals.

I believe that when we constantly label ourselves and others based on gender, we reinforce the idea that women are somehow different from men. We perpetuate the very stereotypes and biases that we are trying to overcome.

Unlike a bookend’s job to support the books on a shelf, ‘woman’ before ‘leader’ will not support the fact that you are a leader.

We don’t need labels to define us or to prove our worth. We need to focus on doing our best, supporting each other, and creating a world where everyone – regardless of gender – can succeed.

Let’s stop defining ourselves as ‘women leaders’ or ‘women entrepreneurs’. Let’s simply be industry-leading entrepreneurs and global movers and shakers who happen to be women.

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