A Template For Success: Sheikha Alanoud Bint Hamad Al-Thani, Deputy CEO And Chief Business Officer, Qatar Financial Centre Through her endeavors at Qatar Financial Centre, Al-Thani is pushing for greater gender inclusivity and youth empowerment
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The debate on how gender equality in the workplace can be fully achieved often invites suggestions galore. But when you ask the same question to Sheikha Alanoud Bint Hamad Al-Thani, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (DCEO) and Chief Business Officer (CBO) of Qatar Financial Centre (QFC), her reply feels comfortingly fresh. "While most financial organizations are now more focused on diversity and inclusion, having a role model is still one of the most significant motivating factors to attracting young women into the finance industry or any industry for that matter," Al-Thani declares. "It is absolutely necessary if we wish to see a truly balanced and inclusive workplace."
Without expecting women to solely take on the onus of closing the gender gap, Al-Thani thus resorts to what is possibly the oldest way of creating impactful change: inspiration. And even then, she displays a keen awareness of how teetering the topic is when she lauds fellow Qatari women's progress in various business fields, while also lamenting the persistent lack of female inclusivity. "We are truly fortunate to live in a country with strong leadership figures, from Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development Chairperson H.H. Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, to its Vice Chairperson and CEO H.E. Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, whose roles at the helm of educational development in the country has long inspired our growth as a community- I take a lot of inspiration from their strength and their example," she says. "But despite the increased awareness of the significant benefits a gender balanced workplace brings to an organization, women remain underrepresented in most business organizations, particularly in boardrooms. In fact, Deloitte reports a global average of just under 20% of board seats held by women in 2021. In order to close the current gap, we need more women to enter the industry so that we can increase the number of those we can train and promote into managerial positions, and, consequently, to executive roles."
If you, dear reader, are a woman who is indeed on the lookout for female role models, then you needn't perhaps look further than the next few pages. Al-Thani is, after all, a woman with an inspiring journey that can motivate you. She first started her journey at QFC, a Doha-based business and financial center that helps businesses set up in Qatar, as Associate Director of Economic Affairs for the MENA Region, and soon after became the Vice President of Strategic Alliances at the CEO Office. Following those roles, Al-Thani went on to become QFC's Managing Director of Business Development in 2017- a designation she held until she took on her current mantle as DCEO and CBO at QFC. "There have been countless incredible moments in my career, but gaining the trust of the community over time, and having that reflected in my gradual progression through the ranks of the QFC has certainly been something that I am proud of," Al-Thani says. "Being entrusted with the positions of DCEO and CBO have represented the culmination of my efforts as of yet. With QFC's unceasing support, I hope my journey will inspire other young women to realize their ambitions– even if the path ahead is untravelled."
Peruse through Alanoud's list of achievements, and you will find that she has also held the position of board member across various local and international organizations, initiatives, and programs. In 2021, Al-Thani was also awarded the Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum, an accolade she deems as having been a great honor. "I hope that my role as a woman holding an executive position in a still male-dominated field serves as a visual example for young people of how far they can advance their careers in this industry, thereby inspiring them to start a career in finance," Al-Thani adds. "I consider it a responsibility and an honor to be part of a generation of Qatari women who are not passive bystanders, but indispensable contributors to our development journey as a country and as a society. It starts from education– our country is investing heavily in learning as the basis for equal opportunities and long-term career projection; in fact, in 2021, 77% of graduating students in Qatar University were female. By empowering other women to pursue their dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, gaining an advanced degree, or achieving success in their career of choice, we can benefit our economic advancement as a whole."
This pursuit for more female representation across the business landscape is what forms the crux of Al-Thani's endeavors at QFC. "Coming to the QFC did not change my vision as much as it sharpened my focus on the initiatives, the outreach, and the messages that can lead to the positive impact we wish to see," she says. "The QFC itself is a diverse environment, currently housing more than 9,000 professionals of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. This encompasses a strongly positioned female workforce, which makes up around 32% of all employees at the QFC; 80% of these women work in middle to senior level positions. Many of my female colleagues are experts in their respective fields with university or post-graduate degrees, working to influence progress in Qatar's financial sector."
Fostering such a female-inclusive community has led to a ripple effect of success within the country's economy, Al-Thani believes. "With the help of this remarkable community, the QFC plays a significant role in developing the country's financial services sector, and driving its digital transformation," she says. "Each day, their commitment to this vision encourages me to aim for more. Just this year, we exceeded our initial target number of registered firms on the QFC platform to reach over 1,500. Simultaneously, the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has accelerated country-wide investments and growth, serving as another catalyst for the QFC's own targets. I am confident that we will continue in this trajectory with clear targets post-2022 in mind. From a personal perspective, I contend it as a point of pride that my vision of fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce with empowered female voices is embedded in the QFC's strategy. By pulling on this rope together, we can work for equal representation and pass those same values on to our community."
In her replies regarding female empowerment, Al-Thani exudes a level of empathy and understanding that is sometimes lost amid conversations that focus on comparative statistics and regulatory frameworks. It should perhaps come as no surprise, then, that the values she admires the most in leaders are empathy and emotional intelligence. "Over the years, I've observed various leadership styles, often based on individual personalities, the nature of the work, the size of a team, and similar factors," Al-Thani says. "What stands out to me as determinative of a leader's success and impact is the ability to communicate clearly and empathize with others. The leaders I look up to and my amazing mentors all had the ability to express ideas and information clearly, which led to faster and more straightforward completion of projects. In my team, open communication is encouraged, which I believe has been instrumental in our success. Similarly, empathy and emotional intelligence go a long way in the business world and are key determinants to strengthening relationships, which in turn positively impact the health of an organization."
So, how would Al-Thani define the leader she is today? "I would sum up my leadership style as visionary, transformational, and collective," she replies. "My team and I have a clear vision of what we want to achieve, and plan our initiatives based on our long-term targets, including the QFC's strategic directive and the national development plan. Personal growth is encouraged at the QFC, along with the pursuit to enhance each team member's individual strengths and abilities. I believe that a good leader develops good leaders. This starts with self-awareness. Also, harvesting a lifelong learning mentality is imperative to remain open to adaptation and change for the collective benefit of the team."
Now, while QFC initiatives to support female inclusivity have been one branch of the Sheikha's tree of leadership, there is one other branch she is equally passionate about: empowering the Arab youth. Prior to starting at QFC, Al-Thani worked at Silatech, a Qatar-based social initiative that connects young people to employment opportunities across the Arab region. Having such an experience under her belt has only helped Al-Thani in catering to the entrepreneurial goals of Qatar's youth. "I am always amazed to witness the strides our youth in Qatar and from the region continue to make, particularly as talented entrepreneurs who are taking charge of their future," she sas. "This daring belief in their ability to shape their lives and make a tangible contribution to our country's development inspires me and, certainly, our entire community. Equally, I can see their resilience and creativity, working around unique challenges in today's business world– from the impacts of climate change and sustainability initiatives to the long-term effects of the pandemic."
With a small and medium enterprise (SME) sector that accounts for approximately 97% of total companies in the country, Qatar's entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to grow. In fact, in 2022, the nation ranked eighth on the the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor's list of the world's best countries for entrepreneurship. "This is in part due to the support startups receive from organizations and incubators, ranging from the Qatar Development Bank, the Qatar Business Incubation Center, the Qatar Science and Technology Park, and many more," Al-Thani adds. "But QFC is no exception to this. We routinely forge partnerships with leading local and international organizations that purposefully champion learning and development to shape the next generation of leaders. We also work on initiatives that support the growth of young entrepreneurs such as our summer program with the Qatar Finance and Business Academy - Northumbria University, which introduced Qatari youth to potential careers in Qatar's rapidly growing finance and investment space. Today's youth are actively engaged, thereby accelerating our transition to the socio-economic standards set out in the country's national development plan, the Qatar National Vision 2030."
Now it's not uncommon to look at a catalog of work as diverse as Al-Thani's and wonder how she deals with the pressure of balancing so many responsibilities. In a neat segue that circles back to her initial conversation on empathy and role models, Al-Thani says, "Personally, I have navigated the unique demands of my job and my leadership position by being open to continuous learning and by looking at the bigger picture– the greater impact our day-to-day tasks make. Behind each company at QFC stand individuals with their own dreams and hopes of success; it remains a privilege to support their journeys, and to create a lasting link with Qatar and the world. That said, as a female leader, I also have a special consciousness towards women's role in the workplace. For many incredible trailblazers, who continue to pave the way for the next generations, 'being first' in a role is no small feat. It can be a lonely and challenging path to be the first woman in a specific professional role or company; yet it is also one of the most rewarding experiences."
In 2023, Al-Thani and QFC hope to further promote Qatar as an ideal investment destination to different markets across the globe. "We also intend to build on and forge more partnerships by signing memoranda of understanding with key local and international organizations that share in our commitment to the economic expansion of our country," she adds. "This long-term QFC strategy has already led to several collaborative initiatives that have helped facilitate knowledge exchange and foster development across QFC's focus sectors. With a view to the future, we look forward to intensifying our efforts in future-focused industries, from fintech to sports and smart cities."
But even as she prepares for this next phase of growth, Al-Thani reminds, again, the power of having someone to look up to. "With time, I have personally witnessed and become part of a changing dynamic within our society," she says. "Young women today should choose role models that inspire them to take advantage of professional opportunities that can unlock new horizons. If we continue to work together and support one another, I am confident that we can overcome potential pushback and claim our role as women entrepreneurs and professionals who can achieve excellence in their respective fields."