When Egyptian Women Rock the Corporate World!
Whenever it comes to certain jobs, women are most probably overlooked. The large return on investment in hiring women is ignored because “this is a man’s job”. GE launched an event by its Women’s Network, promoting women’s roles in Business, Media and Society. The Women Network events have been held for three years now with great success. Female guests were Hala El Barkouky and Yousra, both accomplished and inspiring women. Hala, the founder and managing partner of Allied Business Consultants – among other impressive titles – and Yousra, the timeless actress whose work has inspired many, spoke about women’s impact in business. We later on sat down with Menha Samy, the legal counsel of GE and Menna Barakat, the HR Manager of GE to talk to them about the same topic.
You’re both examples for women making it in the corporate world in Egypt. Was it difficult?
Menha: Of course, at least for me personally. Currently I’m a senior legal counsel in GE. For 10 years before that I was a corporate lawyer, though. And it was very tough. You have to fight a lot to prove yourself.
Recently in GE the pressure to promote women grew. We’re still dealing with lots of cultural issues, though. Not on our senior level. However, I’ve heard female employees saying they wouldn’t be given training because they recently got married and might have children.
Menna: It was different for me. I was welcomed when I started out in GE five years ago.
Do you still think the corporate world is unfair to women?
Menna: That’s true for local companies, but multinational companies are different. They are on the right track, even in Egypt.
If so, what would you change and how would you like to do that?
Menha: I think we need awareness. It doesn’t sink into the mid-managerial levels in Egypt. For example: I have to do a lot to get managers to come to a Women’s Network event
Would you encourage young women to follow in your career paths?
Menna: Yes, of course.
Menha: Definitely. I’m very proud of where I am now.
You are the legal counsel and HR Manager of GE. Were there any incidents where your work immediately affected female employees in particular?
Menna: Of course. I always think of the diversity that we need to have when we have vacancies. We take into consideration ladies applying for different roles and functions.
Menha: I look at it from two points. First point is being a role model. I was surprised that a lot of women come to me for advice. Second point is the work I’ve done with Women Network. I’ve seen it growing for the past 3 years and it’s still growing.
Were you ever discouraged by society from pursuing your career?
Menna: Not really. I think HR is a function where women outnumber men.
Menha: Looking at things since I joined GE, I was never discouraged. However, when I was in a law firm, during meetings with clients they would look at it as if I was not intelligent or strong enough.
International Women’s Day conferences are held each year. Have you witnessed any progress or change coming out of them?
Menna: I think part of it is showing a little bit of appreciation and recognition to women. As well as giving them tips and tricks on how to deal with certain situations.
What are the most notable changes they’ve made from your point of view?
Menha: Women get to speak up more.
What is the most immediate women-related issue that you think needs to be addressed?
Menha: Life-work balance, giving women more flexible hours. I’m a working mother. And GE is giving me a big opportunity to do both. I can work from anywhere.
Menna: I agree. GE usually respects your commitments to your family. As long as you’re delivering, you can work from home, the club, anywhere.
Egypt was classified as one of the worst places for women to live in. Do you see hope in this changing anytime soon?
Menha: The main problem women are facing everywhere is sexual harassment. If we don’t change this, I don’t see hope for women getting anywhere.
Menna: I agree. It’s a mindset that we need to change.