On the lighter side of things, we ask the industry experts what makes them tick. Intelligent CIO speaks to Gihane Mourad, Sales Director, Financial Services and Retail for MENA, Gemalto.
What drove you to get into tech and your first role in the industry?
I would have to say that technology found me. After I joined Schlumberger in 1998 I was offered the opportunity to work in volume products. Back then the industry was experiencing an exciting time, with the introduction of ‘digital payment’ with payphones. The evolution of digital transactions has come a long way since then, as have I.
In terms of influences there have been so many, and I have always had a hunger to learn and to share knowledge with others. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with inspiring mentors, great colleagues and of course, joining Gemalto, a leader in Digital Security.
Can you mention some of the key achievements of your career?
I have had the blessing of being able to work across various fields of digital transactions, from telcom operators to banks and a mix of government with eKYC projects. Having experienced many key moments throughout my career, I am most proud of the work that has simplified people’s lives through transactions.
Whether that be making a call from a payphone or riding the metro with a tap and go system. From making purchases easily and safely in stores or online to be able to open a bank account from the comfort of your kitchen table while sipping on your morning coffee, I find the way that technology has transformed our lives fascinating.
Besides fairness and being the right thing to do, diversity in the tech industry is important because of the value women can bring to employers, clients and customers. How have you made your mark in the industry working on projects specifically (your proudest moment)?
Diversity is hugely important in any industry and I am passionate about encouraging my female colleagues and championing their achievements. I am actively involved in the ‘Gemalto Connected Women’, an internal professional women’s network that offers mentoring and knowledge sharing with a focus on leadership, communication and gender balance.
Some of my proudest moments have included working with small business owners, helping them hone the skills that can truly support their entrepreneurial endeavours. Working on projects where biometrics made it possible for women to claim the funds released by government to them, and only them, was a truly memorable moment.
I also participated in ‘Women in Payments’, an event in Canada focused on celebrating women’s achievements, innovation and leadership in the payments industry.
What are some of the barriers to women entering the tech industry? What was your personal experience?
I think the key barrier is confidence. While women may have access to the same education as their male counterparts and should be beginning their career from the same starting point, it does not always seem to be the case. I think many feel less entitled or worthy and this is what must change.
However, I do think we are making progress now and slowly but surely women are feeling more empowered both in and out of the workplace. One country that always impresses me when I visit, is Sudan – it is refreshing to see the number of women working there in leadership positions in government and financial institutions.
With diversity increasing in the tech sector, what do you think is driving this?
I agree that diversity in the tech sector in the GCC is increasing. I used to work in Canada where 67% of the financial sector workforce is female and I can see the GCC soon following. I don’t think anyone can question that the increase in female contribution in the tech sector is on the rise, and rightly so.
Women are quietly ambitious and want to be given the chance to lead organisations and business units. Opportunity and recognition is empowering regardless of gender but I think that having more high-profile females in the tech sector would give women the confidence to really go out there and succeed. The late Zaha Hadid, for example, was a real inspiration to many of her generation in her field.
As a woman in the industry, what has your experience been working in the sector? If you have worked in markets outside the GCC, how does your experience there compare with what you’ve experienced in other markets?
I have worked in both North America and in the GCC and while it isn’t unusual to be in meetings with women, hardly any of them are in leading positions within central banks. That is why I find Sudan and Egypt as great examples of countries where women are holding c-level positions. In North America there are multiple initiatives where women are encouraging and inspiring other women and that is amazing to see. The GCC as a whole is also leading the way with gender parity at the top of governmental agendas across the region.
What is the biggest challenge women in the sector face in GCC countries? How can these challenges be addressed?
We are lucky in the GCC for the support system that allows us to focus on our work. However, as women with busy careers, we have to accept that it is not unusual to feel pulled in two different directions – family and work – and this can be testing. Both ‘jobs’ are as important as one another, and the biggest challenge is about finding a balance that allows us to succeed at both. I believe we need to support each other in our quest to work on ourselves and seek guidance from mentors who have already been on the same journey – those who will inspire us, support us and encourage us to do the same as we move forwards.