Leadership is not a destination at the end of the road, but rather a journey in itself.
By Mohamed Adam
“It is our everyday challenges and how we deal with them,” Sara Aziz said, when she relayed her experience with becoming one of Egypt’s most prominent female leaders in the development field.
Sara Aziz is the founder of Safe Egypt, a local organization based in Cairo, which aims to deliver psychosocial services in the field of child protection. She was one of six women forming a panel of the latest DEDI Talks & Events. The event was held on June 23, under the theme Women in Leadership – Tales from Denmark and Egypt, at the Swiss Club Garden in Cairo.
The Danish panelist, Julie Arnfred Bojesen is the Director of the Uranian-Danish Youth House. She highlighted that one of the challenges women face in Denmark is the cultural norms which claim that it does not suit women to be “bossy.”
Together with to other young, Danish women leaders, she participated virtually from Denmark. The experiences shared from Denmark through the projector screen matched and complimented what was heard from the Egyptian panelists at the Swiss Club Garden.
Mahmoud Karem, a sales trainer at Oppo, was one of a few men who attended the talk. He found the similarities interesting.
“I came here thinking that I will listen to different experiences from Denmark and Egypt. However, it was surprising to know that the challenges women face to become leaders know no boarders,” he said.
Mira Magued, an interior design student at the Higher Institute for Applied Arts who attended the discussion, thought that this was one of the most interesting similarities.
“In Egypt too, women leaders are often not taken seriously. They would be mocked if they are firm or insist to behave professionally,” she said.
Mira Magued said that it was inspiring to know that the most of the panelist, whom she described as role models, underwent major career shifts throughout their journeys.
“As an interior design student who dreams to work in the development sector, this was very reassuring. Now I am determined to pursue my dream and face the challenges that come with it.”
The panelists exchanged their experiences answering a question from the floor about maintaining a work-life balance, explaining how they juggle their careers with their homes and children.
Marianne Svenningsen, who is a Public Affairs Manager, explained that having healthy conversations with your partners is key in maintaining this balance. It also helps in finding the best way to distribute the family duties. Katrine Damgaard, who, a Head of Engagement, relayed the same experience.
Youmna Saleh, agreed and added that these conversations must be continuous and renewable. Youmna Saleh holds the position of Head of Experimentation at UNDP Accelerator Lab.
However, another attendee found it ironic that when this question is asked to men in leadership positions, it is often phrased differently.
“It is funny that when there’s men on the panel, the question is usually about maintaining a work-life balance that see them keeping a healthy life style. We expect to hear them mentioning their workout or healthy eating routines. It is like this pressure of being successful at work and taking care of the family is unique to women,” she added.
The panel was moderated by Shahd Rashed, Europe, Middle East, and Africa Digital Strategist at IBM, and brought together Yomna Saleh, Head of Experimentation at United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Accelerator Lab, and Sara Aziz, the founder of Safe Egypt, with Julie Arnfred Bojesen, the Director of the Ukrainian-Danish Youth House, Marianne Svenningsen, the Public Affairs Manager at STRING and Katrine Damgaard Head of Engagement at URBAN 13.
DEDI Talks Women in Leadership – Tales from Denmark and Egypt was the third DEDI Talk. DEDI Talks & Events is a series of public events where we invite participants and partners of DEDI projects to share their experiences and insights with a wider audience. We also convene experts and people with special knowledge in the fields of DEDI’s engagements.
Upcoming end of August is DEDI Talks Documentaries.