Women in leadership
Having worked her way up from research assistant to senior HR leader, Fareda Abdullah is well placed to champion female career development. “I do not accept the common misconception that women have no career ambitions,” says the VP – human capital and corporate communications at Majid Al Futtaim Ventures. Abdullah’s HR journey began in Arab Bank as Emiratization and training officer, progressing to manager of recruitment and training. She joined Dubai Properties group in 2005 as part of the HR team to set up systems, policies and procedures.
Soon she had advanced from being head of training & recruitment to executive director of HR, then on to chief operating officer. This role saw her take on extra responsibilities in procurement, IT, communication and administration process management.
While she is proud of her career achievements, she admits there have been challenges along the way. “As an ambitious and career-oriented Emirati lady, I have always had to deal with the challenge of work-life balance, multi-tasking and personal growth,” she says. Abdullah put her career on hold for a year to dedicate time to her newborn son, and simultaneously studied for a Masters in international business. She also widened her knowledge through undertaking short-term assignments. “It’s important to be focused and not give up,” she says. “You must adapt according to your circumstances. I have also been blessed with the support of everyone around me”.
Equal opportunities and engagement
After finishing her studies, Abdullah returned to work and joined her present employer in 2012. Part of the Majid Al Futtaim group, the company looks after leisure and entertainment facilities at Majid Al Futtaim malls and is expanding its brand portfolio within third-party shopping centres around the Middle East. Concepts include the region’s first indoor ski slope at Ski Dubai and its first indoor water park, Wahooo! in Bahrain.
Headquartered in the UAE, and with a presence across the Middle East and North Africa, the company has more than 4,240 employees – a third of whom are female – from 62 nationalities. It promotes an open, collaborative and unifying culture, says Abdullah, who explains that employees have the opportunity to share their views. ‘Ask the CEO’ is an initiative that encourages direct contact between staff and leaders, while personal development plans are in place for all employees at manager level and above.
A sustained focus on people has reduced staff turnover and increased engagement levels from 76% in 2011 to 91% in 2013, notes Abdullah, adding that HR is evolving into a key player in the strategic growth plan of the business.
Challenges of nationalization
Like any other organization, Abdullah admits that attracting, developing and retaining talent is an ongoing challenge. “Our main focus is building the bench strength to have proper succession planning, in line with our rapid growth and expansion,” she says.
As Emiratis make up a small percentage of the population, giving them unlimited choice, Abdullah says nationalization is a key issue. “This is compounded by the fact that every day, new business activities create work opportunities that young people perceive to be ‘exciting’. And with Dubai set to host Expo 2020, these openings will rise exponentially.
Majid Al Futtaim Ventures has implemented various nationalization programs, including Khutwa, a development scheme for Emirati graduates.
As for her own career, Abdullah’s ultimate aim is to be head of a business with full P&L responsibilities. “I’ve worked across many industries, seen different economic conditions and been in situations where I have had to take major decisions for the growth, expansion and – regrettably – the contraction of a company,” she says. “This has contributed to my growth as a professional and my ambition has been a huge driving force throughout.”