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Sun 16 Jul 2017 04:22 PM

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Why balanced leadership matters: Stephanie Aboujaoude

For Stephanie Aboujaoude, the Rezidor Group's women and leadership champion for the Middle East, the region has a lot of catching up to do

Why balanced leadership matters: Stephanie Aboujaoude

People may recognize the individual brands, but how would you describe the Rezidor Group to someone unfamiliar with the parent brand?

Rezidor is one of the fastest growing hotel companies in the world, and also one of the most dynamic. Our portfolio features our two core brands, which are; Radisson Blu Hotels and Park Inn by Radisson Hotels, as well as Quorvus Collection, our luxury collection of hotels, and our recently launched Radisson Red Hotel brand. We operate in 80 different countries. We have 500 hotels in operation and development in Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

The company has grown rather quickly in the Middle East. Is the long-term goal to continue expanding?

We want to focus on development, companywide. We aim to have 100 hotels in operation in the Middle East and Turkey by 2020. But also, we want to further focus on our values, which are very much linked to our mission and vision of the company. We want to maintain our status of being recognized as one of the world's most ethical companies, which we've been awarded for by Ethisphere for the seventh consecutive year. Our employee value proposition is also critical to us, and we have had a major diversity drive, from which we aim to have a more balanced leadership overall.

Why is having a more balanced leadership so necessary?

It's our primary diversity drive for the company, and within that drive, we came up with our women and leadership program, which started at the end of 2014. Within our studies and our focus groups for diversity inclusion, we identified that we had a lack of women in leadership positions within the company. Today, the number sits at around 16 percent. But research proves that companies with a more balanced leadership with regards to gender equality make bigger profits. So we've put a target in place of hitting 22 percent by the end of the year.

How does the company plan on making that happen so quickly?

We're working on the initiative across three different pillars. The first is development and training. We've already created several programs that focus on training women on how to become better leaders with the company, with a focus on – for example – communicating with better impact, career management and life balance overall. Our second pillar is flexibility and looking into our company policies that may hinder career advancement. This varies from region to region, and looks at things like flexible working conditions for female managers and leaders, as this helps us retain our female employees and groom them into future leadership positions. Finally, we're paying a lot of attention to behavioural change – that's tackling the unconscious bias and challenging the status quo. This is a particular problem in the Middle East, where there are a lot of cultural restrictions – even legal ones – when it comes to women.

How's your progress so far?

I'm very proud to say that when we first launched the program in 2014 we had just eight female employees in our hotels in Saudi Arabia, and we had ten hotels back then. Today, we have 76 female employees. For me, that's a significant achievement.

Do you think the region is lagging behind the rest of the world?

Definitely. As I mentioned, there is a lot of cultural restrictions and an unconscious bias out here. If you look at some of the statistics, only 13 percent of CEO roles in the Middle East and North Africa are held by women. Only 13 percent. That is a little bit sad when you look at the overall female population in the region.

Do you see this changing in future?

I do. I think that when we talk about the success of a company, you need to speak about the power of three for everything. For me, number one is getting the industry to support women. Number two is men supporting women. And number three is more women supporting women. Then we'll start seeing radical change.