In the words of Heba Elrify: “Nothing should stop you from aspiring and achieving your goals.”Heba Elrify, a wife and mother of three daughters, is the Corporate Credit Director in Sarwa Capital Investments Holding, a member of the Executive Committee and Senior Credit Committee, a part-time instructor and lecturer in the School of Continued Education at the American University in Cairo and subject matter expert in executive education in the field of Banking and Finance. Elrify is one of the 55 women executives who graduated from the Corporate Directors Certification Program (CDCP) that was delivered by the School of Business of the American University in Cairo (AUC) within the framework of the joint UN Women- ILO regional programme “Promoting Productive Employment and Decent Work for Women in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine”, which is implemented in partnership with the National Council for Women (NCW) and the Ministry of Manpower and is generously supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). Elrify talked to UN Women about her professional journey as a successful corporate leader and the impact of the CDCP training on her personal and professional life.
“It all began in grade one when I was doing my homework with the help of my dad. I still remember this day as if it was yesterday. I was learning how to write the Arabic alphabet letters when the electricity went out. I was about to leave my chair because of the darkness when my father said, “Where are you going?” I said, “It is dark, I can’t finish my homework”, so he replied: “No, just give me a minute”. A minute later, he came back smiling at me with a candle in his hand and saying, “Don’t let anything stop you from doing what you want to do”. That life lesson continues to guide me through every hurdle I encounter in my personal and professional life. Nothing should stop you from aspiring and achieving your goals.
It was not before my mid 40’s when I was appointed as an Executive Director in Sarwa Capital Investments Holding. I take formation of junior teammates as a social responsibility, and I perceive my mentoring and coaching activities as a giveback to my society. I am proud to have many of my previous teammates promoted to higher positions and managing other companies.
Usually, married women are implicitly demanded to take elongated childcare leaves, resulting in their promotions being delayed or even possibly losing their job altogether. When children start going to school, mothers are the ones who have to help them with their homework. Therefore, women are often reluctant to stay at work after hours so they can attend to their familial duties, which is perceived as lack of interest-in work- by their seniors. It is no secret that trying to succeed at both the professional and personal levels put a huge burden on most aspiring women in my society. Stories of highly educated women who preferred to become housewives just to avoid the endless disputes with their spouses are countless. I have seen professional women keener to succeed than their male peers, perhaps because of the will to show that they are capable and competent and to defeat the stereotypical and longstanding perception that women are only qualified for being housewives.
In my experience, one of the strategies that is commonly used by women professionals is to totally ignore the social barriers that result from gender discrimination. Gender inequality is deeply rooted in the middle eastern societies; that’s why, women often work hard to find other ways to stand out, prove themselves and demand their rights instead of just calling for equal rights with their male peers.
As a loving mother and a dedicated professional, I faced lots of challenges. The prejudice of a male-dominated society on both social and professional levels continues to be one of the greatest challenges. However, I see great opportunity for development and creating positive change in Egypt. That is why, I regard the efforts exerted by the School of Business at AUC in collaboration with both UN Women Egypt and the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) as truly uplifting and inspiring.
The training has a great positive impact on my personal and professional life. From the beginning of the training, I found out that I share many challenges with my fellow participants. This was such a huge relief and it made me realize that “I am not alone” in my experiences and aspirations. Also, it was the first ever experience for me to participate in a training programme that is dedicated solely to women, grouping some amazing women altogether, thus enriching my professional network. After the training, I find myself proudly looking forward to the board experience, an aspiration I would shy away from if it were not for the training I received. I hope that these efforts demonstrate the huge untapped possibilities for the Egyptian society and economy when the principal of gender equality is adopted on various levels.