Mais Barouqa, CISA, CRISC, CGEIT, COBIT 5 Foundation GRCP, ISO/IEC 27001:2013 LA, ITIL, has more than 6 years of specialized experience in the realm of technology risk services inclusive of IT audits, IT risk assessments, post-implementation reviews, governance framework reviews, and compliance and controls assessments according to best practices. She has led multiple projects spanning a number of diversified industries across the Middle East region. Barouqa has been involved in providing IT control assurance and consulting services in numerous business environments. She has been involved in reviewing IT risk assessments through assessing vulnerabilities, threats and controls surrounding the IT environment; governance frameworks pertaining to the IT department; and security controls and data analytics using ACL to administer computer-aided audit tests (CAATs). Barouqa discusses how her experience has shaped her into the leader she is today.
Q: What is one of the biggest obstacles you have faced when stepping into a leadership position?
A: My biggest challenge was gaining the opportunity to shine and demonstrate my leadership skills at my firm. Considering I am currently working in the Middle East, the mentality is still very rigid when it comes to women leaders. Moreover, I found it challenging to identify someone to shadow, learn from and consider a role model.
Q: What is one of the most important internal (of your own effort) factors that led you to this role?
A: My continued perseverance with regard to acquiring knowledge and experience, stepping out of my comfort zones at work, and always asking for bigger roles in projects have led me to an assistant manager role at Deloitte. I continuously refuse to settle for a mediocre career or role, and that always makes me work harder on the tasks I am assigned.
Q: What other challenges do you see women face in being ready to take a leadership position?
A: Many women face the challenge of not being able to balance their families and their work and this seems to impact their confidence both in requesting and fulfilling leadership roles. Many women do not believe they will be available enough.
Q: What is the most important external (not of your own effort) factor that led to this role?
A: Working for an international firm with a culture based on supporting women in leadership positions is beneficial. My organization always attempts to accommodate the different needs of men and women professionals and provides the necessary skills and experiences for any professional.
Q: What challenges do you see organizations face as they look to hire more women in leadership positions?
A: Many organizations assume that female leaders will not be able to commit as firmly as male leaders would in the same roles, since many cultures assume that women should dedicate the majority of their time to handling family affairs rather than balancing time between family and work. Moreover, until recently, many organizations did not adopt flexible programs for parents (both male and female), which discourages certain individuals from considering working for such organizations even though they have the required experience to assume leadership roles.
Q: What do you think organizations can and should do to address retention issues for technology professionals, especially women?
A: Organizations should start to alter and adapt their cultures, policies and environments to accommodate the different needs of their team members. For women, I believe that organizations should focus first on the culture of the organization itself. They should start building a supportive and dynamic culture that provides women with the challenges necessary to create opportunities to shine and elevate their skills. These circumstances allow people to lead. In addition, organizations should make diversity in the workforce core to their strategies. Setting this priority at the top allows the commitment to diversity to trickle down to the remaining levels of the organization.
Furthermore, organizations can start adjusting their internal policies and strategies to allow more flexibility for women to balance work and personal lives. I am a strong believer that no one should be put in a position where they need to choose between family and work, especially in an age where technology and communication are available to all people in all places.
Finally, organizations can further encourage women to get and stay involved in the tech profession and, specifically, to achieve leadership roles through ensuring a mandated percentage of women’s representation on the board and in senior management.
Q: Have you seen progress in retaining women in the technology field over the course of your career?
A: Definitely. I work in a profession that requires more commitment and long working hours which can be intimidating for many professionals. Nevertheless, in recent years, more women are targeting the same profession and more women are advancing into senior roles and becoming role models. Personally, I believe that this is the result of organizations adapting their cultures and policies to make this profession manageable for women in technology.
Q: What progress do you see legislatively or culturally in your country or region toward addressing the gap of women in tech?
A: The culture’s mentality in the Middle East has shifted toward encouraging women to pursue higher education and advanced degrees. A recent study by the World Bank, which presents the status and progress of women in the Middle East and North Africa, confirmed that the investment in education for women has increased massively and the majority of Middle Eastern and North African countries are now above the literacy rate. This has translated into an increase in the number of women entering the workforce.
Additionally, the overall mind-set toward women refraining from involvement in certain male-dominated fields such as technology has also changed. Today, in this region, we see women taking roles in such fields and proving successful which, in turn, has boosted both the regional tech industry and the economy.
Nevertheless, as a Middle Eastern community, we still need to work to reduce the gender gap and encourage women to take on more executive roles in all industries, not just technology.