Your Middle East
Last updated: 25 September, 2013

Interview: Morocco’s pioneering woman executive changes the game

Named one of 2013’s 25 most powerful women in Africa by Jeune Afrique, Nezha Hayat is one of Morocco's leading businesswomen and an avowed campaigner for the place of women in business.

Following a successful career working on capital markets in Spain, Nezha first joined Société Générale Morocco in 1995, and became its first woman board member a year later.

In 2007, she joined the Executive Board of Société Générale Morocco, and early this year was named Chairperson and CEO of SOGELEASE. As part of her commitment to increasing the presence of women on boards of directors, in 2012 she founded Morocco’s Club of Women Corporate Directors. Ms. Hayat was recently honored by the British government for her contributions to women in financial and professional services.

YME: You were the first woman to be on the board of directors of a bank in Morocco; recently named one of the 25 most powerful women in Africa; and have been honored by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and even the British government, among others, for your work in finance. What is the secret of your success? And what is the best path to success for women in the MENA?

NH: First of all, when I look at my career, I don’t see it in terms of success but in terms of progress. I am still working to move forward in my career and in my life, so I see positive steps each time I overcome an obstacle. I think one of the keys to success for women in this area is to never stop in the face of difficulty or failure, because there is always another solution—this is my first piece of advice. Be convinced about what you want to do and why you’re doing it.

“We should do it not only in a feminine way but also in a personal way”

A second key to success: as women we are quite new in this fight, to get to the top positions in large corporations. We should do it our own way, and not like men do it. We should do it not only in a feminine way but also in a personal way. I think that convictions and your values are powerful: be yourself, and defend your values.

Third piece of advice—the steps that have really counted in my career were not those taken when I arrived in a top position, but those taken when I accepted a challenge, took a position, restructured a department, or took a position creating a new venture that was not yet contributing to the results of the company.

My career has been shaped by taking what was complicated and what was new, and building and developing it. Wherever there is a road, even a very narrow one that one can take because the other roads are blocked, one should take it. Think not of what the company looks like today, or yesterday, but what it can become tomorrow – even when the vision is not in the head of the shareholders or top executives. Be creative, have a vision, be self-confident, be adaptable, and if, in spite of all these things, you find out that the company where you are is not meeting your demands, have the courage to change your situation.

YME: Based on your experience, what do you think are the social, legal, and political frameworks that need to be in place for women to follow in your footsteps and establish a career in finance and business?

NH: In any country, women need to be university-educated, and they should attend good universities that educate a woman properly to be prepared for management leadership once she enters the company.

It is also important to have a legal framework that gives all its rights to women. In Morocco, this includes the Moudawana—the progressive law on women’s and family rights that King Mohammed instituted in 2004, as well as the revised Moroccan Constitution of 2011.

YME: What changes have you seen in Morocco vis-à-vis women’s status, and what further changes do you expect to see in the future?

NH: There have been many reforms that helped—the Moudawana, the new 2011 constitution, and also the modernization of the economy. There are also many reforms in the business environment that make it better for both men and women. We are fortunate enough to have a king who is really promoting the individual and promoting women. And civil society is well organized; in the past we were talking about women creating an association of women entrepreneurs; today we have the general confederation of Moroccan enterprises, headed by a woman with a board of directors where at least a third are women. Today we have had women heading departments in the ministries of economy, energy, and finance. We see more women heading very technical and important functions within the private sector, as well.

YME: Has the Arab Spring had any effect on freedom and success for women in Morocco?

NH: In Morocco It had little to no impact. It may have brought the reform of the constitution a little sooner, but that reform was already planned. The new constitution says very clearly that women and men are equal; there are many articles that mandate that the government should make sure that women have equal positions in all fields of society. It’s there, it’s written, and it’s been approved. This new constitution also mandates about a high authority that makes sure all statutes for equality for men and women will be implemented.

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