Interview with Rania Habiby Anderson: Author & Global Speaker

“If you are committed to having a social impact and keep that front and center in your heart and mind, you’ll find many ways to do so.”

Rania Habiby Anderson is the leading expert on the professional advancement of women in emerging economies and the author of Undeterred: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies, the first career advice book expressly written for educated women in developing and emerging countries. Fueled by a deep conviction that the global economy will only thrive when women are fully and equally engaged in driving its prosperity, Rania is on a mission to unleash the careers and businesses of 100,000 women around the world. As international speaker, the founder of The Way Women Work, and an executive business coach, Rania speaks to, advises and coaches women and men around the world. As the co-founder of a women’s angel investor network of 48 women investors, she invests equity in high-growth women-led businesses.

Congratulations on your book, ‘’Undeterred’’. Why the focus on being undeterred?

In my research over the past five years, I uncovered that being undeterred is the primary trait and habit that sets apart successful professional women in emerging and developing countries. Women in these markets who succeed don’t let anything stop them from pursuing what they want. They work around, reduce or eliminate obstacles put in their way. I uncovered this trait as well as five other success habits as I interviewed and researched more than 250 women of all ages and stages in their careers and businesses in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. I continue to learn what sets these women apart as I hear from women during my international speaking engagements, work with corporations, on social media, and via my organization, The Way Women Work

‘’Undeterred’’ targets educated, ambitious women in developing and emerging economies. How different would you say are the needs of this audience from women in other parts of the world and how does your book address those?

While I would never presume to paint all developing and emerging economies with a broad stroke, many of these markets are predominantly paternalistic and power is held primarily by men. Because of laws impeding women’s economic opportunities, gender-based job restrictions and cultural practices, the economic participation and advancement of women has historically been impeded. My book takes these cultural values into account by providing examples of women who succeed in spite of these constraints and it offers career actions that take societal norms into account. Two examples: I provide women who feel they would be negatively judged for having a male mentor with alternative mentor arrangements, and I offer ideas for different ways to network in male-dominated societies where it is difficult for women to network in public with men.

You have an audacious goal indeed – ‘’to unleash the careers and economic impact of 100,000 educated women in developing and emerging economies’’ What are some of the ways you are executing this goal, how will you know you’ve achieved it and what will the story of women look like when you succeed?

I am going after this goal in many ways: through the sales and distribution of my book, by speaking to university students and at conferences, working with male and female leaders in corporations, sharing career advice regularly on TheWayWomenWork.com, our newsletter, social media, various other platforms and publications, and by coaching women one-on-one.

Every time, I work with women, I ask them to commit to taking at least one action that will advance their career or business success. I measure success by seeing women advance to middle, senior and executive positions. I also look at macro data of employment rates among women and women who start and grow business that create jobs. While all it is often hard to know the extent of the  impact we are having (for example, I won’t know when a women gives a copy of her copy of Undeterred to a friend, or all the strategies that women implement that accelerates their success), we keep track of what we can measure.

Who is an empowered woman? What are some of the breakthrough insights you share with women that helps them empower themselves?

Women tell me that what is the most empowering about my work is that I provide much more than inspiration. I give them specific actions they can immediately take that will make a difference in their ability to succeed.

Some of the key insights that women tell me resonate with them are when I talk about:

  • How we don’t need to fix women, that there is nothing wrong with women and that they can make the greatest contribution when they bring their authentic self to the workplace.
  • Confidence is not something you are or are not. Confidence is just a feeling that is built by taking action. Every step forward you take builds confidence regardless of your success or failure.
  • How women who acknowledge and communicate their achievements (versus diminishing their accomplishments or assuming that they will be recognized if they do a good job) advance further and are more satisfied in their careers.

What do you say to those who suggest that women-only initiatives are not as effective as they might be as they keep men out, the latter still being the majority in leadership positions and key to championing women’s journey to higher positions?

I agree with that criticism of women-only initiatives. Relying on women-only initiatives has gotten us this far in terms of gender equality, but we are no longer making progress. We will only achieve gender parity when we involve men by making the business case for gender equality, advocating for practices and policies that enable the advancement of women and by teaching men specifically what and how they can be personally involved in enabling and promoting women. It is this last point, helping men learn what they can personally do to advance women, is where we now have the greatest opportunity.

Besides increased financial freedom and leadership influence what else do you think would increase women’s voice and clout and power?  

Full engagement and commitment from men.

What have you learnt from strong women mentors that has significantly impacted your own journey as an influential women leader?

The mentoring from women that I’ve received is one the greatest blessings in my life. From one of my earliest managers, Nan Blizard, I learned to set very high standards of excellence for myself. From a great, early pioneer in the economic empowerment of women, Beth Smith (now in her nineties), I learned how helping one woman helps a host of women and an entire community. SuEllen Fried, Adele Hall and Karen Herman showed me how powerful kindness and humility is in solving the most entrenched of problems. From my friend Lynn Hinkle, I learned about the power of vision and thinking big and bold. From a whole group of peers and friends, I learned the importance of and how much I need the support of other women.

You must have quite a rounded perspective on the issues women face having been in corporate roles, currently an entrepreneur and an angel investor as well. What have all the thousands of women you’ve engaged with taught you about women’s leadership and what will accelerate it?

It might seem trite and a cliche but nonetheless it’s the truth – in every role I’ve had, I’ve seen unequivocally that women who first and foremost believe in themselves and understand their own power, succeed.

You’ve said and rightly that ‘’inspiration’’ is not enough for women to get ahead and a new approach is needed. What is that new approach you deploy and how do you ensure it’s culturally appropriate?

I feel like we have too much focus on inspiration, making people “feel” something but we don’t pay enough attention to action – helping people “do” something to effect change. I strive as best as I can to couple inspiration with action; to identify for people the actions they can take to achieve the results they are after. One of my first managers, Nan Blizard who I talked about previously, taught me that you most appeal to all three: the head (facts and data), the heart (emotion and inspiration) and the hands (actions and what you can do) to effect change. I think about and apply this advice every day in my work.

As a role model in your own right, what do you see as the next big step in your own career that will inspire others to have the confidence to scale their ambition?

I am right in the middle of that big step in my career right now. I know I am finally doing my life’s work. I’ve wondered about the shape my role would take in eradicating the inequities girls and women face since I was about 11-years-old. It took me until I was 50 to become fully engaged in what I’ve known I was meant to do. When I speak internationally and work with university students, business women, women entrepreneurs, and men I feel that it has all been worthwhile and that I am empowered as more women and men are too.

I am speaking in October at Indiana University about making a social impact in your career. Many university students believe that if they want to make a social impact, they have to take a job in a social field or start a social venture right after they graduate or they won’t ever be able to do so. I don’t see it that way. If you are committed to having a social impact and you keep that front and center in your heart and mind, you’ll find many ways to do so, some small and some significant.  Build your skills and expertise, look for opportunities, go through the doors that open for you, you’ll find your way to the path you are supposed to be on – it’s inevitable.

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.

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