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Feb 2011

Case study: Faezah Faiz Gharaghan, Sazeh Consultants

Faezah Faiz Gharaghan FCMA, CGMA has worked as the financial consultant to the managing director of Sazeh Consultants, Iran, since January 2010; a highly impressive achievement in a nation where cultural factors can make it difficult for women to forge a successful career.

Faezah Faiz Gharaghan, financial consultant

Her previous roles have included project manager at a management consulting firm, and working as an auditor in the public sector. In this illuminating interview, she speaks about how she has overcome cultural challenges in order to forge her successful career path.

Management and communication techniques

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced has been introducing new concepts in management accounting to previous generations, who are mostly working at the top level. To help me overcome such challenges, I used the eight step process of successful change, introduced by John Kotter in the book Our iceberg is melting.

I’ve also found effective communication a challenge at times, especially during my experience in management consulting, when I worked with firms with a variety of management styles and cultures. I’ve worked on various techniques to improve my communication skills, for example creating a different communication plan for each group.

Working in Iran

I have not faced any discrimination in the workplace and there is no earning gap between women and men in Iran. However I think women find it more difficult to move up to senior level or board level than men, and the Islamic cultural factors can make it harder for women to work in some environments, especially in the public sector.

'Women find it more difficult to
move to senior or board level than men'

I think flexibility is the most important tool to overcome such barriers. To succeed, you have to know the culture very well and constantly remind yourself of your goals and objectives. The best strategy is to take time to get to know the people you’re working with and understand the cultural environment of the workplace, and combine this with a non judgmental attitude and high respect for cultural differences.

Determination and dedication

As soon as I reach a position I start enhancing my knowledge and working on the qualities needed to move up to the next level. I love the constant challenge of this approach. When I worked in a management consulting company, I volunteered for almost every project and sometimes had to convince my manager that I had enough time to be part of the project team.

I have always tried my best, regardless of positive or negative results. ‘Keep trying, despite difficulties and disappointment’, is my slogan. I believe having intense professional will is the key for success.

Lessons from role models

Two people have helped me a lot in my career. The first was a teacher in a management course who taught me how to believe in myself, to consistently ask myself why I’m doing something and, finally, to always persevere. He told me, ‘As long as you can read and write you should be able to do your job well; if you don’t, it is because you haven’t tried your utmost.’

The second was one of my managers – a CIMA graduate. She was good at devolving leadership and gave me the opportunity to participate in many cases and projects during my four years with the company. Now I’m in the same position and realise how well she educated people by giving them responsibility, guiding and motivating them and making the work challenging. In many ways I model myself on her.

'Competitive advantage stems from the
unique competence possessed by a person'

It’s very important to have a role model as it enables you to benchmark yourself with a best practitioner and to focus on improvements you need to make. I think there is a shortage of female role models in my business environment.

Competing in a man’s world

I never think that I can’t achieve my goals because I am a woman. If I want to do something I just work on the knowledge, skills and qualities required for that job. Competitive advantage stems from the unique competence possessed by a person. Therefore women should try to find the right situations that enable them to harness their unique female talents and competencies.

Having a mentor is a fabulous asset in this highly competitive environment. Flexitime is also an important issue, especially for women who are dealing with family issues, as it can help women to move to a higher level.

A balanced board

I think there should be more women on the boards of organisations. Women look at issues from different angles and bring different viewpoints. Furthermore, they tend to be more analytical and take fewer risks. Female and male characteristics combined give a board more positive synergetic power and help it reach better decisions.

Tips for getting ahead

My advice for anyone who wants to move up to senior executive or board level is as follows:

  • be proactive 
  • improve your knowledge and skills
  • build your credibility
  • focus on the big picture
  • deepen your understanding of your organisation and industry
  • improve your presentation skills
  • take risks
  • believe in yourself
  • never stop learning
  • find a mentor.