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Understanding internal and external diversity: Yafa Al-Raheb

As part of our Diversity and Inclusion Chapter for the Women Who Mean Business Network, we interviewed Microsoft EMEA Cloud Solutions Sales Leader, Yafa Al-Raheb.

Yafa discusses her current role, which includes leading multicultural, multigenerational sales teams, and how simple gestures, such as bringing others into the conversation is powerful.

Tell us a bit about your current role/professional background

I’m currently leading multicultural, multigenerational digital sales teams at Microsoft, helping our customers on their digital transformation journey and empowering them and their customers to achieve more.

I have held a variety of roles in sales, operations, research, governance, product development, managing regional and global responsibilities.

I am very passionate about business and executive coaching and building high performing, engaged teams that drive exceptional results.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?

A mentor once told me to “enjoy the journey!”. As someone always striving to achieve, this advice nudged me to find some balance.

My father often said that people are the mystery to be solved. He felt that really understanding those around us enhances all our lives. We don't always listen to our parent's words of wisdom. This took time to sink in for me.

I remind myself of these thoughts regularly and try my best each day to find joy and beauty while really connect with those I meet on the way to my destination.

Can you recommend any habits that have helped your professional life?

Listening more. By listening more, we can identify and resolve issues quickly. We find better ideas and solutions by actually hearing the diversity of opinion all around us.

I find that taking a breath, focussing on what’s happening in the moment and really listening helps us and our organization get so much more done.

Strategy time: While we're all busy, spending time to clarify what I need to focus on this week to achieve what really matters is very valuable. Dedicating time to sit and think through the strategy for the business really pays off.

How would you define your personal values?

My personal values centre around growth, leadership, creativity, joy and achievement.

I am a firm believer in being authentic to who you are while treating others how they want to be treated, with dignity, respect and integrity.

Why is diversity and inclusion important within an organisation?

An organisation where every employee has a sense of belonging, feels included and has their voice heard has several powerful advantages.

As an inclusive workplace it will allow everyone to bring their best and it will be attractive to the very best talent from all backgrounds.

By tapping into the diversity of thought within the organisation, the creativity and human ingenuity this brings will unlock novel solutions for customers.

The organisation will also have a greater understanding of the diverse circumstances of their customers and how to create accessible products and services for them.

How can an organisation promote an inclusive culture?

Established organisations and start-ups face different challenges in this area. Start-ups have the potential to build an inclusive culture together from the get-go, while established organisations must manage change in their existing culture.

My experience is with change initiatives in larger organisations, which tend to have more success when the existing culture has fostered a learner mentality. This promotes an openness to change and fresh ideas.

Providing a safe space for everyone to learn and embrace change is important. The message that everyone has a role to play, from simple inclusive gestures like bringing others into the conversation to larger behavioural changes, is powerful.

How can a leadership team ensure a commitment to diversifying their workforce?

Actions speak louder than words and communicate to the workforce what really matters to the organisation. Leading by example by building a more balanced leadership team sends a strong message about the organisation’s need for different perspectives at all levels.

A more inclusive leadership team will enable all leaders to bring their best selves to work and can have a positive ripple effect across the organisation. With leaders seeing the benefits of this change at executive level, D&I strategies and messages are likely to land better across the organisation through more authentic engagement and sponsorship from leadership.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles that an organisation may face when implementing a D&I strategy? Do you have any examples?

We must overcome the sense that the mission to create a more diverse and inclusive organisation has been accomplished once the strategy has been developed and communicated.

The strategy needs to have a practical execution arm, enabling everyone to learn the tangible actions they can take to bring about the much-needed cultural evolution.

This can also help ensure that everyone, and not just the strategy drivers, feels a real sense of ownership for the D&I initiatives.

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