BEIRUT: Being a woman of Arab descent, Ayla Ziz, the Managing Director of Unilever Levant & Iraq, has passed through several challenges in her professional life. From being perceived as an outsider because of her origins to having to deal with people’s bewilderment when they find out that she is a female mathematician, Ziz has never stopped defying stereotypes.
Born and raised in Damascus until the age of 13, Ziz left her motherland to pursue her education in Europe. She never thought she would come back to the MENA region to assume a top management position at a renowned multinational company.
“Many people think that I shouldn’t work in war zones, such as Syria and Iraq because I’m a woman. They think that I shouldn’t be traveling that often and working abroad because I’m a mother of three,” Ziz told Annahar. “To these people I say: There is no limit to what we can achieve as women. We need to change the perception of what women can actually do.”
After the establishment of Unilever Levant & Iraq Business Unit in 2017, Ziz decided to relocate to Lebanon to embark on a new challenge, leaving her husband and three children in London.
“It wasn’t an easy step at the beginning; however, I am delighted today to lead this newly built business unit in a region where a woman is not expected to lead, but instead to follow,” she said. “I want to make sure that my impact here gets bigger and bigger. The more I can do, the happier I am.”
Ziz’s appointment comes as part of Unilever’s strategy to incorporate women’s empowerment within its business model.
“Unilever is a strong believer in the fact that women’s empowerment is one of the most important enablers of sustainable human development and economic growth. Gender equality is fundamental to its progression,” Ziz explained.
Currently based in Lebanon, Ziz brought with her a professional experience that had covered sales, marketing, and customer marketing in a gamut of multinationals like Mars and Coca-Cola, and across several countries – including France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Being a native of this region provides her with “the emotional connectivity and desire to prove that the Levant & Iraq markets have a lot to offer in terms of further contributing to the building of multinational businesses in the MENA region, such as Unilever.”
Ziz stresses that she still feels challenged even after acquiring such a position.
“Working in the MENA region is a challenge in itself,” she noted. “With every passing day, I learn something new and I believe that if we stop learning, we die.”
Living miles away from her family, Ziz is happy to see her children grow independent and resilient.
“I am showing my sons and daughter the importance of being autonomous and that it is fine to be a mother and work,” she added.
According to her, more women should be in leadership roles.
“Research has shown that companies, which focus on diversity and inclusion, have a more engaged and productive workforce. This is a critical factor for us to succeed in the long term as a business,” she emphasized.
“Diversity is also crucial to driving innovation as it is a key stepping stone to viewing an issue in two or more different ways,” she added.
Ziz concluded by giving a piece of advice to all the women who face inequalities in their professional lives: “You need to keep on challenging stereotypes. Sometimes, we tend to make assumptions, and they become barriers to us. Learn to overcome your own barriers and build self-confidence.”
Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations- Naya Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]
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