What does it take to be a woman in tech? We talk to Areej Mohsin Darwish –  Chairperson of Mohsin Haider Darwish LLC, about women and leadership in Oman. 

Statistics from PoW in 2017 show a bleak picture. Even in a relatively equal country like the UK, only 3% of women and girls say technology is their first choice as a career. 16% of women and girls have had tech suggested to them as a career, compared to 33% of men and boys. 

Women hold only 5% of leadership positions in tech, and only 22% of those surveyed could name a famous woman in tech, compared to two-thirds who can name a famous man. The report says that a “lack of female role models is…reinforcing the perception that a technology career isn’t for them”.

So today we are showcasing a ‘woman in tech’ leader.

Areej Mohsin Darwish is Chairperson of Mohsin Haider Darwish LLC (MHD), an Oman-based company with diverse business presence and varied interests in trading, contracting, projects and manufacturing, MHD LLC has built a strategic partnership with some of the most reputable and desirable brands from across the world, including Land Rover, Jaguar, Dell, Michelin, KDK, McLaren, Mitsubishi Forklift, Ford Trucks, Ashok Leyland, CAME, YALE and AVON. 

Areej has a host of enviable achievements to her credit in diverse sectors and was named Forbes Most Influential Arab Woman 2013, Forbes 200 Most Powerful Woman 2014, Forbes Middle East’s Most Influential Women 2018 and Forbes Women Leading Businesses 2019. We asked her about her career, her unique insights in the business, and what advice she would give to women in business.

Welcome, Mrs Areej. Can you tell me more about your career, particularly as a woman in business and tech? 

I joined the family business in 1994 and worked my way up through the organisational hierarchy under the tutelage of the founder of MHD Group, my father, the late Mohsin Haider Darwish. 

As deputy chairperson, I headed the internal audit and the computer systems function. The company achieved ISO 9001:2000 compliance for the quality management system, ISO 27001 compliance for information security management system, successful implementation of the business continuity plan and disaster recovery plan for the centralised data centre. 

As chairperson, I am part of the decision-making think-tank that continuously reviews the company’s overall operations and growth. I have been successful in achieving considerable operational and financial improvements.

Starting at the grassroots helped me to understand business processes from close quarters. Though my father was my guiding force at every step of my career since inception, he also empowered me to take business decisions. These business decisions were a learning curve and helped me in my career growth. 

What unique insights have you brought to Mohsin Haidar Darwish? 

The origin of Mohsin Haider Darwish LLC goes back to over half a century. My father, with his determination and foresight, established and steered the company to great heights, thus evolving it into a highly successful business group today. 

I graduated in computer science and mathematics, which gave me a solid foundation with the tech needs of the company. Being in business, I gave importance to processes and procedures and running the business effectively.

I also believe that the business world is changing and that means we need to evolve and improve our business plans in line with global transformations. Critical thinking is central to everything I do, and I encourage my staff to question and analyse the business from different perspective and angles. 

Focus and discipline is the core of success. An eye for detail and a focused approach in the day-to-day business helps organisations achieve their goals. 

I firmly believe that if a business has to grow effectively, we have to make space for new ideas. MHD Group is too large and complex to be run single-handedly or in a centralised form. We have professionals running the various divisions, and together we roll out the vision for each division and the company as a whole. I encourage my staff to come up with new and better processes for whatever role they play. Ideas can thrive when they mingle with other ideas and mould into new forms. 

Why do you see good employee relationships as being critical to company success, and how do you cultivate talent? 

It’s often said that any organisation is only as good as the people behind it. Though planning and implementation of the business strategy play an important role, a company’s success can be attributed to its employees. They play an integral part and are the company’s true assets.

At MHD, we firmly believe that our employees are the backbone of our success. We provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission. We value them and recognise their contribution, which ultimately cultivates a positive work environment and boosts their morale.

At MHD, Omanisation – the cultivation of Omani talent – is a key focus area, and we believe that the youth is the potential of today and power of the future. We nurture that talent by providing them with training, mentoring, employment and growth opportunities so that they make a meaningful contribution to the economic and social development of Oman. We aim to inspire the young Omani generation to steer ahead in their careers and provide them with training from time to time to enhance their skill sets, and to entrust them with higher and more responsible positions. 

At MHD, we recruit individuals from different backgrounds and experience and encourage the further development of their skills. As an organisation, we are continually evolving, and our employee’s role and skill sets evolve along with us. 

What advice would you give to women in business? 

It’s commendable to see women playing an active role in society, culture, and now also in business. Over the years, we have witnessed an increase in women entrepreneurs, with more and more women proving themselves in leadership positions across different sectors. 

My first and foremost advice to women in business would be that they should believe in themselves and the goal in which they have set to achieve. Setting a realistic goal, working towards it with dedication, determination and passion are the critical factors for successful entrepreneurship.

Being an entrepreneur means taking risks, but they need to take calculated risks. Challenges and hindrances will always be around the corner due to changing economic and market conditions, but they should not be deterred by them. Instead, they should be persistent and keep moving towards their goals. 

Women also tread a thin line as they have to balance their work and family life. It’s essential that they strike the right balance and set their priorities right. 

What are your plans for the future? 

I am optimistic about the future. Oman’s economy is growing positively under the wise, and able leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

As a chairperson, my vision for MHD LLC is to further its progress over the years, strengthen relations with our business partners, foray into new sectors and expand our footprint by acquiring new agencies. 

Diversification is the key, and we need to move beyond niche segments which can escalate our growth and presence in Oman. Keeping a tab on market trends and innovations happening around the world in existing and new sectors, and identifying and venturing into new opportunities, will help elevate the company’s profile.