Emirati Women's Day: A businesswoman's advice for the next generation

Emirati Women’s Day is a great time to celebrate the wonderful and dynamic women in our lives, and to reflect on our individual and country’s achievements. I would like to congratulate Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, supreme chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation and president of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and all women of the UAE on this special occasion.

The UAE is on a journey towards economic diversification. The nation’s growth relies on the support of a strong financial system and the ongoing development of a competitive, Emirati-led private sector that will contribute to the continuing expansion of a highly productive business environment. Because of the important role of financial institutions in the development of the country, there has never been a better time to be a part of the banking industry.

When I graduated from UAE University, there were few opportunities in the private sector. The majority of my peers pursued careers in oil and gas or telecommunications. I wanted to be part of something challenging, and to play a leading role in an organisation that was rooted in our heritage and culture, yet open to new ideas, with multicultural teams, and had a focus on driving the UAE’s growth. I saw the critical role that financial institutions were playing in the country’s development, and that’s how I knew I had a potential future in this area.

So in 2001, I joined National Bank of Abu Dhabi. And as I look back, I can see that I made the right decision. Joining NBAD provided me with multiple opportunities across a range of departments, from customer relationship management to online banking to product marketing. Reflecting on my experience, here are three lessons I’ve learnt that I believe can benefit young professionals across the UAE:

Have a vision and implement an action plan

The UAE’s leadership has a clear vision for the country, which has been detailed in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi Plan. As part of that vision, the government has outlined a plan that supports young Emiratis in their quest for world-class education that will give them the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in almost any career. I had a vision of succeeding at NBAD and advancing in my career, but I knew to do that I would need a more advanced degree. So I set the goal of earning my master’s in economics. To achieve my goal, I knew I would have to work hard and dedicate myself to success; but I also knew that if I earned my degree, I would be qualified and capable of taking on greater roles and responsibility.

After earning my degree and working my way through the organisation, I was appointed as group head of marketing and communications. When I took on this position, I set similarly high ambitions by outlining a path to transform the way the bank used communications to drive its reputational value. We reconfigured NBAD’s communications function to provide centralised and proactive support to the business strategy. Today, I lead an energetic and unified team of marketing and communications professionals who work together to generate thoughtful content, leverage the expertise of our executives, and establish the bank as a thought leader across all areas of the industry.

Taking the time to set clear goals and build strong teams is essential to achieving collective success.

Innovate and continue to adapt to change

The old saying is “change is the only constant”. Don’t be afraid to continually evaluate yourself as a professional and make the necessary changes to ensure you remain effective. Know your strengths and capitalise on them; but more importantly, be aware of your weaknesses and take the necessary steps to overcome them.

In leading organisations around the world, communications is recognised as a business-critical function that provides strategic advice and defends the company’s reputation. It proactively seeks out and engages in dialogue with industry leaders and other forward-looking organisations.

When I joined NBAD, the marketing and corporate communications team was considered an execution arm, responsible only for carrying out the directions given by the business. But the team has worked hard to transform into a group that provides guidance and advice to management and peers. We ask the right questions, challenge typical assumptions, and work daily to position NBAD as a thought leader in issues that affect the industry regionally and globally.

So my advice here would be to know your strengths and weaknesses, embrace change, question assumptions and seek ways to lead by example.

Build powerful networks and foster young talent

Mentors have had a powerful impact on my career. I like to call them my “chief energy officers” because they have guided me through challenges, championed my successes and introduced me to people whom I might not otherwise meet. They have taught me the importance of work-life balance, and they continually encourage me to give back to others, just as I was given the opportunity to grow throughout my career.

As I continue to grow and learn in my own profession, mentoring UAE talent is something I take very seriously. As head of a division, I encourage young talent to rotate across various functions so they can develop a portfolio of skills, better understand the industry and build a stronger network across the organisation. Emiratisation is evident in NBAD’s strategy, and seeing talent succeed has been the most rewarding aspect of my career, and one that I believe will travel far beyond my generation.

It is our responsibility as leaders to empower the next generation of talent and offer them the opportunities that they deserve.

May Bumajeed is the group head of marketing and communications at NBAD, chairwoman of the marketing committee at the UAE Banks Federation, and an entrepreneur.


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