From where I stand: “Never let fear stop you… feel it and do it”
Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Abir Leheta is a wife and mother of two girls, aged 14 and 19. At the age of 42, Leheta was appointed as the Chair and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Egytrans, originally a family-owned company that grew considerably, got listed on the Egyptian Stock Exchange, and is now considered one of the leading companies in Egypt in the male-dominated industry of transport and logistics.
“It was completely unexpected... I never envisioned myself in this role. In 2015, my brother was the CEO of the leading transportation company Egytrans. That same year, he fell ill and within a couple of months, he passed away. I was asked by the shareholders to step in and was appointed as the Chairperson and CEO of Egytrans.
It was a very challenging time to be able to gather the entire team together and reassure everyone of continuity. We wanted to continue to be the best in this industry and to focus on the growth of Egytrans.
One of the biggest challenges for women in leadership roles is the gender inequalities that arise from cultural issues and women’s own fear. I think that being in a leadership position often requires us to step out of what we may see as our traditional role and to be assertive, decisive and take on things that are beyond our comfort zone. I think that the number one trait that I found to be very important is courage… courage to take hard, unpopular decisions; courage to take properly calculated risks; and courage to do things that are difficult and perhaps never done before.
As a company, we are part of an industry that is extremely male-dominated – not only in Egypt but worldwide... We have slightly less than 300 staff members and we currently have 20 per cent female employees. From 2015–2019, we had a compound annual growth of 25 per cent in our revenues. I believe that gender diversity is extremely important, and it adds a lot of value.
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, we consolidated our efforts to ensure business continuity while protecting the health and safety of our people and our stakeholders. The focus has been on the most vulnerable groups, such as people above a certain age, people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women... We have done a lot to raise awareness and to provide all the safety equipment, [measures] and sanitation to protect our people. Our priority is to keep all our employees and not to cut wages throughout this COVID-19 situation.
From my experience, I can assure you that you cannot tell what your capabilities are until you actually try and you’ll find out that you’ll surprise yourself… So, never let fear stop you… feel it and do it.”
Leheta was one of the prominent women featured during the “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality” event that took place in March 2020, aimed at encouraging the private sector to expand economic opportunities in order to empower women and bridge the gender gap. UN Women recognized the role that Leheta is playing in a male-dominated industry and her great success in chairing a leading company. In its efforts to improve gender equality practices in the workplace, UN Women and the UN Global Compact established the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) which offer guidance to businesses on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. Leheta’s efforts to increase women’s employment in her company reflect Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which includes a goal on ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership in political, economic and public life and SDG 8, which includes a target to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, and equal pay for work of equal value.