Hanan Harhara Al YafeiHanan Harhara Al Yafei is the Chief Executive Officer of the Abu Dhabi based global tech ecosystem – Hub71, where she is responsible for driving its vision through sound strategy development and strengthening ties between public and private sector, multinational corporates, government agencies and strategic partners.

Hanan is a seasoned and enthusiastic Emirati leader with a track record of leading teams and initiatives across multiple sectors with expertise in building successful organization structures and managing corporate change.

Throughout her career as a communications and human capital expert, Hanan intuitively drives positive change within teams, identifies areas of opportunities to align them with the vision of an organization while building solid grass root corporate culture.

Working across multiple industries all underpinned by investment in technology and innovation Hanan worked cross functionally with organization leaders to drive business goals and build strong brands.

Having spent multiple years at Mubadala, Hanan’s latest role has been as Executive Director of Human Capital at Mubadala Investment Company responsible for all people matters for its Alternative Investments and Infrastructure Platform.

Hanan holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Media Sciences from Zayed University and a Masters in Coaching and Consulting for Change from HEC Paris in partnership with Said Business School at Oxford University.

Tell us about yourself, your background, and your current role

As Hub71’s Chief Executive Officer, I am responsible for translating the tech ecosystem’s vision of accelerating the capital’s digital transformation and attracting global startups to Abu Dhabi into clear-cut, efficient plans and strategies, and working with the wider team and our extensive network of partners to turn those strategies into tangible actions. I am also committed to expanding Hub71’s network of multinational corporations, government agencies and strategic partners, specifically focusing on expanding our cross-border collaborations.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, but not in the traditional way of positions and stature. Instead, I always consider what it is I enjoy doing, and what I want to do more of. Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to be in a role that supports people’s growth – I like the elements of nurturing, coaching, guiding people to reach their goals. Throughout my career, I’ve cherished roles that have allowed me to be a part of a business growth journey.

I am attracted to those roles that will challenge me and force me to step out of my comfort zone – not only on an intellectual level, but also from a perspective of creativity. I don’t only want to be in a traditional 9-5 job but I want to be able to push my boundaries, bring new ideas to life, and deliver meaningful impact.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Absolutely – challenges are a natural part of any career journey and can encourage growth and development. I am a passionate person that commits entirely to the responsibilities of the job that I carry. It is because of this sense of ownership that I tend to lose track of my identity away from the role I represent at work. My initial response to challenging situations is to surround myself with mentors, both personally and professionally and ask for guidance, support, point of views. The network I have around me is one that is filled with people I trust and look up to, who provide me with invaluable support and direction to navigate any hurdles I face.

I have also learned to not be afraid of feeling vulnerable and asking for help. As female professionals, sometimes we feel like we have to be strong all the time, or else those around us won’t take us seriously. This is not true – it takes remarkable strength to acknowledge the need for reflection, self-awareness, and time to reset.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I see my achievements in how my work and relationships have affected positively people around me.  Whenever I witness people who I have supported in some way, shape or form, reach their objectives and success, I am filled with immense pride at their commitment and dedication. Seeing the impact of my passion for supporting people translate to positive results is incredibly satisfying.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The UAE is blessed with plenty of female role models to look up to for inspiration. Those include ministers, frontline workers, business leaders, engineers and medical doctors whom have served as examples to me. Today, the UAE Cabinet comprises 32 ministers, including nine women making up 27 per cent of the cabinet, with the youngest minister being a 22-year-old woman. Also, within government institutions, women constitute 46.6 per cent of the labor force. They also make up 66 per cent of the public sector, with 30 per cent in leadership roles and 15 per cent in technical and academic roles. Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s Founding Father, said “nothing could delight me more than to see the woman taking up her distinctive position in society,” and our current country and business leaders have stopped at nothing to make his inspirational words a reality.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Believe in your product, your skills, your vision and yourself. We attend a multitude of pitches every year that tend to be quite similar, but founders who exude passion when they’re talking about their innovation and the impact they hope to achieve really resonates with us. It isn’t only about building a profitable business, that is necessary for sure for any investor, however technologically innovative products have a real chance to disrupt sectors, streamline processes, and make a difference – if you believe that, and believe in your and your team’s ability to make that a reality, you will succeed.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

The reality is that the tech and VC industry is largely dominated by men – posing the question: what are the systematic barriers for women getting into the tech sector and what are the things we can address quickly and easily and be mindful of, as well as how can we support individual needs?

To be able to change the outcome, we must first accurately diagnose the challenge and truly understand the unique needs of every individual. We must create an environment that is female founder friendly, supportive, and meritocratic, that openly tells women: “we welcome you, we celebrate and support your ideas, and we have plenty of female founders just like you!”

At Hub71, around 20 per cent of the startups in our community are female-led, with many more female colleagues. Females who wish to be entrepreneurs and wish to be part of a thriving community feel at home in an environment that encourages diversity. Diversity in gender, nationality, background, etc. is a huge resource for us in terms of knowledge, cultural nuances, and real-life experiences and learnings.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress of women careers working in technology?

To future-proof our businesses and attract more women into technology and senior roles, we need to ensure managers and decision makers understand women. They should be able to understand that some women may not be comfortable with self-promotion but are just as capable when given the opportunity to take the next step in their careers. This includes understanding their unique individual family situations whether it’s childcare, flexible working, or overseas travel.

In the tech world – there are still too few females who venture into AI for example and the world needs more diversity (ethnicity and gender) to embed fairness and reduce unconscious bias in AI and machine-learning algorithms.

At Hub71, we actively encourage more women participation in management roles and board positions. On the selection committee for example, we have women on the panel to help balance startup choices; all the way to our supply chains to influence and balance supplier choice.

Still too few women are willing to become entrepreneurs and promote themselves as leaders because it may not be in our nature to boast or celebrate wins (or failures, which is more to the point in the tech world). But my message to women at ALL levels is to celebrate, share and commiserate your wins and your failures with others so that other women and girls can see your real journey, and be inspired to embark on their very own.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Eradicate the double standard. In my opinion, every opportunity is looked at through a gender-centric lens, and by default, women are held to higher standards. This needs to change – we need to begin looking at the person and evaluating their ideas, pitches, strategies, etc. depending on the value of their content and their objective, instead of their gender.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I strongly recommend attending networking events that will expand your circle of mentors. Surrounding yourself with bright minds and communities who can give you wisdom, advice, and direction, is integral to success. I also believe in the power of Ted Talks – even if they aren’t directly technology-related, listening to people’s journeys, failures and learnings inspires me to shape how I respond to certain challenges – it’s a great learning tool for me.