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Pride Month Talent Talk With Rania Awad

Tell us a bit about how you started your career and the journey that led you to your current role.

The word career conjures up this image in my mind of planned and calculated moves that result in the ultimate goal of reaching some pinnacle. This has not been my experience. My “career” or as I prefer to refer to it as “my freedom journey” has been a non-linear entrepreneurial adventure where I have followed opportunity, gut instinct and a healthy risk appetite for the ultimate prize of complete freedom – financially and socially – so I can live my life on my own terms.

It started with a Pharmacy degree followed by an intern pharmacist role at a local medical center chemist in Western Sydney. I was 21 and within a year I was presented with an opportunity to buy a pharmacy and had to convince bank managers to loan a 22-year-old a decent amount of money for a hand written business plan on an A4 piece of paper. I was persuasive and managed to get the funding.

One year into being a pharmacy owner, I dived into the world of eCommerce by deciding to “have a go” at building a website, which quickly turned into a fully-ledged eCommerce business in the early 2000’s. The online pharmacy took me into the world of eCommerce and digital marketing – which I absolutely loved. Soon after I completed my MBA at AGSM (UNSW) and I continued to grow both businesses in online and physical stores.

My businesses were later acquired by a large Pharmacy group where I took on the role head of eCommerce & IT. In that role, I got to launch the online business into the UK, US and China which was an incredible ride! Also, through this role, I was able to scope and build out the company’s internal marketing and communication platform. This project took me deep into the world of software development and product management.

From there and through various consulting roles, I was presented with an opportunity to take the helm and become CEO for a software company developing asset management software. I was there for four years before the company was acquired by a larger company. I then took the role of Head of Strategy for two years.

Today, I’m the CEO and founder of Digital Smoothie – a boutique digital agency working with select clients to humanise technology by enabling successful digital transformation projects from strategy to execution. I still put my pharmacy white coat on one weekend a month and help at the local pharmacy – I can’t forget my roots.

Pride month is celebrated to honour the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York and although the world has come a long way since then what do you feel still needs to be done to create a more inclusive and equitable world/or working world.

Yes, we have come a long way and we still need to do more. We need more representation in senior leadership positions. We need open and loud voices from those of us who are already in those positions. We need to ensure that all communications and all interactions are inclusive in a sense that we’re not essentially pointing out that we are being inclusive – but more of a sense that this is the only way to be.

Have you ever experienced or feared discrimination because of your sexual orientation or gender identity in your career?

I have experienced discrimination because of my sexual orientation within my immediate community and family group which then led me to become very closeted and protective of who gets to see the real me. As a result, I stayed in the closet for a very long time and only started the journey of sharing my true self both with colleagues and family members around the age of 35. People’s reactions were mixed. But mostly I have to say the discrimination did not come from my professional networks but more closer to home.

What advice would you want to share with someone struggling to express their true self in the workplace?

It’s hard and scary no doubt. Find your people and grow your courage by surrounding yourself with many allies first. In most cases, most people will pleasantly surprise you. Bringing your full self to work will be a game changer both on a personal and professional front.

What does inclusivity in the workplace mean to you and what negative effects can a non-inclusive workplace have on someone from the LGBTIQ+ community?

I recently published an article about Toxic culture, you can read it here.

One of the top attributes of toxic culture is “non-inclusivity” – excluding anyone because of their gender, race or any other reason is detrimental to the person’s health and ultimately the health of the organisation.

An inclusive workplace is one where anyone can bring their full self to work and share stories about their families and life and not be made to feel different or part of a minority group. An inclusive workplace has diverse leaders who are not afraid to advocate and model inclusivity.

Statistics show that diverse teams are more successful. In your opinion, what are some of the approaches businesses should be taking to build a better workforce for the future?

Remove subconscious biases throughout the entire recruitment process. From the language used when posting job ads, to the assumptions that you unconsciously make when you see or hear a person you are interviewing. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you want to attract (by researching and asking questions – not making assumptions) and create roles that will resonate with this group so that you create an inclusive company culture that people naturally gravitate towards.