Women in Leadership Spotlight on Arwa KassamAli

Today for our Women in Leadership spotlight series, we bring you the outstanding Arwa KassamAli, who believes in championing others, the importance of diverse teams and making the most of new opportunities that come her way.

Arwa is the Operations Manager at Abbott, where she’s built a variety of skillsets for the past 15 years. She has a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of California and an Executive MBA from the University of Dallas. Throughout her career she has worked across health industries on R&D, product development, defining quality systems, operations support and product launches.

Read below to find out Arwa’s top three leadership characteristics, who has been her biggest role model and how she deals with imposter syndrome.

What quote inspires you the most?

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou


What has been the most significant barrier in your career to date?

One of the biggest barriers I have faced is an internal one, and it has been my inability to see myself in certain types of roles. When I encounter this barrier, I look up to mentors and champions, and create a circle to talk through it. As women leaders, we must ensure we set ourselves up to champion others, act as examples for other women, and showcase what kinds of roles can be held by women.


Have you ever felt the imposter syndrome, and if so how did you navigate your way through it?

There have been many times I have been the only female engineer in a room making decisions on designs or product outcomes, feeling as though I do not belong in that role or cannot have any relevant input.

In these situations, I try to focus on separating facts from feelings, and to revert my focus on the problem at hand rather than my sense of being overwhelmed. In this process, I observe and acknowledge the feelings of not belonging, but I also consciously choose to not get limited by them. This process takes time, and you do build more confidence over time after repeated experiences.


What do you think are the three most important characteristics to be an amazing leader in your organization?

Leaders have many characteristics. If I had to dwindle it to three, they would be:

  • Be self-aware: know your roots and your values
  • Build others: value diverse ideas and be a strong ally by listening, championing, and building others.
  • Get Involved: be a strong leader and get involved in other areas outside your main role. You can volunteer in many ways throughout your organization, lead efforts that will change something, educate others, and make a bottom-line impact.


How do you balance career, personal life and passions?

I juggle the demands of career, family, and personal interests with a work/life-integration, not a work/life-balance outlook. With integrations, there are no boundaries. It’s not about choosing my family, my passions, or my career. It is about striving to make conscious decisions daily about what I spend my time on given that all theses things are equally important to me.


What has been your biggest learning when it comes to work-life harmony during the pandemic?

During the pandemic, one that’s more relevant learning is to embrace technology! It is ever-changing and with the pandemic, much of our work-life harmony can be better managed by relying on technology. So embrace it, learn it and use it effectively to help you get your priorities set, refresh how you work and what deliverables you provide.


What is the role mentorship and sponsorship have played in your career?

I have used mentors and sponsors as confidants and sounding boards. I often seek mentors from completely different business areas to help introduce me to different concepts or opportunities outside of my day-to-day work. In addition, I will actively seek mentors from within my peer group to help me get better context for how to address immediate issues or challenges I may be facing in a current role.


What advice would you give to your younger self?

Take the time to identify your passions, build your confidence using a series of small wins, and explore new opportunities when they come your way since careers, like life, are not linear and predictable. Also, do not be afraid of using your support network and asking for help, and make sure that you make giving back a priority, as that will make anything you do more worthwhile.


In honour of International Women’s Day 2022, has there been a time where you or someone around you has had to #BreakTheBias? What was your biggest learning from this experience?

Yes, biases are built in around us in so many ways and my strongest learning from this experience is to own and affirm that teams should be diverse, equitable, and inclusive. In a work environment, we are each challenged to respond to critical deadlines and make fast-paced decisions. It is difficult to keep inclusivity as a priority in this scenario, but I have also learned that there is even more lost when you do not include others that do not look and think like you to have a seat at the table.


Bonus Question – Who has been the most influential woman in your life/career?

I am surrounded and inspired most by the many strong women in my family, most notably my entrepreneurial mother and my sisters. They successfully manage their careers and in addition, their own businesses while also taking care of their families. They are all authentic women leaders who build each other up and bring others along with them!


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