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PWC Riyadh’s COO Gives Us The Best Career Advice to Tap Into The Industry

She is setting the scene for future talent and talent drivers in KSA.

Hawazen AlHassoun, the first Saudi female COO at PwC, is an example of this and has a journey and story to be shared that truly brings inspiration and encouragement to Saudi women starting their careers and aren't sure what is available to them. Talent in KSA has always been here, but as the Kingdom and firms such as PwC continue to develop new initiatives and areas of support, we are seeing a wave of young Saudi leaders and talent emerge. This is an exciting time for young graduates, future entrepreneurs, and local talent searching for opportunities to build their futures and even highlight those success stories of talent that have gone through these obstacles and obtained these opportunities.

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Tell us about your journey at PwC and the people that helped you become who you are today (nice memories)

After working for years in the Banking industry, I transitioned to PwC, I can say that it required careful consideration and planning. While the two industries share some similarities, there were also significant differences that I had to take into account. The main reason for my career shift was to gain new experiences and broaden my skill set, in addition to work on a broader range of projects and challenges. It is a challenging but rewarding experience indeed. Moreover; my previous experience in banking was highly valued in my role as COO. It helped me to develop a strategic mindset and a focus on risk management.

In PwC, I had the opportunity to collaborate and interact with individuals from different lines of services, we all contribute to the overall success of the organization. Additionally, being a part of PwC transformation in the internal client experience space attracted me, as I like to see changes happening in improving workforce skills, tools, and abilities to keep up with the constant changes in an organization's business strategy. I also love the diversity in my role, every day is different with different challenges. I can go from a meeting discussing HR and people matters, to another discussing IT and automation, then Office Management and Real Estate and so on.

Honestly, I consider myself to have been fortunate within my career, for It has been diverse, challenging but yet rewarding. I found my passion in corporate operations which is my area of expertise, therefore most of my experience falls under the operations umbrella.

Thanks to the leadership team in Saudi, especially my coach Riyadh Alnajjar (ME Chairman and KSA Country Leader) who helped me navigate my way through. His knowledge and experience were instrumental in my growth as a leader and COO, and I am grateful for the support he provided me.

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What are the top 3 skills you think young people and self-starters should work on today?

I believe that young talent should focus on:

  • Communication -It is important to be able to communicate your ideas, work, and goals not only to others but to yourself. I believe that this is a skill that is crucial to growing in any career path as it opens doors of communication amongst your peers and even superiors so that you can express your thoughts clearly.
  • Creative thinking - As the job market has become more competitive overtime, especially with the advances in technology, it is what makes you stand out that makes a difference. I encourage young talent to think outside of the box and explore new ideas and ways of broadening their creativity as it will encourage new innovative initiatives towards projects and new job opportunities.
  • Team work- It is important to know how to work well with others. Working independently can be easy and comforting, but having the skill to communicate with others who may share different views is a key way to progressively grow in any market and build one's way up their career ladder.
  • Resiliency: Adapt and cope, these are key success factors in the workplace to enable an individual to overcome challenges and bounce back from setbacks. Resiliency can increase an individual’s capacity to maintain productivity and manage stress. It also involves a combination of skills, attitudes and behaviors.
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What is your number one advice for young Arab women that struggle with being themselves in the workplace? (gender roles, being called too "emotional" etc

My number one advice to young Arab women would be to have confidence in themselves. Confidence is key, and it plays a major role in the way one pushes forward to achieve their goals. You must be confident in yourself and confident in your work, in return, others will see your confidence as a powerful strength.

These challenges should be viewed as opportunities for growth and learning. We should be confident about the skill set we bring to the table. The value that we bring to the table as women is unique as we often have a different approach, which is crucial in building an inclusive and diverse work environment.

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What are you looking forward to in 2023?

While we continue to witness the Kingdom's transformation, I am excited to see the continuous change and success as a result of Vision 2030. I expect that there will be many more events and forums across the Kingdom this year, which I hope to attend. With each event I am able to experience something new and exciting that is emerging as well as connect with individuals from different organisations. This is also an exciting time at PwC as we are welcoming new talent to the team which I look forward to meeting. Investing and developing local talent through programmes such as Hemam has been our top priority. As 2023 progresses, I look forward to working with our team to provide opportunities for young Saudi talent and their development journey, professional and personal, towards our region's transformation. I believe that 2023 will bring new opportunities that will help the Kingdom's growth beyond Vision 2030, and expand the legacy of success that has already been demonstrated.

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What are the main challenges you faced during your career?

Everyone of us at some point in their career life found out that work is creeping into their personal lives, resulting in less time to handle other responsibilities or passions. As a wife and a mother of two, I went through work burnouts and overwhelming exhaustion several times, in addition to feeling guilty for not spending enough time with my family. Until I realized that my career and my personal life are not separate! And instead of balancing, I started integrating work with life as work is an aspect in our lives, benefiting from the PwC flexibility framework to choose how to manage my time to work and have personal time simultaneously, which PwC is already promoting, bearing in mind the responsibilities and the deliverables. Of course there are times when I have to stay in the office and work late, but not as much as I used to before. An example: is that I can pick up my son from school and finish my work either later or earlier in the day.

The pressure to excel in both can be overwhelming, but I kept reminding myself that I’m not alone. It's okay to feel stressed or anxious at times, but it's essential to take care of myself and prioritize my mental and physical health.

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What is the importance of allyship in the workplace?
  • Mentors and sponsors are necessary for personal and professional development
  • They both play separate yet equally important roles in supporting growth
  • Mentors are there to guide you and advise you, sponsors leverage their power to empower you
  • It’s important to ensure these relationships are meaningful, so first understand what you are looking for
  • Take the time to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and match a sponsor or mentor who will compliment them
  • Personal anecdote of Norma’s experience with a mentor/sponsor
  • When looking for a sponsor, think of the opportunities that you would like to be exposed to and leverage your personal and professional network to find people who can help you
  • Never be afraid to ask - the worst that can happen is you will be told no

Allyship helps in promoting diversity in the workplace where individuals from different backgrounds feel valued and included. It fosters a sense of inclusion which will lead to increased job satisfaction, employee engagement and productivity. Allyship can also promote advocating for change and can create a more equitable and fair workplace. 

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What is it like to work at PwC? How is the agenda?

At PwC we are a community of innovators and problem solvers that have come together from different backgrounds and industries to deliver sustained outcomes. While working here one is able to feel a sense of belonging and inclusivity amongst their peers. Everyone is different in their skills and areas of expertise but come together in great unity. Working with such a vast array of different skills and talent has made work life at PwC an incredible experience. Through our projects and initiatives we strive to work together to make a difference in our communities, by collaborating with others who want to be part of shaping big, meaningful change in the world.

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What are your top 3 tips for Arab & Saudi women that want to secure an interview in the consulting industry?

My 3 tips for Arab and Saudi women would be:

  • Express yourself - be clear and concise on who you are and what makes you different. Find out what makes you stand out through your skills and experience so that you can show the length of your abilities.
  • Build a network - It is important in the consulting industry that you know the market. I would advise young women to attend different events that can help build a strong network of connections. This will help establish a sense of presence and awareness as to what is new and what is changing in their interested area of work.
  • Build a strong resume - I recommend putting together a resume that captures all of your abilities and meaningful experiences. I encourage young women to be proud of their accomplishments and to recognize the achievements they have made as it represents who they are. If they have yet to build a strong list of experiences, then I would also encourage young women to get involved and explore the vast range of opportunities that are available to them.

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