Work and Life on Her Terms: CEO of Queen Rania Foundation
While the endless debate continues about whether we women “can” or “can’t” have both a career and everything else that is important to us, there are women around the world who are achieving just that – success at home, at work and in their communities.
One of these women is Haifa Dia Al-Attia, the CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development, in Jordan.
A guiding philosophy of Haifa’s life is, “Think kind thoughts and do kind deeds.” When I met Haifa, her smile, warmth, the way she listened, asked questions and was genuinely interested, let me immediately know that her philosophy is not just a guide post – it’s the way she lives her life.
Haifa attained her position as CEO of the highly respected Queen Rania Foundation (QRF) of Jordan at her own speed, in her own quiet way and on her own terms. As CEO, she is charged with leading innovation in education for the eight independent NGO’s and initiatives affiliated with Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah.
Through her work and example, Haifa encourages women to see that they have choices. Naturally, she respects the choices that every woman makes, but she is troubled by the fact that although approximately 54% of college graduates in Jordan are women, they only constitute around 14% of the workforce.
In spite all the strides that women have made, and the wide range of women role models in Jordan – women airline pilots, attorneys, bank CEOs, presidents of pharmaceutical companies and industrial firms, she says that this percentage is too low.
When I asked Haifa how she achieved her coveted role at QRF, she started by sharing how as a young woman she had defined what success would look like for her.
“Some people define their success by the money they make, others by their status or position of prominence they achieve. To me, it is the value you add to your life and the lives of others.”
To Haifa, a balanced life means one in which you are fulfilled by the choices you make regarding family, career and community.
“Women are often afraid to say ‘no’ to opportunities at certain points in their career. You should not worry about missing opportunities. Your work will be recognized. Sometimes you have to make decisions that allow you to be at peace with yourself. I believe that strongly.”
For Haifa, that work and life balance meant placing her husband and kids prominently in her life while she steadily pursued her career goals, which are primarily about adding value and making a difference. While there may have been times along her career trajectory where she was judged on how family and her personal life influenced her career decisions, she always remained true to her priorities, continued to build her expertise and experience, and believed that her achievements would be recognized.
As is fitting for someone who drives education reform and believes that education is the key to long term prosperity, Haifa’s career is steeped in education. She started in a teaching post at the Ministry of Education, worked in Office of the Crown Prince and then helped found the Amman Baccalaureate School where she served for 23 years on its Board of Trustees. As Vice President of the International Baccalaureate Organization’s Council of Foundation, she championed equal access to IB programs worldwide. In 2006, Haifa joined the Aga Khan Academies as a consultant and worked on setting up 18 schools in 14 developing countries. During that time, she was also involved with the United World Colleges Movement and with the European Council for International Schools.
While producing results and adding value in each role, Haifa made many choices along the way. After an injury in 2008 that took 18 months to heal, she had to slow down. There were times when she dedicated a great deal of time to caring for her mother and others during which she focused primarily on her children and husband. She talked about each of these choices as her responsibility and about stepping up to accept them in the same way that she accepted her responsibilities at work. At the same time, she continued to carefully choose challenging assignments that developed her knowledge and skills. Ultimately, she is, “Exactly where I want to be. All the work has paid off. I respect myself and the decisions I made. I don’t feel that I compromised anything.”
“[I am] exactly where I want to be. All the work has paid off. I respect myself and the decisions I made. I don’t feel that I compromised anything.”
In 2012, a woman in Haifa’s network (and who along with Haifa belongs to an international women’s network), was asked to recommend someone for the role as CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation. She offered up Haifa’s name. Then, Haifa’s resume and accomplishments took over.
At age 59, Haifa was not surprised to be chosen for the post but she feels privileged and grateful that her work spoke for itself.