March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, we are highlighting a few of the women who have inspired us by making an impact on their communities, careers, and the business world at large.
For Dr. Leila Bouamatou, DBA ’17, women’s leadership in business is deeply personal
As the daughter of the founder of a family-owned bank in the West African country of Mauritania, Bouamatou studied the challenges that women in francophone Africa face when seeking to take over the family business during her time in the Fox Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) program.
Bouamatou found that women’s biggest struggles included the institutionalized stigma of working outside the home; resistance from both older male and female members of the family, who were often unwilling to break with tradition; and the convention of women taking their husband’s last names, thus having a different last name than the family company.
To succeed in leading a family business in this environment, Bouamatou identified several key factors—such as modern-thinking fathers, supportive husbands, access to educational opportunities, and personality traits like determination and ability.
As the general manager at the Mauritanian General Bank, Bouamatou hopes to inspire young African girls and women to become leaders in business. She wants others to receive the encouragement that she felt at home from her parents and siblings. “I am particularly lucky to be the daughter of a modern-thinking father who has great respect towards women,” said Bouamatou, “and who believes in the potential of his daughters.” She recalls her mother teaching her from an early age about the importance of education and ambition.
Despite the barriers that remain, she sees hope for the future. “Africa is changing, and so is the mentality,” Bouamatou said. “Women are getting more and more educated and becoming more and more ambitious. Fathers are more and more supportive of their daughters and more open-minded, compared to previous generations.”
“I am fully aware that it would be hard for one single African woman to change the world,” said Bouamatou. “But I know that this African woman can shape her world and destiny.”
Nirmala Menon, MS ’91, International Change Agent
Nirmala Menon, MS ’91, worked in the Global Diversity and Multicultural Team at IBM before becoming the founder and CEO of Interweave Consulting, a diversity and inclusiveness solutions company. At IBM, she experienced the diversity and inclusion challenges across various countries. The experience prepared her to found Interweave and lead it to be a pioneer in India, where the arena was a non-existent market when the company began operations.
Through Interweave, Menon works with companies to implement progressive policies to support diverse groups. The company has touched the minds and hearts of over 150,000 people, including senior leaders and managers through its workshops and initiatives. Others receive these messages through e-modules and webinars.
“Diversity and inclusion is still a new area of work in India and it is hard to provide a direct ROI on the efforts,” said Menon, addressing the impact of her efforts. “However, there are several anecdotes that show that the efforts have translated into positive behaviors at work. A better understanding of respectful behaviors at work and more conscious efforts at gender, disability, and LGBT inclusion are all, we believe, influenced by our efforts.”
When asked how she is making the world a better place, Menon said, “In my mind, everything we do dovetails into building a better world! The work we do has a tremendous positive impact as it is directly focused on building inclusion. From helping organizations understand the value of diversity and inclusion and helping to build enabling workplace policies to support the same, it has a direct impact for the nation.”
She believes organizations are powerful vehicles of change and teach people to become influencers. “A mind expanded or enriched with knowledge and sensitivity is bound to be applied not just at work but equally in their behaviors at home and in society.”
As a result, Interweave is building the foundations for social change in India and beyond.