Nida Jabrani, a project management professional and leader in her field provides her perspectives on being a woman in the workplace, the importance of flexibility and openness in career advancement, the value of informal mentors, and some advice on reaching your goals.
Provide a brief description of your professional background. What kinds of jobs and academic experiences have brought you to where you are now, as a leader?
I am currently a Project Manager (PM) working on large initiatives in the banking sector. I am also a Project Management instructor and have designed a case based training curriculum and an online delivery program that aspiring young professionals can utilize to prepare for certification in Professional Project Management (PMP). Most people are not familiar with the Project Management profession, and while in University, I never planned to work as a PM either. Rather, I stumbled upon the profession unexpectedly.
In university, I studied Genetics and while I loved the subject, I quickly realized that a career in research was not for me.
I needed a profession that gave me faster results, would help me utilize a multitude of skills and keep me forever ‘interested’. So I made a sudden decision to go into business and complete an MBA.
During my work-terms at Sanofi Pasteur and BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) I got to participate in a plethoraof projects. I was in awe of the PMs that led these projects, seeing first-hand how they were developing and using a wide range of skills and gaining subject matter expertise in Finance, Operations, Engineering, Human Resources, Logistics and much more. I saw these PMs go from one-industry to another freely, utilizing their PM skills but in different contexts and solving some of the industry’s greatest challenges.
This was exciting and I absolutely loved it.
No one day was the same in the Project Management profession. PMs were always on the go and I admired the freedom they had to take on new challenges. That’s when I decided a career in Project Management was for me and I haven’t looked back since then.
We hear often of female professionals experiencing things a little differently from their male co-workers. How has being a woman shaped and/or informed your experiences in your field?
I have been fortunate to have worked in organizations that take gender equity seriously, with strong policies to support women in the workplace. However, I do recognize that disparity in compensation between men and women professionals, and the lack of women in leadership, among other gender issues, are still very relevant in industry today.
While systemic change is needed, I realize that women cannot wait for change to just happen. As women, we need to create change by taking control and changing our approach.
Early in my career, I thought that if I just worked hard and delivered great results that I would get that promotion or that raise. It didn’t happen.
Then I started seeing my male co-workers asking for promotions and receiving them – I realized that is what I had to do. So I started asking- for that promotion, for that raise, for that high-visibility project. Some times I was successful; other times, I was not. When I was not successful, I sought to create the opportunity rather than wait to be given it. When I didn’t get that high-profile project, I took my existing project and tried to find a better way to deliver benefits to the organization. I booked meetings with Executives directly, to convey why they should endorse the project. I applied for other opportunities. I decided to fuel my own growth rather than wait for others to do it. I fell in love with the process and focused less on the outcome and eventually I got my success.
All this did take courage, perseverance and boldness in general. And if men are bold in this manner, then woman can be bold too. I firmly believe that this is how woman can be the drivers of change towards a more equitable work place.
What are important skills or traits that have helped you reach where you are today?
I have found that flexibility, openness and constant learning have really helped me move ahead in my career quickly.
I find that many young professionals are too quick to box themselves into very specific roles very early. Universities offer a multitude of specializations and are maybe responsible for such trends. The downside is that people can tend to shy away from trying new things and gaining new skills.
While I knew that I wanted to manage projects, I maintained flexibility in the industries and project topics that I selected. Going from health care to manufacturing to telecom to banking enabled me to gain new knowledge and understanding of each industry. More importantly, it demonstrated to employers that I have the ability to ‘figure it out’. My lack of specific experience in an industry was not a weakness, but rather a strength enabling me to bring fresh perspectives.
We are always told of the value of mentors. Tell us about some of yours, and how they have helped you in your work life and to reach your goals.
I only very recently obtained an official ‘mentor’. We meet once a month or so to discuss my career, business and professional development goals. There is certainly a great deal of value in structured mentoring relationships and I really wish I had such a mentor earlier in my career.
However, I have had informal mentorship in my career. I have been especially inspired by more senior women Project Managers in the companies I have worked at, who taught me the value of resilience, flexibility and the importance of speaking up to ask for what you deserve.
I have been very fortunate to work for both male and female bosses that have overseen my Project Management practice and have directed me where I was weak. Without the contribution of each manager in every company I have worked for, I definitely would not be where I am today.
How do you manage a work/life balance? How easy / difficult is it to do so?
I certainly have struggled with work/life balance and over the years I have come to realize that I maybe struggled with it because I was trying to so hard to be ‘balanced’.
In an attempt to be so balanced I found that I was trying to do it all in equal amounts and was constantly exhausted and not very productive at anything.
My definition for work/life balance has now evolved. I find that it is more about being ‘present’. Being present for me is all about the need of the hour. In any given day I have to go to work. But in the evening, if its my best friend’s birthday, then the need of the hour is for me to spend that time with her. On another day, if I have an important business deliverable due, then I spend a portion of my evening working on that, the remainder of my evening I spend at the gym because that is what my body craves at that hour. Like this, I just take it day-by-day and now that I look back at the weeks gone by, I see that they were pretty balanced after all.
What are some words of wisdom you would provide to those reading to help them achieve their own goals?
Get started today.
Whatever your goal, do not spend too much time perfecting your plan and timing to get there. Things will never be perfect. Get started today on your goal, and figure it out as you go. Trust in the process, put in a little effort day-by-day and build it up as you go. The outcomes will soon follow.
Nida completed her MBA from McMaster University, DeGroote School of Business and obtained her Project Management Professional (PMP) designation shortly after. She currently works on strategic, enterprise-wide projects in the Banking sector and is also an instructor at PMInfinity, a boutique training provider that offers custom-made, leading edge, skills-based training in professional project management and business analysis topics.