Interviewed by Chaminiee Ilangakoon
Meet our WTP Talent, Fatima-Zahra Samaoui, IC Country Partner at Orange Morocco. She speaks about how her view of growth and career has changed over the years, what motivates her to keep working to become the best version of herself, and why women must strive for a seat at the table.
You have been at Orange since 2011 in various roles. What is it about the company that has kept you engaged for over 10 years?
I've been with Orange for over a decade now. I joined the company when I was very young and the journey that I’ve been on has been, personally and professionally, very rewarding. What has kept me engaged at Orange has been, firstly, the company's commitment to innovation. Ours is a company that continually seeks to push boundaries in the telecommunications industry. For me, it is important to be a part of an organisation that allows me to contribute to challenging, cutting edge projects, and to really feel that I am a part of the digital transformation in my market.
Secondly, the multicultural and varied work environment that Orange offers has been a strong motivation. Orange has allowed me to work in different markets - B2B markets, B2C markets, wholesale markets – and in different geographies. I've worked across Europe, in the UK and France, and in Morocco with Western African countries. This has been a great opportunity to discover different ways of working and of understanding business.
The third and final factor is Orange’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. As a woman who grew up in Morocco and studied in France, Orange has offered me an environment where I have felt in my place and with all opportunities open to me. This has certainly made me stay loyal and engaged within the company.
To what extent has your journey been in line with what you expected when you started on Orange’s Graduate Programme?
When I started the graduate programme, I was just coming out from school and my expectations were high. Now I can confidently say that my journey at Orange has exceeded these expectations. Why? I have participated in many trainings, development programmes and mentoring, and I have received a strong foundation and support throughout my career. I have had the opportunity to grow both vertically and horizontally by exploring different functions and markets, and this remains the case today. All in all, I'm very happy with my experience so far!
What has been one of the greatest lessons for you during your professional life so far? Is there anything that you would do differently if you had the chance?
One of the greatest lessons I have learned is, in Sheryl Sandberg’s words, the importance of having and taking a seat at the table as a woman. This concept really focuses on how important it is for women to be present and to have an active role in decision making processes, and to truly take a seat. Even if this seat is not offered to you, just take it. If you think that your voice brings value to the company and to the business, realise the power of being present as a woman and voicing your ideas, of actively contributing to discussions, and of always seeking a place at the table.
It is important for women to be present and to have an active participation in decision making processes and to truly to take a seat. Even if this seat is not offered to you, just take it.
This didn’t come naturally to me. I was not raised that way. Even during my studies, I didn’t tend to speak out because I was afraid of being seen as bossy. But what I realise now is that this approach doesn't work. You need to make your perspective heard and to influence outcomes if you really think that it will drive positive change for the business and the working environment.
To answer the second part of your question, if I had the chance to do things differently, I would focus more on building stronger networks and alliances with like-minded individuals, both women men. I would also seek more to be more connected with people who share the goal of promoting gender equality and inclusivity and are willing to drive this change. And it's not too late for that, I think.
You are currently the IC Country Partner for Morocco. Can you share a bit about what your role entails?
My role is split between two activities, with two main roles. The first role is focused on sales development. I manage business and strategic commercial relations with other telecom operators in my region of North Africa. My second role is that of local team leader, which involves attracting and retaining talent in our local team and fostering a positive and inclusive work culture. It is important for me to ensure alignment with our company's vision and values and make people feel great in their jobs!
What energises you most about your work?
Helping people to feel really connected to their jobs and themselves. This is so crucial today. My team and colleagues are relatively young, and it's very important for them to have this alignment: to feel that they are useful, that they are bringing something and having impact. What really energises me is to help others and support team members to realise their full potential. Doing so is incredibly rewarding.
What really energises me is to help others and support help team members to realise their full potential. Doing so is incredibly rewarding.
Another thing that brings me energy is travelling to other African countries to see my customers. It gives me the opportunity to be immersed in different cultures and different ways of doing business. I get to see digital transformation in a variety of countries and cultures and how it can impact communities and people's lives. It is a side of my job that I really enjoy.
What is your experience as a working woman? Do you see barriers for women in the workplace?
The answer is yes. As a working woman, I experience both opportunities and challenges.
Today we still have barriers like the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. Although our CEO, Christel Heydemann, is the first woman CEO for Orange Group and for such a big telco company, there remains a stubbornly low rate of female representation at the top level of organisations, and as such women still have a lack of role models and mentors. If you ask students coming out of business or engineering school, “Who is your role model?”, they will answer Elon Musk or Bill Gates, and you never hear them mention a female role model. It would be great to have students coming out from school saying, “My role model is Sheryl Sandberg or Christine Lagarde.” That's the first real barrier for females in the workplace.
The second one is work-life balance. I'm a mother of two sons. I know what it is to go on maternity leave and to have to live up to certain expectations. Here in Morocco, people expect that your main role is at home and with your kids, that your career is not a priority. It is a vision of the world where women are supposed to make choices between family and career. But for me it is not about making choices. I can do my best in every area of my life and try to be aligned to my wishes and values. At the same time, I'm not a superwoman and I cannot excel everywhere. I try to be me and to give energy to my work, to build projects and overcome challenges, but still being a mum and a woman, having friends and going out.
I try to be me and to give energy to my work, build projects and overcome challenges, but still being a mum and a woman, having friends and going out.
And there is a third one for me. Today, we're still having debates about difference in salaries between men and women. I don't understand why anyone would find it natural for a man who is in a leadership position to have a higher salary, and yet inequalities persist. In my discussions with mentors, with other women who have had remarkable career journeys, I see that the financial part is still a challenge for us.
How have you built confidence and resilience over the course of your career?
I have built confidence and resilience by going outside of my comfort zone: by seeking new challenges and exploring news areas, even if I don't feel comfortable and am not confident. That would be the first factor. The second one is that I come from a family of boys. I only have brothers and I think that has played a significant role in shaping my growth throughout my career.
Growing up, I was the nice, good student who was always asking for permission to talk, to have a seat at the table, and always apologising for having an opinion. I quickly understood in the different positions and job roles that I held that this wasn’t helping me, nor my company. So, one day I decided to stop trying to be the ‘première de la classe’. This idea has been popularised by Sheryl Sandberg with what she calls the ‘Tiara syndrome’, where you expect other people to tell you: “Wow, you're doing a great job. You're a good girl”. I stopped expecting other people to tell me that I've done a good job and stared telling myself: I'm going to do a great job and I'm going to highlight this with facts and figures. I'm not expecting rewards; what I'm expecting is to develop myself and challenge myself on my journey. That's it.
I'm not expecting rewards, what I'm expecting from myself is to develop myself and challenge myself in my journey. That's it.
What are your passions, occupations, and motivations outside of your work?
When I'm not working at Orange, my family is my passion. I'm a mother of two sons, a five-year-old and 10-month-old and I love watching them grow up. Each day is a new experience, a new learning for them: how to walk, how to talk, how to ask for things; asking philosophical questions about the universe that are difficult to answer. I really enjoy it. Another passion of mine is boxing. It allows me to stay active, to relieve stress and push myself physically and mentally.
Video Edited by Claudia Heard