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Interview with Samira Khamlichi

#LeadTheChange #ChooseToChallenge

Samira Khamlichi

The first woman CEO of a subsidiary of the Attijari Wafa Bank group, Mrs. Samira Khamlichi has been at the head of WafaCash, the first money transfer network in Morocco, since 2006. President of the Professional Association of Payment Establishments (AEPE), and highly involved in civil society and education issues, Ms. Khamlichi is still undeniably humble about it. Indeed, she sees in her nomination for the Berkley World Business Analytics Award, which celebrates the women leaders of business analytics projects with social and environmental impact, a recognition and a positive representation for all African Women.


If someone describes you as an ambitious woman, what does this mean to you? Do you think the adjective "ambitious" has a different connotation when it comes to men or women? How?

Being ambitious is not a flaw. But yes, we often tend to say of a woman that she is ambitious, and we do not speak of men as being ambitious. There is indeed a connotation, a bias, and when you are "ambitious", your opinions and attitude must “follow up” in a way. But in my opinion, being ambitious is to achieve the goals that you value, whether professionally or personally, and whether you are a man or a woman. To me there is no difference.

Is work-life balance more difficult for women?

What I have found is that women of my generation are very work oriented. The new generation seeks a balance with their personal lives from the start of their careers. The two life philosophies are commendable because the first ones were pioneers, and the second ones wish to better build themselves over time, both professionally and personally.

It is important to note that the choice of partner is decisive. I am personally lucky to have a supportive relationship with my husband, as we were there for each other in our respective professional paths. Defining and building a relationship with your spouse on certain principles is therefore key, especially since we live in a country where the extended family, generally the grandparents, can take care of young children, and therefore contribute to the professional development of women by taking the load off them.

More generally, the strong will of women of my generation to work comes from the fact that it was more difficult to impose on our environment the idea that work has a real value. As a Moroccan woman, you’re often being reminded you that your most important accomplishments are, above all, those of a wife and a mother. I recognize that many women have felt this family and more broadly social pressure, and reluctantly quit work, typically after the birth of their first child. In this case, professional life is sacrificed, or at best, delayed, and therefore the question of balancing personal and professional life does not even arise. But now I see that couples are helping each other out more and that dual income households are becoming the norm. However, this should be attributed to recurring crises and the rising cost of living rather than a shift in mentality. Does this lead to a better balance between professional and personal obligations for women? I like to be optimistic and tell myself that at least that gap between men and women has and will continue to narrow over time.

How can companies attract female talent? What is your position on affirmative action?

I’m under the impression that young Moroccan women today are over-educated compared to young boys. We do notice this in the recruitments within Wafa Cash where we find that there are more young girls with quality degrees and talents than boys. Parity in the recruitment of new graduates therefore occurs naturally, on the basis of merit.

Now what matters to me are the ones that stop in the middle of their professional life because the path is much more difficult for a young Moroccan woman than for a young man for several reasons. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, family and social pressure pushes women to temporarily or permanently stop their careers. In this case, the solution is not affirmative action because the problem is that women do not remain active in the market over time. On the national level, the employment rate for women is not good, it is around 20% to 30%, while that for men is around 70%.

Beyond social pressures, I think women stop midway because their prospects and ability to project themselves is limited. This is the real challenge, to change the mentalities of society in general by broadening the long-term vision of women, especially in the current context. We do know that the covid-19 crisis has severely penalized female employment. It is therefore necessary to work for the inclusion and encouragement of women in professional circles. 

What are the challenges companies face in terms of gender equality? How can they have a concrete impact?

In the finance industry in Morocco, the problem arises for managerial positions. It is estimated that only 20% of listed companies have at least one woman in their board. Today, the challenge is to ensure that young women reach these levels of responsibility, and that they can find themselves in management positions where companies actually recognize them as talents.

Awareness is rising at the regulatory level but there are also many initiatives in the financial services sector in Morocco. For example, within Attijari Wafa Bank, we have just signed the Gender Equality and Parity Charter which commits us to the principles of non-discrimination against women. We have also created a networking and mentoring network for women within the group. It is important for us to make women within the group aware that we are supporting them as soon as we recruit them, and to show them that the glass ceiling is ready to be broken. What is at stake is for them to believe in their abilities. Support measures are planned to highlight the great women leaders of the group so that they can set an example, be a source of encouragement and motivation. We try to make employees understand that if they want to evolve, you must first prepare for it, and then dare to ask, because that is how it works. Hence the importance of networking because unfortunately, in our culture and our education, we are not encouraged to do so. Our way of socializing is different from that of men. It can be said that as soon as a little boy starts to walk on his own two feet, he is offered a ball. He is therefore very quickly pushed and encouraged to find other kids to play with, and therefore develops the importance of others very quickly. On the other hand, girls often create a private and imaginary world around dolls, and therefore see this type of socialization through playing arriving later in their development.

In the professional world, networking is there to create precedents so that women can say “why not me”. When women will ask themselves this question, we will be able to move forward as a society. Women today still doubt themselves, and when offered a promotion, they think twice before accepting it, they question their legitimacy, their merit, their ability in being a leader, they weigh the pros and cons. When a man is offered a promotion, regardless of his skill level, he accepts it. We must succeed in bridging this difference and helping women to get rid of this impostor syndrome.

What advice would you give to women aspiring to join your industry?

I think that women in finance would benefit from daring to touch different professions, and to continually learn by understanding different issues within their organization. We must avoid falling into a kind of inertia. In my professional life, I have been lucky to do several jobs within the group. In a way, loving what you do is to be curious to learn and touch on several subjects. This is the change, the challenge, the out-of-box.

The advice that seems key to me is for women to believe in themselves and in their ability to accept challenges, and to be daring, especially in the financial sector which is, despite what one might think, a sector where human contact is strong no matter how digitized interactions are becoming. Women have undeniable qualities, and therefore have the right to dream, to succeed, and would be able to drastically transform industries.