Rising woman: The power of passion and purpose

Tuesday March 02 2021
Mili pic
By Salome Gregory

In an interview with Rising Woman, Mili Rughani talks about her career journey and her extensive leadership experience in driving strategy, solutions and impact in information technology industry within developing economies.


Tell us your personal career journey up until your current position.

My career journey dates back to more than 26 years now. Coming from a small family in India. After my university, my first job was as a tutor.

I was actually teaching programming at the Computer Institute. Being from a middle-class family, my values revolved around love for family. However, it wasn’t a smooth ride all the way.

I had to start working from an early age in order to put food on the table. I was working while studying. This taught me that opportunities dosn’t just come; you have to grab them, seize the moment.

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I became an adherent of family beliefs. From a young age, I had a vision of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do - I didn’t know the specifics, but I at least had an idea of where I wanted to be.

I looked up to my mother, who was a housewife. She inspired me and I wanted to be like her: managing the home. But, at the same time, I wanted to be working and making an impact through endeavours. That’s is what I embarked on.

Every step I made in my career journey had the motive of giving back to the community - and make a positive impact.

I thus began teaching. I started with very few pupils when I started teaching. I later worked with different organizations in India. However, my biggest career bump was working with Microsoft for 12 years, as well as being the CEO for Zoom Tanzania to now working with Aga Khan.

My career journey has involved moving to other countries, something that has enabled me to understand different cultures that have become invaluable.


How did being the family breadwinner at a young age mould you into the woman you are today?

Knowing that I was providing for my family made me very strong, determined and put me out of my comfort zone.

I remember when I was at the age of 16 and I had to be in the same class with other students aged around 30-35 years old.

This was out of my comfort zone, but it groomed and taught me many life lessons in pursuing my dream career. I realized that I don’t have to be comfortable with what I am doing.

The lessons left a lasting imprint because I realised that when I start feeling the ‘comfortability,’ I know it is time I start looking for some other things that are more challenging. I like the feeling where one is passionate about achieving something.


Did you ever receive any form of support or mentoring as you moved along? Do you mentor other women?

Definitely. Mentorship plays a big role, however, I never had a formal mentor as such in the early days of my career. But as I moved on with my career, I had the access to mentors through Zoom, Microsoft, and even now I have mentors awho still play a very big role in my life.

They help to teach you how to balance between family life and work life.

You have work, children, a husband, kitchen - very many things that require your attention.In such a life, you might lose track and focus of what you want. Now here is where a mentor comes in and challenges you to get on the right track.

I have mentored three women. It’s such a good feeling when I see my mentees growing.


Why are companies not investing much in women especially when it comes to ‘top management’ roles?

I can’t agree more with that latest report that organizations which have more than 75 percent of women in their top positions have seen profit grow worldwide - and in Africa: 30 percent. So, whenever there are more women in top management, it means there will be more profit. And there are valid reasons for that.

Women think outside the box. They think more emotionally. They are more customer-focused and are easy to connect with.

However, one of the impediments to equal gender representation in top management is the cultural myth when it comes to women. This dates back to past generations where men used to go to the farm because they are stronger and women would stay at home to take care of the family.

Even now, whenever there is a hiring opportunity and a question is posed to find out the applicant’s age, if she is in her 20s, they will start thinking of her starting a family. But this shouldn’t be the case. Women are created in such a way that they can always multi-task and we give the best in everything we do.

We don’t need to prove to society that we are strong, we have always been strong and powerful.


What are the things that you think a woman should do to close the gender gap?

From my perspective, it is for women to believe in themselves. This is the most critical thing. Don’t take yourself to be the weaker sex.

No man can deliver a baby! This fact is more than enough to make us believe in ourselves.

Keep educating yourself, keep learning, you can access all the information your require via the internet - unlike in our days where we had to go to the library for gain access to academic material.


At Aga Khan Hospital Survices, do you have any policy in place that aims at bringing gender equality at the workplace?

Yes, Aga Khan has a specific policy and actually we have even hired a person who deals with gender balancing issues on ground.

Lot’s of our roles are now fifty-fifty - even at senior leadership. Even in our leadership levels, our board is quite a mixture of men and women.

So, there is a lot of effort toward bona fide gender equality


What are the three skills that can contribute to women’s personal growth?

We should all embrace technology. I suggest that everyone in our society becomes conversant with technological skills in their area of work. This is to make sense of the demand of the customers, and deliver value for them. It also helps you to know your market.