Challenging the superficiality of rigid gender norms and the status quo, Hajar Alafifi, Chairperson and Managing Director of Unilever Sri Lanka, stands as a top inspirational female leader within the corporate circle of Sri Lanka. Standing on the vibrant grounds of diversity while influencing the many around her with her true power of individuality, she continues to guide Unilever with the values she strongly prompts as a true leader.
Hajar emerged from a social construct that was restricted to rigid gender roles and expectations, but she thrived above the grounds of restriction with the light of her individuality. As Hajar proclaims, being original and given a worthwhile chance to follow your passion is essential to being truly successful as a human being. In order to achieve that success, gender does not have to stand as a hurdle, and focusing on becoming your true self is more valuable and worthwhile than allowing yourself to be disheartened because of superficial ideas of outdated patriarchy.
“I think the current era is pro-women. Where it goes wrong is when women try to fit into the strict mould created by patriarchal society. That is when we lose our identity. A very important quality that I want me and my team to embrace is being transparent and about our unique selves.”
Truly embracing the power of her femininity, Hajar strides with the humble pride of being a unique individual who enjoys a good balance as she lives a full life. This lies in the qualities that Hajar elucidates, resulting in her being an inspiration to many around her. Believing in the potentiality of libertarianism in the current era, where one’s success relies on their capability, dedication, and unique individuality, Hajar wears her many roles as a woman, with pride and a genuine smile and finds it a huge privilege to have fulfilled the many roles of a proud daughter, dedicated wife, and thoughtful leader in her life. Among these roles of privilege, she fondly embraces the role she plays at Unilever as one of her most valued, where she was allowed to grow constantly and persistently despite the many external restrictions and challenges.
“I am lucky to be working in a company that recognizes both men and women on equal grounds. In the current work environment, I have never felt any different because I am a woman. We enjoy quite a balance at Unilever, and as a woman, you will never find yourself isolated.”
As she strongly appreciates the journey she has come so far, Hajar continues to look forward to growing more and more as she believes that growth truly never stops. The path to excellence is a never-ending journey, and to have trodden on that journey on the path of Unilever is one of the most highly regarded opportunities she acknowledges as she continues to learn and heighten herself to a fresh length of distinction. As Hajar recognizes the challenges she faces as a leader and sometimes as a woman in a male-dominant corporate environment, she chooses to put high focus on the qualities that accentuate her as a female leader.
“Coming to the positives of being a woman in a corporate, there are plenty, and I’ll mention, through my personal experience, that there are many opportunities for women to come out as whole individuals within a healthy corporate environment. We are able to have a true smile with each other rather than having to stroke any superficial egos and avoid being isolated within a male-dominated environment.”
Hajar acknowledges that this is one of the reasons she is able to give her all as a leader. She recognizes how Unilever as a company stands and grows on the power it has created by allowing it to engage in a positive environment.
On the foundation of originality and individuality, Hajar has created pillars of principles that she holds herself as a guiding light for her community and her staff. She balances herself on the grounds created by the qualities of honesty, integrity, consistent growth, and courage to face challenges, which empowered her to come a long way on her journey as a human being and especially as a woman.
“As human beings, we tend to have the same insecurities. But the beauty of being a woman is that we are allowed to be vulnerable and honest about those insecurities. We have been brought up as women to be vulnerable and that makes it easy for us to be vulnerable. That perhaps is our greatest power; to be transparent, honest, direct and lead our team with humility by being a vulnerable yet a strong human being.”
Hajar finds empowerment to grow as a true leader despite the weaknesses and challenges she faces. A challenging crisis for her stands as an opportunity to grow and flourish as it pushes her to use her skill set in the most productive manner while engaging her efforts with absolute focus to overcome those challenges. As a woman, she enjoys her ability to be upfront and honest about her feelings and energy while conquering those challenges, and this, according to Hajar, remains a very underestimated quality as it truly allows an individual to develop and deliver their best while being true to themselves.
“The amount of learning I get every day is immense. If you ask me if I have mastered anything yet, I will say no, because true learning is a never-ending curve. Thinking from that perspective, I have a lot more to learn and master. I want to make sure I continue to learn, continue to improve and continue to be a fit in the current and future world where change is the only constant.”
Involving herself in a never-ending learning curve remains her biggest blessing as she surrounds herself with diverse and unique individuals who can contribute to her improvement as much as she contributes to theirs. As an extrovert, Hajar looks to surround herself with introverts who can give her a different perspective on life. And as a person who is analytical, she also looks to surround herself with people who drive themselves with their gut feeling so that they can add something different and contribute balance to her opinion. For Hajar, this method of balance remains close to her heart as she passionately embraces the diversity of her community. As Hajar believes, the amalgam of all these different individuals who have mastered their unique selves will result in a resourceful, perfectly balanced team that will produce the best outcomes in any situation.
“Have a purpose in life. Imagine a life where you can truly contribute to your community and society. Imagine an agenda whereupon fulfilling your personal needs, you can also positively impact society, where you have the ability to make a change. Imagine being able to instill even just 1% of positivity in this society and having the ability to pass that positivity on. That is what will make society better and having to be able to contribute to that as a woman is one of the greatest blessings. I think it’s really important for more and more women to think with such a mindset that will benefit society as a whole, no matter what they do. “
With such a strong philosophy supporting her viewpoint on life, Hajar looks forward to her daily and long-term plans with a strong sense of optimism that is centred on growth. Hoping to continue her journey as a dedicated leader at Unilever, while growing as an individual and embracing honesty, integrity & humility, Hajar stands tall with aspiration and hopes to serve her community, to enhance the quality of life.