This feature is part of a series highlighting some of the most prominent Jordanian businesswomen who managed to climb to the top of the corporate ladder in their respective fields in the Kingdom.
Deputy Chairperson at the Landmark Hotel, a Barrister, a Founding Member of BDS Jordan
Mary Nazzal is living proof that women can multitask. The 35-year-old is the deputy chairperson at the Landmark Hotel, a barrister, a political activist, and serves on several boards, including al Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, and the Royal Film Commission. On top of that, she is a dedicated mother.
What does your position at the Landmark Hotel involve?
I’ve had a role in the owning company since 2000-2001. My roles have evolved from maintenance, housekeeping, accounting, renovation, to finally taking over and making it our own, my husband and I. I grew to love the business and I made it my own. And I am still able to do my political and legal work at the same time.
My role has decreased a little bit for now but the good thing is my husband and I work together so he can come home and brief me on everything. I have also developed the skill to be able to take in a lot of information, process it quickly, and then be able to make hard decisions. I’ve gotten a lot more confident since I became a mother, and I feel that my time is so limited so I make the most of it.
How do you find a balance between family and work commitments?
I tried at one point to integrate, which is some advice I read from other women leaders. For example, at one point I was taking my son with me to work. But now I have to put my family first especially since my children are young. I do a lot of my work after they sleep. I usually have meetings or Skype calls at night, and then sleep a couple of hours and then I’m with my kids.
How would you describe your management style?
I think I’m quite empathetic. I try and understand where people are coming from on a psychological level and I think it works because if you understand the person, you know how to deal with them. I think being emotionally intelligent is important, which is a skill I hope I inherited from my dad. I have also had the opportunity to travel and study a lot. I have a very egalitarian approach as well. I’m not hierarchal. Maybe it’s because I’m a political activist by nature.
How important is your political role to your career and personal life?
I’ve been involved in political activism for as long as I can remember and it’s taken on different forms. As a barrister, I often consider my efforts to be legal activism. In Jordan, the campaign that I’m currently most active on is the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), and essentially the point of that campaign is to isolate Israel on every level until it complies with international law. It’s a non-violent, civil movement. One element of the campaign is to eliminate Israeli products from the Jordanian market. The vast majority of things coming in are manufacturing products, like seeds, cardboard, and big vehicles as of 2013. Fruit and vegetables are minimal but it’s important because it garners widespread momentum. The problem is that we don’t have a systematic labelling scheme that allows the consumer to know, but that’s something that we are working on even from a legal perspective.
The other big issue that we’ve been very active on is the gas deal with Israel. We have spent the last couple of months lobbying parliamentarians. We’ve also engaged with civil society organizations on this issue. As a citizen here, we don’t have the sense that we have the right to say anything. And if we do, then we feel it won’t get anywhere. But this attitude won’t get us anywhere, we have to change norms.
Do you feel that women can spearhead change in Jordan? And why are women so few in top positions?
I think if women were overall more involved in international or domestic politics the whole scene would be very different. Our BDS Jordan campaign has been very successful, and all of the core founders are women. I think it has made a difference whereas others probably think that it hasn’t. This whole incident with MP Hind al Fayez and the comments on the quota just shows how much more work we need to do.
As for business, a trend you will find in the whole Middle East is that women in top positions tend to be in family businesses. There are structural barriers that stop women from rising in the workplace, there is a sense that women can’t or shouldn’t. I wasn’t raised that way and I am certainly not raising my daughter that way.
Through your different roles, what have you done to empower women?
This year we are building a nursery for our staff. I want this hotel to have the most women employees, especially in management positions. For both sexes we are trying to instil a sense of pride in the profession. One of the biggest challenges is the mother-work balance. So here we want them to come and be with their children as well. I think that will help us retain our women. We’ve also done annual training that focuses on gender roles and much more.
Articles in the series of Jordan’s Top Businesswomen: