Meet our new VP of Sustainability: Zainab is far from home, working for a cause close to heart

Ten years ago, Zainab Hussain Siddiqui realised she needed a change. Today, as Vice President of Sustainability at Telenor Group, it’s very clear that change has become the fuel that drives her.

Written: Mar 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“My passion for sustainability emerged many years ago, while I was working with sustainability and studying development. Nevertheless, at some point and for some reason, my career took a turn towards business administration.”

Zainab Hussain Siddiqui, a then auspicious employee in Pakistan’s telecommunications industry, was about to go abroad on a high-level on-the-job training program, when she received news that changed her priorities.

“A friend had just passed away in a car accident, and the statement ‘life is too short’ became very real. So, I decided to resign, although I had no back-up job or even a plan at all. And, you know, I haven’t regretted it for a second.”

Zainab started her career with Telenor as Head of Sustainability at Telenor Pakistan in 2012, before she went on a one-year mobility assignment to Telenor Group in Norway. A year later, she got a permanent position as Director of sustainability programs in Group, before being hired as VP of Sustainability.

A meaningful position

Fast-forward ten years, Zainab finds herself standing in the middle of Grünerløkka in Oslo on a cold and cloudy day, far from her hometown of Islamabad, Pakistan. While observing the bustle in this often-described hipster part of town, she reflects on a decade-old decision well made and her satisfaction with a role that feeds her ‘passion for sustainability.’

“Being appointed VP of Sustainability in Telenor Group is a great opportunity to pursue my ambitions in Sustainability. Along with my team, I have the privilege of representing a company that has a strategic focus on reducing inequalities, through its commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I also have the opportunity to work with partners in projects across our global footprint with the aim to empower societies, for instance by overcoming challenges related to gender inequality.”

Zainab lives in downtown Oslo, just a 30-minute bus drive from Telenor’s headquarters at Fornebu.

Improving gender equality

While content with her place in the world, she regrets that the same cannot be said for the general situation of women in today’s society.

“We still face many challenges that need to be addressed. I feel everyone needs to look at women’s rights more holistically to progress faster. It should not be limited to isolated campaigns and projects; instead more companies should make it a cross-cutting theme in their way of work and operations. Diversity is a competitive advantage and should be dealt with as such.”

She continues, “Telenor has taken important steps to improve gender equality in its different markets, especially in Asia. This includes ensuring minimum 6-month paid maternity leave, daycare facilities at work and transportation services for female employees, which in turn has helped create structural changes that encourage women’s participation in the workforce. We are also running a mentorship programme with partners in Norway to inspire more girls to choose education and careers within technology. We cannot change the culture of a country alone, but we can influence what is in our control.”

Together with Sigve Brekke, President and CEO of Telenor Group, Zainab was present at the SHE Conference 2020 at Oslo Spektrum in Oslo.

Baby steps can do wonders

#EachforEqual is the theme for the International Women’s Day 2020, signalling each and every person’s responsibility to challenge gender stereotypes, fight biases and take action to improve women’s situation. Zainab applauds the message.

“In today’s world, many of us have a virtual voice and therefore the power to influence. Through social media, we share ideas and opinions, and we can speak up in support of our rights. I hope more people will use their ability to take a stand against bullying, stereotyping and oppression, especially men. I feel more male voices are needed to strengthen the debate on women’s rights.”

Becoming a role model among men does not necessarily have to be complicated. Sometimes a small step can have a big impact on the people around you.

“I remember a former CEO in Telenor Pakistan came into the office one day with his one-year old baby girl in his arms. He was carrying her around while he was working, and everyone was taken aback by this, but in a pleasant way. A CEO carrying a baby at work was unheard of. Seeing him do something that is typically perceived as a women’s role changed something in our office. I felt that this reinforced a whole new message; that it’s very masculine and leader-like to take care of your baby. I think something as simple as this can make a lasting difference.”

Passionate about equality, Zainab hopes that one day women will have the same opportunities as men regardless of geography: “In my view, this includes the skills, the abilities, the encouragement, and the empowerment to make choices free of biases and stereotypes.

A family of value-driven employees

Making a difference is what Zainab’s engagement is all about, every day. Being able to do it as part of the Telenor family makes her both happy and proud.

“Telenor’s values are to always explore, create together, keep promises and be respectful. It is a great inspiration for me to see how everybody in our company works towards our values. I am lucky enough to find myself surrounded by people who have respect for equality, and who are willing to go the extra mile to encourage each other in pursuing their career ambitions – men and women alike. With this mindset, I am sure we will continue to create a more empowered and equal society for all.”