Happy International Women’s Day! Meet Saira Haider – our Chief of Staff here at TouchNote.
We had a lot of fun chatting to her about her career path and advice for other women entering the tech industry.
Can you tell us a little about your role at TouchNote?
I’ve been at TouchNote for 10 months now. As Chief of Staff, my role can be split into three key areas.
Firstly, I am the ‘right-hand’ woman to Dan Ziv, our CEO, and my core responsibility is to oversee general operations – essentially the eyes and ears across all areas of the business with the ability to get hands-on at any moment to provide direction as a trusted advisor and partner to all the organisational leaders.
My second key role is to help the company and teams focus, plan and align for the future and success of the business. I have spent the last few months getting people together to strategize, set our objectives and subsequently define what it is most important for us to deliver on this year. Subsequently, I act as a de facto Portfolio Director across the major strategic programmes.
Last but not least I get the excitement of taking on a variety of other special projects – from leading our GDPR Audit, liaising with Legal, and jumping in at any point to create process improvement and clarity on our operating model.
Doing my role in a small business really brings to life my comfort with ambiguity, and ability to get stuck into anything at all – whilst also being able to maintain a helicopter view of the bigger picture.
This year, the International Women’s Day slogan is #Breakthebias, what does that mean for you in your work and general life?
Professionally: Having worked in larger companies I have experienced all too well the biases women face in progressing – from difficulties in career progression, the motherhood bias, and microaggressions.
Working at TouchNote has been refreshing for many reasons. The gender balance is actually skewed towards women, and I get to sit on a management team that is also majority women. Without any effort, women at TouchNote are treated completely without bias and rewarded equally for their performance.
Personally: I am the youngest of three girls and my mother broke every bias – there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do nor was there anything she could be told she couldn’t do. I now have a four year old daughter. I hope I can be the same inspiration to her. Breaking the bias for me is making sure she feels absolutely comfortable pairing an Avengers t-shirt with a frilly skirt; it is trying to encourage her that the pronoun associated with the construction toys doesn’t need to be ‘he.’ I also try to make sure I am not only the best cuddler but also paint and fix things around the house!
What advice would you give to women considering a career in your field?
There are various routes to the field that I am in which is essentially Business Operations. Some people come from Finance and others, like myself, have more Programme Management backgrounds. In general, I would advise people in any field to be financially numerate and commercially aware. It can be easy to stick to what you know and do well and shy away from what you imagine someone else can pick up because they can do it better. But throughout my career over the last 20 years, it has always been clear that there is importance in understanding the numbers!
Secondly, I would say it is good to think one step ahead regarding your profession and what you want. This will help you develop the required knowledge and skills to make it happen. On the flip side, be conscious that some of the best moves and opportunities in life happen organically!
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
You are your best mentor. Be informed, be confident and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Read, talk to people and learn from others’ experiences – this will help you decide what is best for you, shape your own unique experience and define what it is you want and deserve. And then of course – pay it forward! Make sure to help others with their path.
What more do you think could be done to support women entering your industry?
The knowledge that you don’t have to know it all – and when you don’t, that you have leaders, managers, peers take the time to sit down and explain new concepts or coach you in a calm and respectful way is really powerful. Women in my industry – i.e. senior-level business operations, Chief of Staff, or COO roles have many transferable skills they have developed along the way – from knowledge in Finance, HR, data, and portfolio management (to name a few) – but they may not have the subject matter expertise to have them thrive in the specific business they are in to give them the confidence to take it to the next level. As an example, in my previous role at BT within Network Strategy my manager took the time to explain technical concepts in relation to 5G and Fibre, this enabled me to do my job better and become a more knowledgeable leader myself.