Sumeet Thakur: You’re not only a CEO, you’re a CEO in a business that’s fairly dominated by men, at least on the construction side and the engineering side. How has that impacted your leadership and what do you feel you’ve brought in as a female CEO as opposed to being just a CEO to your company?
Ayesha: One of the things that I notice everywhere is that when I walk into a room, where most people don’t know me, there isn’t anybody who thinks that the CEO is walking in, and that affects you. That subconscious message that comes to you that you need to make a statement, you need to prove yourself with every time you take a new step, every time you run a Board meeting, every time you run a conference, every time you’re speaking, that the most likely assumption in the back of people’s minds is either she’s the CFO which is a role much more common for females – or, most likely, multiple times, that I’m just the assistant walking in with the man to support him. It’s very difficult to brush that off, it’s very difficult to ignore that, it’s very difficult to say that it’s not an important consideration. We have to be sensitive to it.
“Infrastructure is one of the most important things and I’m so proud that I am from that industry because when you have the right set of physical infrastructure and the right set of social infrastructure it creates an environment where everybody can participate.” – Ayesha Aziz Khan
Ayesha: How does it make a difference in my life? I’ve become much more conscious. I think I’m a much stronger feminist today at the age of 36 than I was when I was 25. So as a female CEO I do consciously try to make sure everything that I do allows for this disparity to be removed.
I was recently speaking somewhere else and they were talking about what is required for women to be able to participate more. Infrastructure is one of the most important things and I’m so proud that I am from that industry because when you have the right set of physical infrastructure and the right set of social infrastructure it creates an environment where everybody can participate. And that is what you really need, you need the law, and then physical infrastructure and social infrastructure to enable for everyone to have the equal opportunity to access everything. Whether it’s male, female, minority or LGBTQ, everybody who’s been pushed back, everybody who’s been pushed to the corner. For them to participate all you require is for the same door to be opened at the same time. It’s consciously making sure the infrastructure is there, where everybody has equal opportunity.