Interview with Fatima Zehra — Area HR Head, Maersk Pakistan
PAGE: Briefly tell our readers about your successful journey?
Fatima Zehra: I started my career in the health care industry in the Human Resource function, taking the pathway to implement my learnings and have hands-on experience in the field of HR. With each passing year, the grip and passion to excel in HR elevated. To further learn and gain experience in a different industry, I then moved to a renowned group and contributed in different areas from introducing and implementing policies effectively and efficiently to setting up the people function of a startup. Known as an agile learner and problem solver, I was later promoted to leader position for the group.
Having hands-on rich experience in wide range of sectors and in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, hi-tech, commodity and health care, I then shifted my focus to the untapped industry of logistics from experience point of view and joined Maersk in 2019 as Area HR Head. Being part of the Area Leadership team, and a growing organization, every day comes with new challenges and learning curves.
PAGE: What can you tell us about job elimination based on your work experience in HR?
Fatima Zehra: During my experience in HR, I can shortlist three primary reasons which can become the basis for job elimination: i. Performance issues, ii. Changes to company policy, iii. Non-availability of role or business ramp down.
While the latter two reasons pertain to strategic decisions of the company’s management, all three reasons can be curtailed by focusing on performance improvement plans by introducing the right skill sets and capability building within the organization which can help employees extend their horizon.
This approach is proactively accomplished in Maersk by extending support through online customized training programs with vast library to scroll through. In addition to this, Maersk has introduced mentorship programs for employees where they can select a leader as a mentor to have conversation with them about the future plans and cultivate the right skills to reach the goal and learn the dynamics of business & society.
PAGE: As an Area HR manager, what qualities do you possess that will help you drive results in Maersk Pakistan?
Fatima Zehra: Human Resource function is the core asset of a company and is hugely involved in building a responsible organization. HR teams are the building blocks on which the company’s performance & productivity are based.
Maersk is on a transformational journey, from being a shipping company to becoming a global integrator of container logistics. It is evident that the scope and nature of work is broadening and for this, the right talent has to be onboarded who can relate to Maersk values, mission and priorities. To reach the goal, I believe the traits I have of being an empathetic person, a great communicator who can have transparent and thoughtful conversations with employees to have a trustful environment and pass on company’s key priorities and policies in an effective manner is of utmost importance. Being in HR is like taking up multidimensional roles where personal involvement is of primary importance.
Like Maersk is focused on simplifying and connecting customer’s supply chains, I am focused on creating top-notch workplace experience for employees where they are satisfied to work and don’t feel stressed. To maintain a healthy work-life balance, we are focusing on flexi-work structure where employees can give their best even from their homes or from other locations away from office.
PAGE: Recently we saw that Maersk Pakistan was certified as a ‘Great Place To Work’. What was done differently which helped in getting the certification?
Fatima Zehra: Maersk Pakistan is setting a new benchmark in many respects when it comes to the shipping and logistics industry in the country.
As an equal opportunity employer, Maersk prioritizes its Diversity & Inclusion agenda, bringing a good mix to the table by cultivating creativity, enabling innovation, and nurturing ideas through a kaleidoscope lens. Our people are the center of our organization, and one of the five fundamental Maersk values. The remaining are: Our Name, Uprightness, Humbleness and Constant Care.
Covid-19 saw us sailing through unchartered waters; with lockdown in place and a heighted sense of uncertainty, Maersk Pakistan took it upon itself to keep our people engaged remotely. We reverted to business continuity plan (BCP) through digital and electronic solutions and virtual connects to sustain our sense of community. Interactive activities were planned such as work from home (WFH) Bingo, share-a-pic, sessions on mental health and financial savings, just to name a few. Our people felt connected and resultantly displayed next-level resilience by adjusting to the ever-changing conditions, yet continually giving their 100 percent in these unprecedented times.
By way of our Boards for Innovation, Culture & Engagement and HSSE, we keep very near to the pulse of our people, ensuring that they are included and safe.
We at Maersk strive to do our best for our employees, by always going #AllTheWay.
PAGE: We always talk about women empowerment in every field of life but what do you think about positions available for women in this sector? Is it tough for women to initiate their career in logistics sector and acquire growth?
Fatima Zehra: The logistics and shipping industry has traditionally been male dominated, and while this is changing with more females making headways into the sector, there is still scope left to promote and encourage women to come into the sector and take on the available positions. It is crucial to focus on improving the gender ratio in the industry, and employers have a vital part to play in creating the right culture, environment, and opportunities. Maersk has been leading on this metric in the industry.
As a company, Maersk lays a lot of emphasis on diversity and inclusion within the organisation, and consciously work to improve this continuously. Maersk being a pioneer, we have Aruna Hussain as the Area Managing Director for Maersk Pakistan who has been leading the organization for the past 3 years. Likewise, I am part of the Area Leadership team and involved in strategic decision-making having parity within the team. In addition to this, with D&I in focus, the culture and environment is encouraging to onboard women into the organization with training platforms available on how to exceed towards leadership positions.
PAGE: What do you see as a major event, trend or change that will change human resources in the next five years?
Fatima Zehra: With the current changing dynamics, globalization and its implications, I believe HR industry will evolve and there will be more focus into using technology for manual labor work and hiring people for value added work. With AI and automation beginning to become a common practice, it will radically change the workplace and the workforce. HR will have to find and maintain a balance between machine labour and human labour, and potentially begin to come to terms with re-imagining human workers’ purpose, the value addition that they can create for the organization and their scope for the future.
In current practices, most companies proceed with performance management, ratings, annual reviews and sporadic feedback on an annual basis. This fails to reward or encourage consistent high achievement while simultaneously failing to improve low or unmotivated performance. As we move into the new decade, continuous coaching and feedback will become the norm, and learning and development will become more integrated into everyday work.
Millennials will bring new working styles and social values with them into the workplace. Millennials tend to consider work-life balance and quick progression to be more important than job stability or even compensation which is a major shift from traditional work styles. HR must adapt to Millennial employees’ needs to be able to attract and retain the best Millennial talent.
Overall, the HR landscape looks set to change more in the next 10 years than it did in the previous 30. You can’t predict the future – but you can make sure you’re prepared for it.
At Maersk, we believe in an employee engaged culture where there is open door policy. And to reward talent, we have multiple platforms like iAppreciate, Stars (rewards and recognition tool) which can be paid out anytime of the year to reward commitment and innovative mindset and are acknowledged locally, regionally, and even on Global level within the organization.
PAGE: As an HR employee, how do you deal effectively with challenges within a team you are leading?
Fatima Zehra: One of the most importance trait an HR employee should have, is to effectively deal with a challenge and how to draw out aptitude by unsheathing the skillset.
To start the process, it is necessary to listen with a clear mindset. Break down problems, ask questions and give clear transparent feedback. Coach everyone to come together and provide them input on how the issue can be resolved by developing strong collaboration within the team.
Since everyone will be playing an equal part basis their expertise, the challenge can be overcome through the process.
PAGE: Have you handled or led a team comprised of workers from different backgrounds? If you have, can you share your experience with us?
Fatima Zehra: Maersk has always encouraged and opened doors to candidates coming from different ethnic and cross-cultural backgrounds.
From an HR perspective, everyone is directly or indirectly involved with HR, thus it is of value that an environment of ease prevails within the organization. As a company, we focus on our values which puts Employees in the centre and make everyone a part of the family. For example, the organization celebrates auspicious religious holidays by sending a cake to make the day. The main advantage of having multicultural people around is that you learn as an organization and results are best achieved when people from different backgrounds come together and work as a team.
With the diversified and inclusive culture, Maersk is focused on giving everyone a platform to flourish their innovative ideas be recognized for who they are.