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Driving Transformation: Mai Youssef’s Journey as a Marketing Dynamo at Canon

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Exclusive interview with Mai Youssef, Corporate Communications & Marketing Services Director – Middle East, Turkey and Central and North Africa.

1.    Great to meet you Mai Youssef. For someone meeting you for the first time, how would you describe yourself?

I’m Mai Youssef, and I’m deeply passionate about fostering connections between people and brands, grounded in trust and authentic communication.

Alongside this passion, I also prioritize giving back to communities whenever possible, believing in the importance of contributing positively to society.

My approach to marketing emphasizes the importance of collaboration and learning from one another, with a strong focus on leveraging data and analytics to deliver personalized and humanized customer experiences.

I believe that building trust is paramount in today’s marketing landscape, and I’m committed to creating meaningful connections that resonate with audiences on a personal level.

In addition to my marketing expertise, I’m an enthusiast for emerging technologies such as NFTs and Web3. Being honoured with the Marketing Game Changers 2021 award by Campaign Middle East was a significant milestone for me, and I’m constantly seeking new opportunities to enhance my skills and knowledge.

I’m particularly intrigued by the impact of AI on communication and its potential to shape our future interactions. Exploring the intersection of AI and communication is a priority for me as I continue to grow and evolve in my career.

2.    How do you think women can play their part in achieving true gender equality, especially in relation to your role?

Women are key agents of change and empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of their families, communities, and countries, creating a ripple effect that benefits everyone.

Advancing gender equality is an ongoing effort to promote equal rights and opportunities for people of all genders.

The first step to tackling inequality is to educate people.  As a company, we want to use our position to challenge gender inequality and strengthen and scale the next generation of women in the creative industries.

With that vision in mind, we launched our ‘Women Who Empower’ program which is a transformative initiative designed to uplift and support women in the imaging and print industries.  We support them with mentorship, workshops, and skill-building opportunities.

We also introduced our ‘Women in Sales’ programme as part of the on-going effort to reinforce gender-inclusivity and to address the growing need for women representation in sales management by empowering them through dedicated internship and mentorship opportunities designed to advance their skills and knowledge.  

Women can play their part by actively participating in society and raising awareness about the topic through different communications channels. This can be a part of internal awareness-raising processes in their organisation or institution and/ or an external activity directed to a targeted group or public.

Creating a safe working environment for women requires a proactive and ongoing effort. Therefore, women need to play their part in ensuring work environment that supports the development of women – having a voice through internal campaigns and working groups.

Supporting working mothers in the workplace is also key. It’s important for companies to focus on creating policies that support working mothers so that they can thrive both personally and professionally.

3.    As a woman who has occupied such a pivotal role for a long time, can you share insights into how more women can succeed in their career pursuits and rise through the ranks?

We have started to see and read about women who’ve played prominent roles in traditionally male-dominated industries, and that is something uplifting and helps bridge the awareness gap and inspires other women to hopefully pursue their careers and succeed.

The very first key to success is to know who we are and what we want to do. Having an open attitude to continuous learning and self-improvement makes a lot of difference, making our path to success much clearer and more attainable.

I have been blessed to work alongside amazing women who have inspired and pushed me to new hights. Surrounding ourselves with people who not only inspire us, but also push us forward, is very key for success.

4. Diversity and inclusivity are the bedrock of a progressive and future-ready business landscape. What are some your notable women-focused initiatives designed to create an equitable and inclusive environment for women?

We believe in the philosophy of Kyosei – living and working together for the common good. This desire to play a part in working to develop a better society, underpins our desire for a more inclusive and equitable world.

Together with our leadership team and employees, we champion and model inclusive behaviors, creating an environment which reflects the diverse communities in which we operate.

Our diversity and inclusion framework is centered around five key pillars: inclusive leadership, inclusive employees, inclusive workplace, inclusive business, and inclusive measures. This framework ensures we operate in a diverse environment and bring our whole selves to work while accepting each other.

Our initiatives extend to promoting the active participation of women and that is something engrained in our organization as part of our corporate culture of ‘Kyosei’. Under our ‘Inclusion and Diversity’ pillar, we have a program dubbed ‘Women who Empower’ which is a transformative initiative designed to uplift and support women in the imaging and print industries.

In partnership with leading women-focused non-profit organizations in Africa, this campaign offers a series of workshops and mentorship opportunities tailored to foster the growth and advancement of women in these fields.​

As an extension of our guiding principle of ‘Kyosei’, we also launched our ‘Women in Sales’ programme in 2022 focusing primarily on gender- inclusivity and amplification of equal opportunities for men and women alike. The program selected ten women participants from across the region, including individuals from Lagos, Casablanca, and Nairobi.

This initiative enables women land the world of Sales careers, upskill themselves with hands-on mentorship programs from industry experts, and also secure full-time employment at Canon. This is instrumental to supporting the company’s ambition to increase female representation in Sales Management roles to a minimum of 35%.

5. As a leader in your business, how do you set the tone for the team?

Having spent many years in leadership roles, I’ve come to truly appreciate just how much a positive culture matters for the long-term health of any company and the critical role leaders play in setting the right tone to create a culture of success. Setting the right tone and staying focused contributes to our leadership efforts and creates a lasting impact.

I always try to put myself in my team’s shoes first and be open, available, and visible. I always believe that it’s not about me being a leader— it’s about us and that is key to see how things would work as a team. Once everyone believes in the ‘we’, everything works perfectly like clockwork. That’s what I share with the entire team.

Leaders play a crucial role in building trust. It starts with creating a safe environment that encourages feedback and opinion sharing. Creating a harmonious team who supports each other and willing to put all efforts in to go beyond is very important.

6. Many say progress has been made in diversity and Inclusion within the tech space. What do you make of diversity and Inclusion within the African tech scene?

The tech industry has rapidly evolved over the years, becoming a driving force behind innovation and progress.

An increasing number of women are making significant contributions to the industry, which is a positive sign of growth and a possibility for future improvements. For instance, the Nigerian filmmaking industry stands out as a prime example where women dominate, showcasing the potential for diverse and impactful contributions.

Representing half of the world’s population, women need to be an integral part of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The barriers to women accessing careers in tech must be broken down starting at the grassroots level, through education and training, giving girls and young women the opportunities and skills to enter the tech world.

This will not happen overnight, but all stakeholders in the Tech industry need to synergize and work in tandem towards encouraging this transformation.

7. For over 15 years you have occupied this position at Canon. Can you share 3 lessons you have learnt on the job?

·      Doing the right thing is always rewarding.

·      Accept new challenges and risks is key for fundamental transformation.

·      Accountability is inextricably linked to career growth.

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