Client interview: How to foster diversity of thought in your legal team and boardroom

Author Asha Morzaria
June 15, 2023

Taylor Root’s Director, Asha Morzaria recently spoke with Nadia Hoosen, serving as a member of the Executive Committee as Chief Legal Officer and Group Company Secretary at OneWeb.

Nadia provides an incredibly candid and thought-provoking interview about her background, career journey and how this has influenced her leadership style.  It’s an inspiring one with many take home points for everyone of any background.   

As a female from an ethnic minority group, what have been your challenges in getting to where you are today and how have you overcome these?

My parents were first generation to Britain and I was the eldest child, so navigating the complexities on the tiered education system in this country was challenging.  It meant that I didn’t optimise my options, have access to the right advice or understand how critical going to certain institutions was to opening corporate doors in my profession. I’ve had to knock on doors very hard and fight to get in.

How have those challenges shaped you, and impacted your career progression and opportunities for advancement?

It has meant that I’ve had to be very quick to fit in and work harder than others around me to keep up.  I don’t actually think I was pushed very hard to think big until I entered the workplace. Fortunately, I’ve had some wonderfully supportive bosses who saw my potential and pushed me incredibly hard to aim for the top. I was also fortunate to be given some very straight-talking feedback throughout my career,  which is something I often seek out.  I am truly grateful for their honesty as this ultimately shaped me and got me to where I am today.  I can’t emphasis enough how important it is to listen to great leaders and mentors, and not to dismiss difficult feedback. We are all a work in progress and I still continue to learn from great leaders and mentors today.

My parents were typical hard working Asian parents who came to the UK in the 70s and worked very long hours to run a successful business.  I learnt the meaning of work ethic very early on and saw that it paid off. I had a weekend job from the age of 17 and have always worked since.  Learning the value of money, the importance of independence and how to get ahead early on, helped me to be streetwise and ready for corporate life earlier than some of my peers. I was always brought up to not answer your elders back and to put your head down and work harder – that philosophy served me very well early on in my career, but I think it is important to recognise when to break free and raise your head about the parapet to challenge. 

How do you feel your culture, upbringing and broader background have bought “diversity of thought” into the boardroom?

It is connected; my big fat Asian family has moved around all over the world and I am lucky that many have married into different backgrounds, which has allowed me to experience and appreciate a broad range of cultures.  I was always encouraged to immerse and ask questions.   

My background has really helped me to work with an incredibly diverse Board who come from all over the globe including USA, Japan, India, South Korea, UK and France. Having an acute understanding of cultural differences in communication, style and pace is critical to success. As a CoSec, you have to join the dots for everyone and recognise when particular board members have different needs or risk tolerances. 

How has your background and experiences shaped your approach to leadership?

I think early on in my career I tried to emulate my mentors.  However, as I got older and hopefully more wiser, I realised the importance of having a unique story and helping others understand there is more than one route to get to your goals.  You have to  have a game plan. 

I get an immense amount of joy and fulfilment from mentoring those early on in their career.  I believe we often limit ourselves and therefore it is vital to have strong leaders around you to help unlock all sorts of potential that you never knew you had. I never intended to become a GC – again I was lucky to have bosses and mentors who pushed me and kept me believing there was something more out there for me.  

What has been your approach to achieving diversity within your team?

It is tremendously hard. I am very lucky that the space industry naturally attracts a very global set of people and without trying, I have managed to build an incredibly diverse team. I feel very proud of my team. I am lucky and we benefit everyday from the diversity of thought and backgrounds around the table. It has not felt hard to build an inclusive environment, when everyone is from somewhere different. However, in previous jobs it has proved very challenging to attract the right calibre.   A lot has to do with the perception of a company or industry. Perhaps a belief from candidates that only one type of person would fit in. My experience has been that most leaders are trying to do the right thing, but welcoming diverse cultures requires more that words. You actually have to walk the walk. It is certainly not one dimensional.

What advice would you give to other female professions from an ethnic minority background who are navigating similar challenges in their careers?

I think it can be very limiting to think of yourself as an ‘ethnic minority’, so don’t put yourself in a box. If you do, then everyone else will. For me the idea that I have been placed on a shortlist because I fit a statistic makes me pretty angry.

Assume that most people are forward thinking and aren’t considering you because of the box you may tick.  You are just someone who is fabulous at what you do! Confidence is important, even if internally you don’t feel it.

I would also say that the social aspect of any job is incredibly important – being part of the team on and off the pitch is all part of your career.  Let your team see your human side. Let others feel they can ask you about you – without worrying they will offend. Before you know it, everyone around realises that we all have so more in common in our beliefs and values than we ever thought possible. 

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