Although the UAE is a leader by many measures, with only 14 percent of the country’s senior management positions held by women, in this sense it falls short. We spoke with Michele Rosso, Chief Financial Officer, Mediclinic Middle East, who guides us through her career and philosophy for success. Michele

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,’” Michele Rosso has learned that good things only come about by action. “Everyone needs a voice, and if you don’t exercise one, there’s a tendency to become complacent, and remain stagnant in your career. I always tell my team that no one will look after their career but them, so they need to have the confidence to speak.”

Having been in the UAE for 10 months, Rosso’s tenure in the country – and as Chief Financial Officer of private hospital group Mediclinic Middle East – is certainly in its nascent stages. However, she has already developed a taste for the intensity at which objectives – and change – are delivered in Dubai. “Having last worked in the U.K., where it takes months of talks and whitepapers before any change can happen, it’s refreshing to be here,” she says. “The mindset is very entrepreneurial and fast-paced. The country’s leadership can wake up and decide on something like the regulation of prices, and change can be instigated in no time at all. It means our team have to be dynamic and able to react swiftly to developments.”

Rosso’s relatively short career has already seen her make a marked rise via her experience in several prime international locations, at an array of renowned companies. Raised in South Africa, after graduating from university and gaining her Chartered Accountant status with Deloitte, Rosso went on to have spells in New York City and Sydney with the firm as an Auditor. “Both cities are melting pots of cultures,” she says. “I was lucky to get such a good start to my career with that experience, but wasn’t ultimately interested in becoming a partner, so I left.”

London called, Rosso answered. She joined telecoms giant Cable & Wireless in the world’s financial hub as Group Reporting Accountant, and was lucky to garner more international experience in the role, albeit at the start of the 2008 financial crisis. By the end of 2011 she had shifted into the medical industry at BMI Healthcare in a similar job, which would bring challenges. “It was a very difficult time for the business,” she says. “There were complex debt structures and shareholder issues, so it was very much a headfirst task. We faced a two-and-a-half year battle with the Competition Commission over the use of our hospitals, which was a huge test of my regulatory, legal and strategic competencies.”

This wealth of experience has led Rosso to her CFO berth at Mediclinic Middle East, but as a woman in a senior management role in the UAE, she is in the minority. Grant Thornton’s 2014 ‘Women in business: from classroom to boardroom’ report revealed that the UAE has one of the world’s 10 lowest percentages – 14 – of women in senior management positions. However, Rosso does not feel the number is a reflection of negative treatment, “It may be stating the obvious, but I just feel it’s important not to generalise or stereotype with things like gender,” she says. “If I’m being honest, I occasionally get a certain reaction from stakeholders, but I think most people are completely tolerant. It’s far more important to make sure that I am properly prepared for a meeting rather than worrying about being the only woman in the room.”

While the status quo may faze some, Rosso does not believe her conduct is affected by her being female in a largely male-dominated environment. “I don’t feel that I’ve had to overcompensate in my role as a female CFO,” she says. “I don’t believe that I face additional challenges because I’m a woman.” She goes on to say how the very nature of her profession is cutthroat for anyone, regardless of gender. “The role of the CFO itself is challenging, irrespective of sex,” she says. “It has changed so much over the last decade. The CFO is longer the tuna sandwich-eating number cruncher who is sat in the corner. The role now entails being a business partner to the CEO, which requires a huge amount of technical skill, with strength across commercial finance, M&A and banking sectors.”

Although Rosso is at home in her role, she is nonetheless mindful that change is needed to ensure women are fairly represented in boardrooms. “The reality is that roughly 50 percent of the world’s population is female, so it is a disservice to women to not be included in senior roles – which their skills and qualifications clearly warrant,” she says. “I’ve worked with plenty of exceptionally solid female partners and executives, so there is no question of female pedigree.”

While the number of female executives is on the rise worldwide – Grant Thornton also found that in 2014, 12 percent of businesses had a female CEO, up from 5 percent in 2012 – it will undoubtedly take time for any sort of equilibrium to arise within the numbers, either organically or by design. The solution, Rosso says, starts with self-belief, and cultivating a belief that women can transform the statistics. “To a certain extent, with groups like women, the situation is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she says. “I believe success boils down to your personality, background, self-awareness, and – most importantly – confidence. It’s essential that women do not limit themselves to what they can and can’t do.” Rosso says although she has exceeded her own expectations, she had never defined limits for what she could achieve. “As a school leaver, I did not see myself where I am now, if I am honest,” she says. “But, importantly, I did not ‘not’ see myself where I am.”

Rosso acknowledges that it will take time to raise the number of female business managers, but believes that technology has a huge part to play in driving change. “There’s no question things won’t happen overnight,” she says. “But I do believe that if you look at what the Internet and smartphones are doing for business, they can act as a real catalyst in awareness and education and opportunities for women. Things like that have a tendency to snowball.”