Finance & Banking

Interview with MS. MAYA MARISSA MALEK Managing Director, Amanie Advisors LLC WOMANi Ranking – 07

YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER IN ISLAMIC FINANCE IN
MALAYSIA WORKING FOR AMANIE ADVISORS MALAYSIA
AS THE FIRST WOMAN CONSULTANT IN 2007. HOW HAS
WORKING WITH AMANIE ADVISORS DEVELOPED YOUR
CAREER AND HELPED YOU LEARN AND GROW? WHAT HAS
BEEN YOUR MOST CAREER-DEFINING MOMENT THAT YOU
ARE PROUD OF?

I am blessed to have started my career in Islamic finance
working with Amanie Advisors, Malaysia in 2007 and
then moved to Amanie Advisors Global Office, Dubai
in 2014. Amanie Advisors was founded and is led by
my mentor, Datuk Dr. Mohd Daud Bakar, a renowned
global Shari’a scholar and corporate figure. Coming from
a legal background, and now having more than 20 years
of experience in corporate legal and Islamic financial
matters, working in Amanie was a step-up and a platform
for me to contribute to the quest of strengthening the
Islamic finance industry. I have initiated atypical Islamic
financial entreprises, and was entrusted with leading our
global Shari’a advisory business. I have personally headed
landmark projects such as the development of Islamic
banking framework for the Central Bank of Afghanistan,
development of the first ever Shari’a standards on gold in
collaboration with AAOIFI and the World Gold Council,
issuance of the first corporate Sukuk out of Oman
working on the first ever corporate Sukuk out of Oman
and first Sukuk out of Kazakhstan, setting up of various
Islamic windows in non-Muslim countries, and advising the
world’s largest gold ETF. I have found these ventures to
be fulfilling, which has ignited my passion even more. I am
also an external consultant and a subject-matter expert on
Shari’a for the IFC, World Bank Group.

IN SHARI’A ADVISORY, AN AREA WHERE THE PRESENCE
OF WOMEN IS SCARE, YOU HAVE MADE YOUR MARK.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE AND HOW HAS THE
INDUSTRY CHANGED SINCE?

Drawing strength from all these great encounters that
I have had the blessings to experience, I stay abreast of
the latest happenings in the industry, reflect that in my
work and be more cognizant of the demands from the
non-traditional markets in the quest to uplift the industry.
The raison d’etre in my work is to create awareness to as many
parties outside the Islamic financial space as possible. Since
Islamic finance is for everyone and not just for Muslims, there is no limit to expand its reach beyond predominant Muslim countries and markets. Solid Islamic solutions that can
address the concerns of newcomers into Islamic finance is
paramount and to add to this, the solution must not only be
Shari’a-compliant but also commercially viable and workable.
We need to have in depth knowledge of what is on the
ground in these new markets and a solid knowledge of
Shari’a in order to match solutions with various aspects so as
to reinforce the sustainability of Islamic finance in the market
and be a real alternative to conventional finance throughout
the value chain in the near future.

THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN ISLAMIC FINANCE HAS GAINED
PROMINENCE IN RECENT YEARS. MALAYSIAN WOMEN
ARE OCCUPYING LEADERSHIP POSITIONS AND PLAYING
A DOMINANT ROLE IN THE INDUSTRY. WHY IN YOUR VIEW
ARE COUNTRIES LIKE MALAYSIA LEADING IN THE GENDER
LEADERSHIP SPACE?

Women’s inclusion and participation in Islamic finance
and its sister sectors is part of a wider effort on women
empowerment in the workplace. Women are playing
many roles now – they are investors, philanthropists,
entrepreneurs, senior executives, Shari’a scholars, techies,
professionals and many more. Also let’s not forget they are
wives, mothers, daughters and sisters. In Islamic finance,
the cause for lack of women representation may be more
inadvertent rather than deliberate. In addition to talent
shortage, this area may not be that attractive or ideal
for female role models to venture into. In countries like
Malaysia, Indonesia and the UAE; professional women
are being given a more balanced gender footing to be
entrusted with top management positions and be involved
in Islamic finance and Shari’a advisory boards. However, it
is worth noting that despite quite a big number of women
professionals occupying middle-management positions, the
number seems to dwindle further up the corporate ladder.
Link this with Shari’a advisory practice as a whole, with
no visible career path to the top rungs in Islamic financial
institutions, women in Islamic finance are again facing a huge
sturdy wall in their career paths.

YOU HAVE RECENTLY BEEN NAMED AS THE 7TH MOST
INFLUENTIAL WOMAN IN ISLAMIC BUSINESS AND FINANCE
GLOBALLY BY CAMBRIDGE IFA, UK CONGRATULATIONS ON
THIS HUGE ACHIEVEMENT. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE
BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO WOMEN’S CAREER PROGRESSION
ESPECIALLY IN LEADERSHIP ROLES?

Thank you. Whatever that I have achieved thus far is the
blessings of the Almighty, the support from a great team
at Amanie and the unyielding backing from my family.
Whether we admit it or not, we are living in a disrupted world. Despite the positive outlook for the industry as a
whole, the one challenge that has always been consistent
and plaguing the industry is scarcity of talents. Even more
so in Shari’a advisory. Although there are many women
leaders in different industries, when it comes to Islamic
finance, women are clearly under-represented. To develop
and empower the female leaders of tomorrow, CEOs and
senior leaders should integrate gender diversity as a core
part of the organisation’s strategic objective and ensure
organisation-wide communication and engagement. Applying
best practices in retaining talent, ensuring fairness and equal
opportunities, removing any conscious or unconscious bias,
and promoting role models are the key tools.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WOMEN AIMING FOR
LEADERSHIP POSITIONS?

I subscribe to the view that we need more and more leaders
who can drive change on all levels of human relationships,
not just in the realms of technology and science, but more
importantly, to evolve conscience. This is an important role
that women can participate in and contribute to. For the
untapped women leaders in Islamic finance, there is no easy
way to succeed. Women should not have to bow down to
mainstream perception and expectation. Instead be creative
in managing and balancing various responsibilities, ready
to accept challenges and take everything in their stride in
a positive manner without compromising on the unique
attributes, including their quiet strength. It is also important
for women to support each other in their endeavours. One
of my aims is to empower more and more women to enter
this line of work, and showing them that we can do it and do
it well, if not better.

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