“ You can’t be someone that waits for things to happen, you just go for it”
Employee Spotlight: Saima Naik
For our spotlight interview this month we sat down with Saima Naik, Deputy General Counsel at Wahed. She gave us some insights on her career, balancing work and motherhood – as well as advice for women looking to get on the career ladder in fintech.
Tell us about who you are, what you do, and how you got here.
I am currently working as Deputy General Counsel and handle legal work for Wahed . The beauty of this role is that I have more than 10 countries which I handle and where my decisions are respected and I am given the liberty in doing what is necessary for protecting Wahed’s interest globally.
I am a lawyer by profession. Growing up I bounced between the UK and India for my primary and secondary education but completed my law degree in India and my post-grad from Queen Mary University of London.
My journey to Wahed started via an application through the Naukri.com (job search) website. I joined in March 2020 and I am based out of the Mumbai office. My first day was International women’s day and we cut a cake to celebrate the day and me joining Wahed, it was really fun and I felt valued!
Why did you join Wahed?
I was going through a massive shift in my personal life and was trying to find some footing for my family and I. Before Wahed, I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the company. The first time I was interviewed it was done via an intern (Fatima) and we hit it off. It wasn’t stuffy at all. Then I had a word with Musa Abdul-Basser (Wahed’s Chief Legal Officer and Global General Counsel) . There was no push back based on my personal circumstances, instead, it was focused on me as a person and what I could do for Wahed.
My role as a mother was also acknowledged. I told the team I had a young child and was assured that wasn’t a problem. Within my position, I don’t have to struggle between being a mother and a lawyer- it’s interchangeable. I have completed a year and a half at Wahed and not once have I been made to feel that I had to choose either or, and that was the crux of everything.
Have you had to worry about gender equality?
Not once. For me to be given this kind of responsibility, I have never felt a difference between a woman or a man. I think that it is really important to set an example for our children that you should be judged on your merit, not your gender and that your work should speak for itself. It does at Wahed.
What is a typical day for you at Wahed?
Most of my work is with non-Indian entities and it is quite varied. It can go from drafting employer contracts for employees in the UK to reviewing the platform policies we have for Kazakhstan to reviewing third-party service provider agreements in Malaysia. This can all happen in one day!
What is one of the biggest challenges of your role?
Managing expectations which is typical for anyone working as an in-house legal counsel. We often have to balance legal requirements with business requirements. The Wahed team has an ambitious mentality typical of a fast growing company. As a legal counsel, we have to point out red flags and balance that against the “we want it now” eagerness. This also means stopping people from jumping the gun. Luckily the team at Wahed recognise the fact that we are all on the same team.
Tell us more about your team.
I report to Musa Abdul-Basser, our Chief Legal and Compliance Officer and Junaid Wahedna the group CEO. We have an additional person currently working in the Mumba officei – and a few interns. Our team is quite small. We tend to be a tight group and often during the interview stage for roles, we try to see if the person applying will gel well with others. In my understanding, the focus at Wahed is more on the person and not on the CV alone.
What does it take to gel with your colleagues?
Empathy and fire. Recognition that this company is going somewhere and you have a great opportunity to break the glass ceiling. You can’t be someone that waits for things to happen, you just go for it. If you show your mettle and ability, it’s appreciated and you are given an opportunity to grow.
That’s what makes it fun. Being a go-getter is non-negotiable. In today’s world it is so competitive that if you’re in it, you have to be all in it. Nobody is going to ask you to do it – you just need to know what you have to do and go for it.
What is the one thing you love about Wahed?
I love the fact I am always learning something new every day. I tend to be slightly restless as a person and I need to keep moving forward. I don’t like to be stagnant. Being at Wahed keeps me on my toes all the time. If there are things I don’t know, I have to find out and there are people available to teach me. If you keep your options open, there is something you can learn every day. I enjoy the work – I put in the effort and it’s appreciated and it makes me love it more.
Has motherhood taught you anything that you can apply to your role?
Motherhood is doable despite being hard. It has taught me how to respect myself as an individual first. This is crucial when raising my four year-old daughter. A lot of what I am today is because of her. If she sees me do it, she will understand that I’m respecting myself in order to establish myself. She understands and she even recognises names of people on the team now!
It’s hard for every working mother. I am privileged because I am appreciated for what I do at Wahed. This shouldn’t stop us as mothers. We need to do what we need to do. Nobody is born a mother – it’s you who comes first and then everything else comes along.
I started to appreciate myself and feel proud to say that I am a corporate lawyer and legal counsel for multiple countries. I am a single mother, a qualified open water 18m diver, a yogi, a kickboxer (I practice with my daughter!) and I have done it despite everything. It has taken immense effort and – I am proud to be who I am.
What would be your one piece of advice for women to break into FinTech?
Educate yourself – you have to. When my daughter was younger I would be nursing her, and taking calls – if your abilities are up to the mark – don’t use your situation as an excuse to not go for it. It’s doable – even if you’re a single mother. You have to bring something to the table – and if you’re committed and able, then your ability will shine through. Don’t use handicaps, women are brilliant and can multitask. It’s going to be hard and at times very hard but this is something you can accomplish.
Merit shines through. There is so much data and free courses online to do self paced programmes. But you also need to have the fire – the passion – that makes you feel you need it – and you want it – and you go for it.