ADVICE: Seek out a mentor, be a mentor, and be visible

Chahida Bakkour has had an extensive career in technology, engineering and aviation. Today, as well as being an A/g Service Design and Alignment Manager for Airservices Australia, she believes strongly in the importance of encouraging women to join and empowering women to thrive in male-dominated industries.

In this interview, she shares her advice and experiences regarding imposter syndrome, confidence and leadership.

  • In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing female leaders in male-dominated industries? 

Self confidence, fear of failure and the lack of role models and mentors.

  • How have you overcome these challenges throughout your career, and what’s your advice to others experiencing or foreseeing these challenges?

I tackle things head on, overcoming lack of self-confidence and fear of failure are no exceptions.  I set goals and mantras like in 2019 “getting out of my comfort zone”. I take ownership of my development and accomplishments instead of waiting to be asked. It’s a journey, I am happy to now realise getting out of my comfort zone has become the norm me. For me, showing up and being visible was out of my comfort zone but was something I needed to overcome for the purpose of being a visible role model.

I surround myself with like-minded inspiring women who support my goals and we work closely to uplift each other. Last year, I attended a truly inspiring week-long leadership summit which included leadership coaching sessions, networking events and a great line up of inspiring speakers who all were great role models. I walked away from the summit feeling motivated, inspired and connected to a greater network of other like-minded leaders and role models. 

My advice is to seek out mentors, be a mentor and be visible so that others can see you as a role model, then inspire others to do the same. Take ownership of your leadership, attend leadership forums and build your network.

  • In your view, what is the biggest thing driving the local and global shortage of women working in tech? What is the low-hanging fruit for each of governments, corporates, and individuals to improve the ratio?

Some of the key factors that contribute to the local and global shortage of women in tech roles include the belief that these types of roles are not suitable for females (gender stereotypes), male dominated culture and a lack of role models. We are dealing with a mindset and culture that dates back a long time.

We need to be educating the younger generations about the broad range of roles and pathways that are available and suitable for women seeking a career in tech. The aim should be to embed a culture where women in tech roles are seen as the norm across various layers of society.

Governments play a key role in ensuring school curriculums starting from prep to year 12 target these key areas. We need to start planting seeds from a very early age. The result would be an increase to the number of females that are attracted to and complete further studies in this field.

Corporations that haven’t already done so, need to review recruitment processes, position descriptions and job advertisements. In many instances position descriptions and job advertisements are written in a way that deters women from applying. Diversity strategies are needed to support the organisation in retaining staff and creating an inclusive culture, including educating on how we manage unconscious bias.  

We, as individuals, all play a role in challenging the status quo, promoting, supporting and encouraging more women in gaining and retaining roles within tech.

  • A lot of people feel pressured to behave a certain way to be seen as a ‘leader’, which can often involve acting against their gut instincts. In your view, when is this type of change necessary, and how should people experiencing this feeling address it in the moment?

Start by reflecting on your leadership style, purpose and values. It takes self awareness, confidence and courage to stay true to your values when being pressured by others to behave in a certain way that goes against your gut instinct. Believe in yourself and trust your gut instinct.

  • Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? If so, could you share some examples?

Yes, I have definitely experienced imposter syndrome and to my surprise so have many others. I will never forget the day I discovered the imposter syndrome. I was flipping through an RACV magazine (of all places) and stumbled across an article about the imposter syndrome. I was so relieved to know that my negative thoughts, thinking I wasn’t good enough, always working towards perfection, fear of failure and continuously focusing on things that I lacked was a result of the imposter syndrome.

  • These days, do you ever experience imposter syndrome or self doubt? If so, how do you overcome that and what’s your advice to others going through this?

Yes, I occasionally still experience it but I shut down the negative thoughts pretty quickly. As mentioned earlier, 2019 was my year of “getting out of my comfort zone”. I no longer hold myself back from trying new things or seeking new opportunities due to a fear of failure. I shifted my mindset to one that sees failure as an opportunity to learn and develop from the experience. I also now keep a list of my achievements and accomplishments, no matter how big or small they are. I use the list when I need to shift my mindset from one that is focusing on things that I lack instead of the great things I do well but do unconsciously.  

My advice would be to start by educating yourself on imposter syndrome, there are some great resources available online. The first book I read was “The secret thoughts of successful women: Why capable people suffer from the imposter syndrome and how they thrive in spite of it.” By Valerie Young ED.D

If you don’t have a mentor, seek one out to support you in working through self doubt and imposter syndrome.

  • ‘Anyone can be a mentor.’ – Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

Agree, anyone can be mentor. All it takes is someone who has a good attitude, and is a positive role model who is willing to share relevant knowledge, experiences and advice to assist others in developing. Many people already have an informal mentoring relationship and may not realise that they are already mentoring. Whether you have a formal or informal mentoring relationship the ability to actively listen and focus on the needs of the mentee is key.

The ability to support and guide a mentee in setting career and development goals is extremely rewarding.


About the expert

Chahida dedicated part of her adulthood to raising her two boys. Once they were in primary school, there was passion to do more and be a positive role model for her family, especial her sons. Through process of discovery, Chahida found passion and fascination with technology. With the support of her family, Chahida invested in returning to studies with focus on Information Technology completing Bachelor of Business in Computer Systems Management. 

Chahida currently works for Airservices Australia, Australia’s Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), who safely manage 11% of the world airspace. With over 10 years of experience working in the Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems domain in both technical and leadership roles, she has led an extremely diverse team of software and systems engineers that provide frontline engineering support to real time, large-scale ATM systems. Like most leadership roles, she was responsible for management of a works program, resource management, project delivery support and planning, recruitment, mentoring/coaching and performance management.

Seeking to challenge herself and live to her 2019 mantra of pushing herself out of her comfort zone, Chahida accepted secondment into a senior leadership role; Service Design and Alignment Manager, an extremely challenging role that she thoroughly enjoys. People who know Chahida would describe her as a great role model, breaking down several stereotypes by being a female Muslim leader, from a non-English speaking background, in what is traditionally a male dominated field. Chahida practices what she preaches, mentoring in The Future Through Collaboration (TFTC) program, a formal cross defence industry mentoring program for female engineers and project managers. She is also a Women in Aviation International and Australian charter.

Outside Air Traffic Management, Chahida is on the board at Migrant Resource Centre North West Region (MRC NWR), a non-for-profit, community based organisation, in the role of Assistant Treasurer. Her contributions and leading example were acknowledged in 2019’s Women Acknowledging Women’s Award – STEM Contribution Achievement