Leila Aliyeva is the Director of Marketing at the Ritz Carlton, Baku. Here she speaks to Maria Webster about her new podcast spotlighting female entrepreneurs and how the workplace is changing for women
Baku: What made you decide to start a podcast highlighting female entrepreneurs?
Leyla Aliyeva: I started my podcast in 2019. It was the very first one in Baku and back then the culture of podcasts was not really popular here, so I was not sure if anyone would really listen to it, but it was worth trying. My main goal was to use this platform as an opportunity to highlight some subjects that in my opinion are not discussed enough in our society – such as the importance of mental health, the fact that it is okay not to be okay sometimes, the struggles that people go through, be it in their careers or personal lives. People often judge by the surface, and compare their own journeys to someone else’s success without considering what it took to get there. We have a tendency to underestimate the hard work and sacrifice that comes with success and mistakenly believe that it was easier for someone else. However, the reality is very different. When long hours of hard work, perseverance, skill and commitment blend together, these ingredients create the success that we only see the end result of. We should never forget that behind every piece of success is an untold story. That’s why it was important for me to be able to tell these stories of women who truly inspire me, as well as use the opportunity to talk about my own journey. The response I get from the audience with each and every new episode is incredible, which I am forever thankful for.
Baku: As a self-made woman yourself, what have been the biggest challenges for you in getting where you are today?
LA: I am having hard time now giving an example of biggest challenges, not because there were none, but because instead of viewing them as roadblocks, I focused on the potential for growth and success that arose from dealing with them. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where I, as a kid, felt that my family believed in me and my choices, which is extremely important as it definitely builds up an internal stem and belief system too. I started working as soon as I turned 18 and of course with each experience I had my doubts and fears, but despite that I’ve always pushed myself to strive to reach my goals and make the most of my career. Now that I look back, I guess one of the challenges that I faced in the very beginning was learning how to remain resilient and not let emotions, mood swings or perceptions of other people affect my daily work routine or moreover, my own perception of myself. When you’re young, you tend to take many things personally without being mindful about it.
Baku: Working on so many projects at once, how do you manage your time?
LA: Balancing time between different projects can be tricky, particularly when juggling the demands of a corporate job and side projects such as my blog and podcast. In recent years, being productive all the time has become something of a cultural norm and we’re encouraged to constantly be working on one thing or another, staying available for any work related inquiries and making the most of our time 24/7, which is humanly impossible but yet, here we are. While this can help us to achieve great things, it can also be incredibly unhealthy and draining. The majority of us lost the ability to take time to relax and unwind, which leads to physical and mental exhaustion. Throughout my career I experienced a complete burn out twice, up to the point where I wanted to quit and isolate myself from everyone and everything really. Those were two quite dark episodes in my life that I also talk very openly about in one of the podcast’s episodes, hoping that it can help someone else see that they’re not alone and/or avoid the mistakes that I made which led me to that state of mind. Now I am always trying to remind myself that it’s okay to just take a break and recharge my batteries every once in a while, allowing myself to come back feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.
Baku: Can you tell us more about ‘She’s Next’ and the impact it has had on female entrepreneurs?
LA: ‘She’s Next: Empowered by Visa’ aims to provide access and support to female entrepreneurs looking to fund, run or develop their businesses. This is such an important and much needed initiative, and I was absolutely thrilled when I was invited to be the guest of the project in 2021 and got to tell my own story of how I created my podcast; and then in 2022 I became “the voice” of this project. It has helped a lot of women by creating access to funding, monetary grants, coaching and education for those, who owned small businesses worldwide. As an Azerbaijani woman myself, it makes me extremely proud that such inspiring initiatives are happening in my country too.
Baku: Throughout your career what changes have you noticed in the way female workers are treated?
LA: One major change I have noticed is that there is now much more emphasis placed on creating equal opportunities and enabling a balanced and diverse workplace. This has resulted in an overall shift in attitudes towards women. Furthermore, I am so pleased to see that there is an increasing recognition of the value that women bring to any working environment. This often involves females taking more prominent positions of leadership, as well as the implementation of policies and practices that promote equal pay and protection against harassment and discrimination.
Baku: What is the biggest factor that needs to change to ensure female workers have the same opportunities as men?
LA: The biggest factor that needs to change is the persisting gender pay gap. Despite efforts to reduce it, women are still being paid less than men in many industries and countries. I believe that in order to combat this, there should be improved legal protections and an acceptance of salary negotiation to ensure women can negotiate and receive equal pay for equivalent work. Employers also need to ensure there is no discrimination of female workers in terms of recruitment, hiring, or promotion decisions, and that gender stereotypes are not factored into career progression pathways.
Baku: What was the most surprising story you heard during your podcast from one of your interviewees?
LA: One of the interviewees that we chose for these podcast series is a local jewellery designer and a boutique owner called Resm. I had such a pleasure talking to her during the recording and was surprised in the best possible way to learn that apart from her work she is also a professional singer and song writer, who gives concerts, has an amazing voice and finds her balance, relaxation and feminine energy in that specific field. This was such a great discovery and inspiration for me and I am sure, for my listeners too.
Baku: Is there more you are planning to do in the female entrepreneur space?
LA: I can surely say that I am fully open to any opportunities that come my way which would help me highlight the female entrepreneurs in my country. I am happy that I can use my platform and my own voice to bring women together, talk about their journeys as well as inspire my listeners to follow their passion and create something of their own after listening to my podcast. After all, it is not called “Always Inspired” for nothing.
Leila Aliyeva photopraphed by Fidan Gozalova
Online Editor: Candice Tucker