Mirela Spagovic is an incredible woman. She is the Director People and Culture at Philip Morris Pakistan, (PMI). She holds a degree in Economics and a Master’s degree in Domestic and International Trade from the Belgrade University, Serbia. Mirela has worked in Serbia, South Africa, Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Middle East.
Mirela started her career in PMI as Manager, Management Organizational Development (MOD) in Serbia in 2012. She then completed a successful short term assignment in South Africa leading the affiliate’s MOD function. With her drive for results and learning agility, Mirela went back to Serbia in 2015 to broaden her expertise in organisation development and talent management. In 2017, Mirela became the People and Culture (P&C) Head for the Eastern Europe (EE) region. She also served as an advisor and coach to the regional team, P&C heads and many P&C managers in the markets who referred to her as a key contact for various people matters.
Mirela moved from Lausanne to Karachi as Director People & Culture in March 2021. In an exclusive interview with You! Mirela shares her views on gender equality and experiences of working in many different countries across the globe with our readers...
You! Can you tell us briefly about your work experience in different countries?
Mirela Spagovic: I am privileged to work across the globe through assignments or collaboration. I have worked in Serbia, South Africa, Switzerland and now Pakistan, however through different roles. I have worked in and supported most of the countries in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Middle East. My life has been enriched, beliefs redefined, and purpose reinvented. I have been stretched and challenged; I have been inspired by the bright and creative people I have met; I have expanded my knowledge and my perspective. I have been enjoying every moment of this journey.
You! What was your first job?
MS: My first job after graduation was in accounting. I survived a year. I admire colleagues in accounting; however, the job was not for me. Figures, accounting books, reports and predictability of every day, week, or year, I was craving for unpredictability of human nature and life changing experiences.
You! How has been your experience in Pakistan so far?
MS: It has been almost a year that I have been in Pakistan. A year that I am proud of – good projects, new initiatives, talented and inspiring people, positive business results, a lot of creativity and optimistic outlook. A wonderful People and Culture Team whose motivation and ‘can-do’ attitude never stops to amaze me.
You! Can you tell us some of your most defining women friendly projects being as the Director People & Culture?
MS: Everything starts with leadership - globally, PMI’s goal is to have at least 40 per cent female representation in management roles by the end of 2022. For our affiliate in Pakistan is 19.4 per cent. To ensure we live up to our commitments, several initiatives have been introduced:
* Women’s Inspirational Networks - a supportive place to connect, inspire, and engage women across the organisation.
* Flexible working arrangements (Smart Work) - a combination of remote and office work based on employees’ individual needs and preferences.
* Enhanced parental leave - revised minimum leave guidelines which provide primary caregivers with a minimum of 18 weeks fully paid parental leave and secondary caregivers with a minimum of eight weeks fully-paid parental leave.
* ’Make Your Comeback’ - an initiative that has been launched to provide a platform to women who have taken a break and wish to transition back into their careers. Our goal through the platform was to create an opportunity for such women by giving them projects which match their experiences and aspirations and help to refine and build their skill set to enhance their future employability.
You! How does your company promote gender equality?
MS: In 2019, PMI became the first multinational company to receive the global Equal Salary certification by the independent Equal-Salary Foundation, based in Switzerland. This was an important building block on the road to creating a more inclusive, gender-balanced workplace.
The Equal-Salary Certification verifies that organisations have sustainable policies and practices to ensure that they pay their male and female employees equally for equal work. Our affiliate is proud to be the first multinational in Pakistan to have achieved the Equal Salary Certification.
“I honestly believe that leadership skills don’t know gender. Most of my career I have spent in a male-dominant environment and my motivation was never to prove something to someone, but to prove to myself that I know, I want, and ultimately, I can. Building my expertise gave me the confidence to state my opinion and ideas and determination to execute them. Taking full responsibility and quickly bouncing back after major setbacks was always my way of driving projects.”
You! What do you like most about your work?
MS: I am very passionate about my job - working with bright and creative people, gaining new experiences, exploring new horizons, facing new challenges, solving complicated puzzles and acquiring new learnings. So many things inspire me to be a better version of myself and live my life through purpose – help people to thrive.
You! Being a woman director, what kind of challenges do you encounter?
MS: I honestly believe that leadership skills don’t know gender. Most of my career I have spent in a male-dominant environment and my motivation was never to prove something to someone, but to prove to myself that I know, I want, and ultimately, I can. Building my expertise gave me the confidence to state my opinion and ideas and determination to execute them. Taking full responsibility and quickly bouncing back after major setbacks was always my way of driving projects.
You! What are the main issues, in your eyes, being faced by women in general?
MS: We have made a huge progress, but we are not there. However, I am a strong believer and as Michelle Obama said, “There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish.”
Globally, there are still a lot of challenges – starting from the equal opportunity for education, women’s role in the society, equal career opportunities, breaking biases, and prejudice around leadership.
You! Have noticed any difference in work culture here and abroad?
MS: This has been an amazing experience so far - great hospitality and care. Regarding work culture, I have mentioned a couple of times, I’m impressed by people – creative, committed, knowledgeable, ready to take an extra mile. My advice is to challenge authorities more, ask difficult questions and drive new ideas. In addition, taking a break (time-off) and saying no are highly advisable.
You! You have lived in many different parts of the world for work, what are some important life lessons that you have learnt?
MS: My life lessons are very simple. Listen and reflect before acting; learn as much as possible before making any decision or judgment; appreciate and embrace diversity in any form that exists around you. Success and failures are the same, if they do not teach you how to be a better person or do things in a better way, they are useless. Finally – adjust, adjust, and adjust.
You! What is your recipe for success?
MS: I am not sure if this is the recipe for success, but it is my recipe to enjoy my job; if you do not enjoy, don’t do it. My job inspires me every day.
You! What are the positive points of being economically independent?
MS: Freedom of choice, opportunity to choose career that you enjoy and multiple options to support people, communities, ideas, to contribute and live your purpose.
You! What is the most important advice you can give to women?
MS: Cicero said: “Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” However, here are my two cents: find allies - partner with other female colleagues, lead initiatives, have a mentor, define your purpose and objectives. We cannot fight our battles alone or have all the answers - my support group was / is my compass that provides the orientation but allows me to make my own decisions.
You! What does a typical day look like for you?
MS: Filled with people’s ideas, hopes, dreams, expectations, challenges, disappointments, sorrows, failures, happiness, joy and success.
You! Your philosophy of life:
MS: “I know that I know nothing” – Socrates.
My journey is a never-ending story. There is always a new world to be discovered, new pathways to be explored and new things to be experienced.
You! How do you unwind?
MS: I enjoy travelling, I love art, love music, to read, nature, yoga and spending time with my family and friends.
You! What is your most treasured possession?
MS: I do not possess them, but they are the most treasured for me – my family, three brothers, three nephews, my mom and my friends.
You! What did you like to read when you were a little girl?
MS: I was a bookworm even when I was a kid. I have had different phases, but still remember I was a huge fun of all adventure books (e.g. Jules Verne, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth). I had a dream of leading an expedition to discover some new lands, mysteries, tribes.
You! How do you keep balance between family life and work?
MS: I love what I do. I take time off regularly; I travel and spend time with dear people. I read, laugh, practice yoga and swim when possible.
You! What are your future plans in terms of expansion of your work?
MS: I always try to live the present moment fully. I have many dreams and ideas for the future, but I’ll think of them when the moment comes.