I’m absolutely delighted to share my conversation with Rumaitha Al Busaidi for our final Her Royal Science episode, aptly titled Finale. Rumaitha is extraordinary; while she completes her postgraduate degree in financial strategy at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, she simultaneously works for Hydrom as their Business Development Manager. Further, she currently runs WomeX, a unique mentoring platform that aims to empower Arab women to meet and surpass their professional aspirations. Simply put, I couldn’t think of someone more fitting to be our final guest.
After four years, forty-four episodes, countless hours of beautiful conversation–and many more hours of editing–I’m ready to close this beautiful chapter of my life. Her Royal Science has fulfilled me in ways I never imagined, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to have shared space with the most inspiring guests. I am also grateful that you, dear listener, have joined me on this journey.
The transcript of our conversation has been prepared for accessibility purposes, with minor edits for clarity and brevity.
Rumaitha Al Busaidi: Take care of yourself. We tend to forget that in order for us to progress in life and to be the best version of ourselves that we need to take care of ourselves. We tend to put people's needs in front and really forget us in the process. And when the time comes for us to actually take care of ourselves, it's too late. So, it's okay to be selfish and take time for yourself, and say no to those opportunities that come because you really need a break.
Her Royal Science jingle
Dr Asma Bashir: Hello world, and welcome to Her Royal Science. Thank you so much for joining us for today's episode. Today, we'll be chatting with Rumaitha Al Busaidi, a marine scientist and the Business Development Manager at Hydrom, Hydrogen Oman. She previously completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, and Harvard Kennedy School in the States. Rumaitha is currently completing a postgraduate degree in financial strategy at Oxford University's Saïd Business School, and she simultaneously runs WomeX, a platform that encourages Arab women to reach their highest potential. I'm so excited to chat with Rumaitha today about her travels around the world and her current projects, but let's start from the very beginning—Rumaitha, what's your story?
RAB: That's a very interesting way to start! My story... I think perhaps a young girl who really wanted to unlock a lot of the things that she wanted to do, discovered a lot of adventures along the way, and never settled [for] the conventional answer that a lot of women get, which is 'no'. I just kind of did it anyway. That culminates a lot of my story. I just never accepted 'no' for an answer and pursued everything that I wanted to do.
AB: What was the first 'no' that you heard, and what was your first rebellion so to speak?
RAB: Perhaps the first 'no' that I remember very clearly was being told 'no' when it was time to play football after I hit puberty. That was perhaps the biggest, and I was like, 'What? No? I'll just go and play!' <Chuckle> So, that just didn't resonate at all with me. I was like, 'Why? Why are you saying no? I'll still go and play.'
AB: Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. And what was the general response? Were people shocked? Or did they know you well enough to say, 'Okay, this is Rumaitha, she's gonna be like this and it's cool. We have to let her do her thing'?
RAB: This is basically what my mom always tells me: I was always a quiet baby, very peaceful. Even when I was literally a baby, I never used to cry with sound, so I'd cry silently, and they would only know because I had tears in my eyes, so she was like, 'you are the peaceful one.' And perhaps because I was the first child ever within the family within that context, that aspect of my personality, I think my family found out later, which actually shocked them even more, saying 'What? She's the one that's doing all of this? How? What happened? Wasn't she the quiet, peaceful one? What's going on?' So, for a lot of people, they were very concerned as I grew older and kind of rebelled against every single thing that they said! <Laugh>
AB: That's, I think, actually a great thing because one of the things that I know that you're involved in to this day is football and commentating and sports. Let's talk about that journey as well!
RAB: Yeah! I grew up in a family that played football, so my grandfather— الله يرحمه God rest his soul—was a football player. My dad was a referee recreationally. He was very well-known. He used to work in the oil fields and the thing that I always remember every time I would go and visit him is the fact that he was actually refereeing a match every single time.
AB: Oh, wow!
RAB: He was quite popular when it comes to that! Everyone knew that 'Okay, it runs in the family. This is something that definitely is going to rub off on us.' Very naturally, even the female members of my family are very much into football, so we're a family that watches matches every single week, all the international leagues, [we] follow all the international tournaments. It was something natural for me to actually be part of [it]. And being told no, I think, that was because maybe I was the only one that was actually very actively playing football out of a lot of the female members who used to watch at home and never used to practice it. But for me, perhaps that was a conniving way of actually getting what I want at the end, [having realized] very early on that I'm not going to get a yes out of this because every single time I'm told no, I'm told to stick with the books or watch TV rather than go out and play, so I should do it behind their backs. I actually used to go and play football behind my parents' back. I would tell them that I'm going for tutoring because I'm such a nerd. I'm a straight A student as well, and they would believe it. Like, 'Yeah! If your friend is offering more tutoring, sure, you can go!' I [was] actually going with my friend to just go and play football. And they only realized this when the newspaper decided to run a story on this bunch of girls that were playing football in the club. And that was during high school! You can imagine, for years I've been doing this, and they just didn't figure it out until later on. That was a whole other conversation that we had to have at home of, 'What are you doing? What is this?' <Laugh> 'This is not what we expected from you. You lied all these years!'
AB: <Laugh> This sounds like a movie! This sounds like Bend it like Beckham. Have you watched that movie? It sounds like that movie!
RAB: I have not, believe it or not. I have not watched it! <Laugh>
AB: Well, you've lived it so I don't even think you need to watch it at this point. You're good. You have the story in real life!
RAB: But it's so funny! What was very interesting is we were a bunch of girls who actually all did it behind our parents' back and our coach knew and said nothing, acted as if they didn't know. They just kind of continued with the whole thing. And it's just quite fascinating to see that every single one of us still has football ingrained in their lives. One of us ended up being the first ever [female] football coach of the team, which is just amazing and fascinating that she's still doing it till now. Everyone had different pathways that ended up connecting the dots somehow with that. But yeah, that's my story with football in the beginning, and then I think that passion just grew until we got called in by the football association to be part of the official football team.
Unfortunately, that was a very short-lived journey because they canceled the team less than a year later, so for me to get to that pathway to reach the commentating or more the pundit aspect of things was [when] we went on the radio to appeal to the public [to say], 'This doesn't make sense. You claim that you are canceling out this women's football team because you don't have income,' and that was during the financial crisis. But we actually realized that that was not the case, that there was enough money, but that money was funneled back to the men's team because they had a better opportunity to actually get the medals and the cup for Oman because we were competing in the next Gulf Cup that was coming. That was very disheartening for us, but we're like, 'Hey, we could just go to the media and really prove to people that we exist and we need support.'
Unfortunately, that really backfired on all of us because the response was quite the opposite of what we actually expected. It was quite shocking to all of us because we assumed, maybe because of the naivete of being young that you assume everyone wishes you well. And I think that was perhaps the very first time after being told no early on that I really realized that there's a lot of change that needs to happen in our part of the world, in my own country and so on. That live show, we actually had listeners calling in telling us that we should go back to the kitchen and just wash dishes. That's where we actually should be and not on the football pitch. And if anything, that was a shock, but that was even more motivation to prove people wrong.
And [the calls weren't only from] usual men that [were] listening to the show. We actually had professionals who were coaches, who are really big names in the field of football in Oman saying the same thing. That was kind of a shock to all of us as in, 'What's happening right now?' These people that we really aspired to be or to be trained under are the same people who are really crushing us right now. That wasn't good. That was kind of the motivation behind, 'You know what? We need more women to kind of talk about this.' And I remember the radio host—he was actually quite shocked as well because he didn't expect that—he was like, 'How about you come to my show every week and I'll give you the space to do whatever you want? I will replace all the men that actually spoke on the show right now. I'm replacing them with you if you guys will take it.' And we took it, we took that opportunity immediately. And that's how we ended up doing a lot of commentating, being football analysts and doing so many amazing things, just getting that one male ally that really pushed the needle for us. What was interesting was years later we actually got the same callers that called on that show, [they] called me on my own show because at the end I was the only one that continued in the media direction while the others kind of said, 'This is not our thing. I would rather just play the sport rather than be the face of it.' And we got callers that actually called in and said, 'I was one of those who actually called who were very skeptical and I have to say that you guys changed my mind. This is amazing.' Yeah, that's the journey basically.
AB: Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. One of the things that I really wanted to talk about is your organization, WomeX. How did you start? What do you do, and what are your goals?
RAB: WomeX started as part of my studies in Harvard. For me, going to the Kennedy School, I had a mission to really amp my game when it comes to my personal skills specifically. I didn't want to focus more on the policy side; I wanted to focus on things that will make me a better Rumaitha. And one of the things that I thought that I needed more help in specifically was negotiations. The main reason I say that is because I tend to have a very different style negotiating with men versus women. It could be because of all these experiences that I've gone through. I'm super aggressive and it's quite insane, the way I negotiate with men. And the perception at the end is, 'I don't want to work with her' and I end up burning a lot of bridges, so I was like, 'I need to learn how to really be a better negotiator and understand what's happening there,' see what works and how I can actually apply some techniques when it comes to that. It actually worked very well because I ended up having a coach that would observe me negotiate. That was the first thing [they noticed]. They were like, 'You're so aggressive with men and that shouldn't be the case, because sometimes they're instructed to help you and you just don't give them any opportunity to help you. Just have this win-win mentality rather than a win-lose mentality.'
But honestly, one of the main things that motivated me to actually start WomeX was one of the sessions that was talking about salary negotiations. If you come from my part of the world, you get asked so many inappropriate questions as a woman and sometimes you don't know how to respond to that. They could negotiate and say, 'Well, I won't give you X amount because the assumption is you'll end up getting married and having kids. Until you actually prove your worth by X amount of years of loyalty, then you can unlock this amount of salary.' We also have a really horrible pervasive culture of asking for your payslip, so that you are just given a 10% [top-up based off of] what you earned before, which shouldn't be the case, especially if the job description is different or actually adds more responsibility to you. We have various practices in general that really negates the whole negotiation, so you end up not negotiating because you assume by default that this is the system and this is what you need to do.
It turns out it wasn't only me. A lot of us from the Global South have the same experience, and the professor was so appalled, she was like, 'No, you always negotiate. Always. Employers always leave 20 to 25% off the table assuming you'll take the lower thing, so you always push and push and push.' Then a lot of us were like, 'Yeah, but they won't add money.' Yeah, but you can add other stuff. That was, at least for me, something that I never thought of. There's so many other ways that they can add benefits. There's no harm in asking and them saying no, but there's a way that you can actually negotiate and get your worth.
So, then I went to my professor and told her, 'This was such an eyeopener for me.' And in addition to that, we did a simulation where you were given roles in order for you to play. That was very useful as well, as in you are acting the role of the recruiter versus someone who's coming in. You put yourself in their shoes, following the instructions that you are given on what you can offer and what you can't. That kind of opened my mind as well saying, 'Okay, now I kind of understand how this goes.' I went to her and told her I would [like to] be able to teach this to women in my country; I think every single woman needs to know this. What she did was she asked, 'Do you have a USB drive?' I said 'Yeah,' and she responded, 'Give it to me.' She downloaded all of her material for the whole semester, gave it to me and said, 'Go teach it.' I was so shocked. She said, 'This is my way of really giving service to women all around the world who need that help. Go teach as many as you can.' And that's how WomeX actually came into existence.
We've been teaching women negotiation skills, specifically when it comes to salary negotiations. Now we are expanding to see how we could do more multi-party negotiations because suddenly we have interest from female lawyers who want to be much better team players when it comes to multi-party negotiations, [to] be more assertive when it comes to their voice and how they can actually push their agenda forward. It's been quite fascinating.
AB: Oh my goodness, that's amazing. I can't wait to see what you continue to expand into because I think [negotiation] is one element that women definitely need a little bit of assistance on. But there are other things that are also coming to mind that I imagine you might be thinking of. Do you see a future in branching out into other spaces?
RAB: Definitely! So, ways that we're thinking of branching out... We started off with a pilot at the moment, testing out networking. For a lot of women, a lot of the ones who've taken our course are coming back asking for other offerings, the main thing that we are hearing a lot is networking. 'How do I network? Because I don't know how to ask for help.' What was interesting is for a lot of us, we don't know the power of the network that we already have, so by just mapping out your network and who is in your direct surroundings, and then the second degree and third degree, you'll be amazed by the opportunities that you can unlock, but I think for a lot of us, we don't have either the confidence or have a pitch ready. Like, 'I can secure the meeting or a phone call with someone that's very close to me, but I don't know what to ask. How do I come up with that pitch for me to ask what I want without feeling like I'm asking someone for a favor?'
Once that offering is ready, we're piloting it here and there, just getting everyone's feedback and hopefully that's something that we're hoping to launch by next year. And then another thing that we've been asked [about] a lot is public speaking, because I do a lot of that as well. And now, it's figuring out how that would work. I think with public speaking you need a lot of one-to-one, to kind of coach someone and record them and understand that. So how do we do that? I'm still trying to navigate that as well.
AB: I appreciate you sharing that. So, you've spent obviously a lot of time in Oman; that's where I imagine most of your family is as well, but you've also traveled so much and I'd love to spend a little bit of time talking about that, where you've traveled and why you love traveling so much, what it represents to you.
RAB: I think travel for me represents some sort of independence, and for me, travel, just to kind of clarify as well, travel for me is solo travel. I can travel with a group of friends, but sometimes it's very uncomfortable for me because I'm so used to doing what I want to do, but it kind of gives you that sort of independence that I don't get, or I don't get that energy from anywhere else. You're able to plan and explore and just get floored by the beauty of nature, the cultures and the differences behind it, and getting to know people. I just thrive off of that. And it came to a point that I was so addicted to travel that I would travel every weekend and then I was like, 'Okay, this is just getting ridiculous; stop!' <Laugh> But I just love it because of what it gives me. I think it refreshes me as well from other things, and because I do so many things at once, that probably is more of my meditation outlet to be with myself and be one with myself and really reflect, I would say.
AB: Yeah! So where have you been? What are some of the places that come to mind that you would say are highlights of your travel journey, of really capturing that independence that you're talking about?
RAB: So, I've been to all the seven continents of the world. Right now, the tally is 93 countries, and counting! My most favorite though would definitely be the South Pole. I think, for me, Antarctica in general was the birth of this reflection perhaps, because I've never experienced silence the way that you experienced it there. The silence, and being one with nature, where seals don't care that you are there. Whales don't care that you are there. Penguins don't care that you are there, and you're just one with nature. You really enjoy it.
Interestingly, believe it or not, my second favorite is my own country of Oman. Because every single time I travel somewhere, I'm like, 'Yeah, I've been to somewhere similar in Oman. Oman has something like this,' you know? I would say, for those who are listening, if you haven't been to Oman, please do visit. It's amazing! <Laugh> It's beautiful.
AB: Yeah! I'm wondering if you'd be able to share some words of advice that you have held true in your own heart and have carried you forward.
RAB: Yeah. I think I'll split it into three, and these are the advice of what you need in life to navigate whatever spaces that you currently occupy or hope to occupy. Continue to dream big. No dream is small, no dream is worth laughing at. If someone doesn't understand it, it's not for them to understand it or for you to make them understand. It's for you to really believe in your deep soul that you are capable of doing it, and always reminding yourself that the dream can be bigger. Don't shrink yourself towards your dream. If that dream doesn't fit anymore, it can be something way bigger than what you actually thought of.
The second thing is, take care of yourself. We tend to forget that in order for us to progress in life and to be the best version of ourselves that we need to take care of ourselves. We tend to put people's needs in front and really forget us in the process. When the time comes for us to actually take care of ourselves, it's [often] too late. So, it's okay to be selfish and take time for yourself and say no to those opportunities that come because you really need a break.
And the last thing would be, have empathy. Before you actually allow anger to kind of consume you, just take time and put yourself in that person's shoes before you act. And trust me, three-quarters of all conflict is because we don't put ourselves in the other person's shoes and we miscommunicate and misunderstand things because we kind of interpret thoughts as feelings when it's actually a thought of what that person thinks, rather than what you feel. I think it's very important to separate the two, so take your time. Don't overreact. Think about it, and then react. This is something, at least for me, like I'd mentioned before, I burned a lot of bridges, that actually helps a lot now, as in, 'Okay, did I actually think that...? Is this person being rude or do I think that they're rude? And I'm mad because he said that? Like, it really [bothered] me.' And then I'm like, 'Okay, I'll take time and then I'll respond,' for instance. So yeah, those are the main advice I would give.
AB: Those are such amazing pieces of advice. I don't think there's anything left for me to say other than thank you. Thank you so much Rumaitha for your time, for your essence, for your wisdom.
RAB: Thank you so much, and we hope to see you in Oman soon!
AB: Hello again. I cannot believe that as of today, we've released 44 episodes! When I first started Her Royal Science, I set out to create a validating and safe space for individuals from all over the world to feel seen for exactly who they are and to share their stories uninhibitedly. It has been such a pleasure to create that space for the last few years. I'm so grateful to have met the coolest people, made the most amazing friends, and to have collaborated in the professional setting with passionate and driven individuals in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion and science communication. And now, after four years, it is time for the Her Royal Science podcast as it currently stands to come to a close.
Her Royal Science will always be a treasured and sacred space for me because of how much I've grown in this time. I hope these conversations have helped you feel seen and heard, and have also helped you to see and hear others. Thank you all for coming on this journey with me; it's been such a pleasure. And just as I start my conversations with an emphatic 'Hello world!', it's only fitting that I end this conversation with, 'Goodbye world.'
Her Royal Science jingle