Updated: Jan 20
During a walk with a friend one of these days, she told me how she could not avoid feeling guilty about leaving her baby with her husband and going to work as this means travelling a day a week. At the same time, this accomplished woman tells me she would feel guilty about not going to work as needed because of the type of role model that would generate for her daughter. Another friend of mine, a very successful career woman at the top of the pyramid, having got to the CEO position, told me a couple of weeks ago she is just quitting. Why? She cannot have it anymore. She's working 15 hours a day, every day, for years and, she's unhappy, finally getting to a point where she has asked herself why she might be doing this to herself. "I don't have time to go to events I like or to attend to things I am truly interested in or, to support friends, people I love. I have no time at all and to be honest, it is not worth it.", she declares.
While facilitating workshops, I have heard from different women, who have been out of the job market, that trying to go back has been a burden for them and a disadvantage in terms of the processes they have to fulfil and mainly cause of emotional distress. They don't find ways to feel confident that they have skills and value. They don't even know how to approach their skills and competences, as everyone and every question raised seem to doubt them. After being out of work for so long, they find it challenging to describe their strengths and qualities on a job application or during an interview. Those are women who have led projects in the community or have kept other types of projects going, during the whole time they were taking care of the family. Unfortunately, such initiatives are perceived as non-career-related. "It is kind of a shame. I feel shame for having dedicated time to educate my kids, even if I helped building a recycling space or volunteered to teach English to underserved kids during that time.", one of them said.
I'm 48 years old and an engineer. In my class, there were eight women among eighty men. I know of one plus myself who pursued a career related to engineering out of the eight. For the first ten years of my career, I was one of at most two women among a dozen or two of men. Because I worked in manufacturing and industrial operations, all those reporting to me, with a few exceptions, were men. And it was not easy to change that. Every time a position opened up, very few women would apply if any. The first industry I worked at was of a very male background (one could say totally male background). That was the automotive industry. It felt inevitable to me that I needed to adapt myself to what was familiar to my colleagues. Then, while watching the "The Crown" series recently, during Margaret Thatcher's time in office, I was confronted once again with the idea that women during previous generations had to become a man to succeed. Don't get me wrong. I have little sympathies for Thatcher, as much as she was intelligent and capable, she was also constrained and a slave of her paradigms. But I can relate and appreciate her struggles to be considered, listened to, validated, and having to deal with men patronising her all the time.
The last 14 years of my corporate life were spent in a very different industry with much more female representation and diversity as well, including a few LGBT+ members. It was also a more progressive type of Corporation and one that is a role model in sustainability, and topics like flexible workplace and gender equality, even though it is also not perfect. There, gender imbalance and the difficulties for female workers who are career makers were still present. They were just present in a more subtle way. Unfortunately, in that more open-minded environment, I witnessed a level of competition among the women that was quite frustrating. I rarely saw a woman sponsoring another woman. That occasionally happened by the initiative of extraordinary women, who became the few role models to me. But the vast majority of them were just too eager to use gossip and their influence, sometimes not professionally, to make other women, mostly peers, look bad. I saw it happening in meetings with other managers, conversations around the coffee, and I experienced it against myself. Although this could happen among men too, it seemed to me to be much less. And I could see more examples of men sponsoring other men. Of course, career competition is a constant for many working in corporations who cannot see another context ahead of them other than competing. A lack of imagination, I would say, but quite a common-place.
I acknowledge to have had a long learning journey, one with many mistakes throughout my work life. For instance, I always enjoyed developing others and helping people from my teams, and other groups to grow and become managers and leaders. But wisdom and compassion have not always prevailed. Once, I was mentoring a recently hired team member, a woman, and despite my previous successes with many other protégés, I could not make it work with this one. Looking back, I realise, I was trying to prompt her to follow what had been successful for me and approach the work the way I felt it was right which was biased by qualities perceived as masculine. My wish was for her to use her analytical skills, organisation, determination, and assertiveness. My approach was that she should follow steps that I knew would work well for her. In a way, I failed because I "crushed" her particular way of being. I am known to be compassionate, participative, and fair and to encourage others' success by their means and growth. But still, it was hard for me to deal with the divergence of personalities between us and to perceive at the moment, that my way of helping was not necessarily helping her. In that case, kindness and patience plus resilience and, maybe, some sort of nourishment was more what was needed from me. I've learned from that. I've learned from my successes as much as I've learned from my failures, such as that one. Today, I feel I am much more capable of reading the other, more competent in listening, and more accepting of them. All of what makes me more qualified to skilfully help, never forgetting that we never know it all, and that we can always learn.
It gives me pride that so many people who had worked with me have given me feedback about how much my way of being was relevant to their development and how they never forgot the lessons they took from me. They describe me as someone who they could trust, saying I have been a role model for them, someone they admired. Even people I haven't seen for years found a way to make me know how significant my presence had been in their lives and how I had set an excellent example for them. The search of a balanced, harmonic and authentic way of working has always been important to me. As a result of many difficulties, as much as many triumphs, I onboarded a comprehensive journey, one that demanded that I entered a path of self-discovery and self-development to make myself into the most effective being I could be. For decades, I've been learning, practising and teaching about leadership and about ways of being at work or, mentoring on how to develop confidence or be happy and in balance with your work and personal life. I do that at my role as a sustainability consultant and my work with women. My perception is that this sort of imbalance between what is most valued in our world and what brings happiness and joy or, make people great people, is present everywhere.
By now, you may have achieved a further understanding of my reasons to put together Empowr International program. All my experience, all my journey and all that I learned, I believe, all of it is of great value to other women. They can be much better than I have been. They can succeed higher; they can expand their influence; they can change the world. If they can find their internal balance and then use empowerment tools, they can be more than leaders in the world. They can do what the world ultimately expects from leaders: change it for better. I keep learning from them, that is why I value mentoring so much. This imbalance in the word that I perceive, it is not only an imbalance of genders, it is an imbalance of values and, we can influence it for better. We can help to shift what is perceived as of greater value. Women and men, all beings, together, can build harmony. But we need to start with each one at a time, empowering each other. If we do more of that, we enhance the possibility of a more equitable and inclusive society. We can create prosperity from sharing and collaboration, not exclusively from competing. We can transform consumerism into conscious living and shift the value to where it really exists as in what creates happiness.
I believe we can change the economy, the society and that we can be environmentally and socially sustainable. Maybe some of the seeds are within each woman in the world. Indeed, within each person. Maybe if one enables the power within each other person, one day we will understand that no one is more powerful than the other. That to build a truly healthy society in a healthy planet we should give up all the fights for power, and that would be the most empowering thing we could ever do.
Karime Abib is the founder of AdvantiKA GmbH and the designer of Empowr International.
Connect with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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