Monday, February 14, 2005 | Here we were – 12 executive women from technology companies, six from San Diego and six from the Middle East. On a recent evening, we shared life stories and challenges and found a lot of common ground as we discussed how to manage our jobs, our men, and our compensation. We agreed that managing older men is more difficult and finding a good man in any culture is hard. We learned that we all face glass ceiling issues, and women in Arab countries are usually paid the same as men for equivalent positions. However, in many cases, married men with children receive an extra stipend.
We six San Diego women ranged in age from 30’s to early 50’s and work in life sciences, telecommunications, online media, and venture capital. Most of us are or were married and have children, ranging from 14 months to 30’s. Our Arab guests were 29-35, holding mid to senior level managers in information technology, communications and industrial equipment companies in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. All are single, one is divorced, and none have children. Finding an Arab man who wants a professionally accomplished wife is a challenge.
We were brought together by UCSD Athena and the Middle East Entrepreneur Training in the United States (MEET U.S.), a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by the Beyster Institute at the Rady School, University of California, San Diego in collaboration with the Entrepreneurial Management Center, San Diego State University. UCSD Athena, which I started, has grown to more than 500 members from the San Diego life sciences and technology community and works to insure both the professional and personal success of its members.
The six women were part of the first group of 25 mid and senior level managers who were in San Diego for two weeks of seminars, internships, and lectures. A total of 95 managers will participate in the program’s three phases this year, and they vied in a highly competitive process that started with 1,800 expressions of interest.
“The purpose of MEET U.S. is to identify a new group of energetic business leaders who will become voices for economic development,” said Ray Smilor, President of the Beyster Institute. Economic development, Smilor added, is the way to win the peace.
With impressive educational credentials, the six Arab women command good salaries. Yet, five of the six live at home, which is accepted practice in Arab cultures. Some face obstacles we can only imagine.
Manal Radi Erakat is a switch engineer for the Palestine Telecommunications Company (PALTEL), the only local telecommunications provider in Palestine. Her job is to maintain the switches, and this can mean traveling 45 kilometers from her office if a piece of equipment breaks. To do so, she must convince Israeli soldiers to let her through at various checkpoints. “Sometimes they let me pass, and sometimes they make me wait,” she said.
When asked how the program had helped them, the six women talked about recognition, a renewed energy, and a broader view of the business world.
“I will apply for a new position and now will have a strong reason to get it,” said Manal. “I will also change my work strategy and move from technology to the commercial department. The company has built its network, and the future is in marketing and selling services.”
Dina H. Aba Yazeed, a marketing executive in Egypt, said, “I now know that nothing is impossible. I competed with 1,800 other people. This is the recognition that I needed in my life. Too often I’ve been taken for granted.”
“I will make myself look different. I need to differentiate myself so that I can be perceived as able to run the office,” said Alia M. Al Kuri, a manager with Hewlett-Packard in the United Arab Emirates.
At the end of the evening, we hugged and exchanged business cards and pledged to stay in touch via the Internet.
Barbara Bry, Voice Editor-in-Chief, is the founder of UCSD Athena and was on the founding team of Proflowers.com, now known as Provide Commerce, which went public in December 2003. Please contact Barbara Bry directly at Barbara Bry with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips.