Why the trappings of success are no match for equality

Why the trappings of success are no match for equality

Ten years ago I was flown first-class to Dubai for a job interview. In the list of extravagant experiences I have had during my career, that one ranks right up there.

I had been headhunted for an executive role with Forbes UAE. A global search had been conducted and the short-list was a male from Britain and me. At the time my children were in primary school so an international posting wasn’t on my to-do list. However, my attitude is always nothing ventured, nothing gained so I spent three days in Dubai meeting the publishing team and getting to know the city.

During the first meeting with the group of people who would have been my team, I noticed that the women in the group lined the back of the room, while the men sat upfront. When the chairman of the company finished introducing them to me, he invited the team to ask me questions. It was only the men who spoke up. They asked me what I knew about the Dubai publishing industry. The truth was: not a lot, but I could learn quickly. They also wanted to know why I wanted to live in Dubai. This time I couldn’t tell them the truth, which was that I wasn’t sure that I did. So I answered that I was keen for an adventure. They looked at me blankly.

I then turned the questions on the team and requested that the women come forward. They said no and waved their hands to emphasise it. I asked them if they had any questions for me. Again they said no. At the completion of our meeting, the most senior woman in the group, who was the finance manager, informed me that she would be showing me around the city so that I could decide where I wanted to live.

At that point I was still open to the opportunity. It would have been a rocket for my career and bank account, and I had been hearing that expats were living a charmed life in Dubai.

The one-on-one time with the female executive, a local, was an eye-opener. As she drove me around the more glamorous parts, she warned that it would be difficult for me to do business in Dubai as a woman. I was quite shocked by that because it was the first time in my career that I had been confronted with the gender issue. There is no doubt that in my chosen industry there were glass ceilings everywhere, but I hadn’t yet knocked my head on one. So I was keen to explore what she meant by that.

This highly educated woman explained that if she needed to speak to any of the male customers of the publishing business then she would need to have a man with her. Apparently businessmen in Dubai, at least back then, would only do business with men. I asked her if she thought that I would need a man with me when meeting with clients of the magazine. She said, “yes, definitely”.

As a result it was an easy decision for me to say, “no, definitely not”, to the opportunity. It was a defining moment in determining what was important to me in my career. Equality is a basic right and I knew that an impressive title, significant salary and first class business travel were no substitute for it.

Mums@Work 27 Nov 13
Source: Women’s Agenda
By: Marina Go / Nov 22nd 2013 at 6.59am