Be yourself. That is how you will make the difference.
My name is Ibtissam. I have 2 sisters and no brother. I was born and grew up in Morocco, but I have been living in Europe for almost 20 years now. During my childhood, there was no gender separation of tasks at home. Laundry, ironing, climbing on the roof, tires exchange – these were tasks equally due and doable. There was not a single thing my boy cousins could do that I couldn’t. I could even fight like any boy.
At university, I chose to study computer science and electronic engineering and was the only girl in my classroom. It didn’t matter, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. When I was younger I was playing most of the time with boys since there was no girl of my age in the family, so it didn’t change much.
“Be a Man, Ibtissam”
After my graduation, I worked for different employers as an engineer and all environments were dominated by males. It didn’t make a difference to me in the past, and I worked just like any man would.
Time passed, I changed employers, responsibilities, teams, countries. Recently, I was unhappy about the outcome of a project of mine and I told my manager about it. His answer was “Be a man, Ibtissam”.
My manager wanted me to stop blaming only myself when things go wrong and take credit for things that go well. That is fair. But, what his sentence meant was that I was not just like a man. I tried for more than 30 years to convince myself I was, but I wasn’t. The good thing is that sentence didn’t take me by surprise. I realized few years ago, I was different from my male colleagues and was treated differently. I started realizing it when I got introduced to a new team in exactly these terms “Let me introduce you Ibtissam, she is a nice lady”. I guess the team was glad to hear I wouldn’t bite. I have never ever heard such an introduction for a man.
A Change in Perspective
The book “Lean in” by Sheryl Sandberg helped me to figure out that some of the aspects I knew about myself in the professional context were common to many women. Often, a woman will highlight the team’s work when succeeding and blame herself when the team underperforms. Often, a woman will connect people, have empathy, create relationship one can rely on later to help and be helped. And, I am that type of women.
So, no, I am not a just like any man, I am a woman, and will try to continue to be. I have often tried to mimic my surrounding, but I stopped. I will continue to cry when I am hurt, scream when it does not work or does not move with the speed I want, and celebrate and laugh when happy. I will continue to be transparent, say what works and what doesn’t. I will continue to push people forward when possible, be tough and very demanding with myself and with others.
Being myself is my added value to the company.
Be yourself! that is how you will make the difference.
Learn more about the rich cultural diversity at Ericsson in the Cultural Journeys E-Book, which was released as part of Global Diversity Awareness Month in October 2017.