When I look at the news or hear some people talking, it seems that I actually don’t have the best formula for success. It would appear that all the odds are against me to evolve in society and to start a company. It is not so much how I think or see things, but how people might think of me because of the prejudice they have—solely based upon the negative stereotypes associated with these five words: Young, Woman, Algerian, Muslim and Arab.
I have been asked a couple of times “How do you do it? Isn’t it hard to be living alone and working in Algeria? Do people take you seriously? How do they react?”
My answer: “Not so much of a difference, its business as usual”
You see, these five words, which are supposed to define me, I don’t really see them as an inconvenience or a disadvantage; they are just part of who I am. They are my strength. And even more so, they increase my value within the industry.
Young. “Sure!” I’m sorry I wasn’t born in the 30s, 40s,… 70s. However, I am seen as quite old when compared to the youngsters. Ha! But I don’t believe that age should define us. We are more defined by our experiences, by the environment we evolve in and our curiosity. I was lucky to always be surrounded by interesting people. And I have a family with quite a big age gap (my father is 80, my oldest brother is 50, my sister is 30), so I had this feeling that if I wanted to have discussions with them, well, I first had to listen and be curious. I learnt from them, from what they know, what they have lived and experienced. Plus I was so eager to learn and wanted to be able to exchange ideas with them, so I started researching, reading more. After some time, I found that my informed conversations with them enriched me all the more.
Does age really matter as long as you are inquisitive, open and know what you are talking about in your domain? Clearly NOT!
We are young, fine, but in a business environment, this also means, we come with fresh ideas. We have different ways of thinking and another perspective on how to solve problems. We are striving for more! We are not tired of the industry. We bring new energy and new knowledge. For example, in utilizing social media/e-marketing, who wouldn’t want all of these qualities in their company?
Never has a client asked for my age or doubted me to a certain extent. People will ask questions, and rightfully so. But I consider the situations in which people challenge me as an opportunity for me to prove myself, rather than something to worry about, because I try my best to be prepared to any situation.
Woman. As far as I know, yes I am. But for me, this is just a word. We do hear a lot about the place of women in society, woman equality. However, for me, a woman is just a human being. Being a man or a woman doesn’t change a thing. And I certainly don’t change because of it.
My dad said once “I raised my five kids to be independent”. We are three boys and two girls. For us, we all had to participate in the same way on whatever subject, do and learn the same things. It did not matter if we were a girl or a boy. So, I actually never wondered if being a woman, or not, was an advantage or a disadvantage. It is just a fact.
Don’t think that I am a fool either. Sure, I meet people when I walk, who make comments, or say some inappropriate things at times. However, I personally decided to just ignore them and to put people back in their place if I felt disrespected, especially at work if I felt that I was not valued for my work because of being a woman.
Right after my graduation, I started working in a company where women were seen as the backbone of the company. We were the sales girls. Thus, we were the ones making projects successful. Sure, the pressure was higher. But our importance was clearly acknowledged. Each of us in the team knew our value, collectively and as individuals, and our contribution to the project. It didn’t matter which sex we were–what mattered was the result.
Therefore, throughout my life (professional or personal), I did not label myself as a woman. I labelled myself as curious person, who likes to travel, avid of learning about cultures and languages. It didn’t matter if I was a woman or not, I just wouldn’t accept it.
Living in Algeria, I do see the differences, sometimes, with other countries where I have (Norway, France, Canada, or even Brazil). It was not that easy to find an apartment to live alone in, within Algeria, nor that common to go out at night for a girl or to walk in some neighbourhood alone, etc.
Whatever the obstacle or the “what people might think” situation, I kept on advancing and chose to never change my way of living, working, dressing because I was in X,Y,Z country (unless because of culture/law) and I won’t.
I do believe that the more people see women in higher positions, and acting the way they want and not hiding, the more used to it the society will become.
For example, if more women, here, in Algeria were in coffee terraces in the city centre or in the so-called “men-only” places like they used to be, before the black decade, the more normal it would seem. And to certain extent, it would not attract attention anymore.
I am not saying that, we won’t hear critics. Or that people won’t make comments. But I do believe that sometimes, those little actions which will change things—and that matters, making a difference.
Let’s face it also, women at work ACHIEVE RESULTS! So what does a business need more as a proof?
Algerian. Well this one, I would say is an easy one. When I am in Algeria, I am just a citizen of the country. You can see the pride of people when they meet the young generations, who went abroad, studied and worked abroad and came back to work in Algeria.
I am also French. And I am really thankful for that because it provided me with the opportunity to work and study in places I wouldn’t have had, if not for my French national ties
It is my mix of identities, the different cultures I have connected with through my studies or work, and my family which contributed to making me who I am today.
When we arrived in France, I didn’t feel welcome (and oh boy, kids can be mean!). But I took it as a strength-building exercise. It built me to prove to all who doubted me or saw me as a “third world person, of less value” that I not only have value, I can be and am just as good as you are, if not better!
It is always about how you address the problems you face. When studying geopolitics, my knowledge of the Algerian war as I learnt it both in Algeria as a kid and in France in high school, was a real added value. It allowed me to understand and see both sides of the story, and how people are taught about it in both countries. Is that not an added value? A wealth? An advantage?
For business, when you work in Algeria, it definitively gives you an added value; it helps in building trust more easily and stronger relationship. Outside of Algeria, in some countries, such as in Africa or in Arab countries, because of the political ties and history it does help. Otherwise, in other countries, it makes people wonder, because they might have an idea of what an Algerian should be like or no idea. It just provides those individuals with a new image and understanding, making them realise that yes, we are not that different. (An Aha moment for some people, at times!)
Arab/Muslim. Here I have to add, Berber (Kabyle) if not my mother or half of my family will disinherit me.
The reason why, I am discussing these two together is because some people still are confused. Let’s set the record straight. Being an Arab doesn’t mean you are Muslim, and vice versa. Islam is a religion and Muslims follow Islam. Arabs are people, like Berbers, Persians, Turks, etc. ..who could chose to follow any religion they want.
I am dealing with this question, because with everything that is happening nowadays, people have been asking me how have people/my clients reacted to the fact that I was Algerian/Arab/Muslim, especially as I deal with international clients from the US to India, and even Chile.
While I faced some discrimination growing up, I feel it less and less when working, especially when being already in the company. When it comes to the hiring process, I have to say it is different and I feel it more. However I won’t say that racism doesn’t exist. But, I prefer to focus on what matters to me and for my work: proving myself, connecting with my clients, my interaction with them and providing them with solutions.
My clients have never questioned me on this matter. And on the contrary, I believe, the more interaction we have, the more we learn about each other. Therefore, I see the value each of us can bring to the table, rather than our differences.
Sometimes, you will have people question you or demonstrate prejudice because of all they hear, but don’t be defensive. We need to communicate more with each other, explain things. We might not change people, but we don’t have to be closed off or defensive. We always have to learn from each other.
So for those who asked: “How do I do it all?”
Well, here it is, I don’t think I do anything. I am a normal person, evolving in a globalised world. I consider myself a citizen of the world, being a Woman/Young/Arab/Muslim/Algerian, is part of my identity and who I am. It won’t really change (well, besides being young). I just believe that as we live together and as long as we try to listen to each other and communicate, these “labels” won’t really matter. We are just people, trying to make our ways and grow.
In my business, these “labels” can only be an advantage–be it my cultural sensitivity or my continuous desire to learn and adapt to any circumstances. My goal is to share my talents with my clients and cause them to benefit from those experiences and lessons learnt.
So, for those who might think you have all the odds stacked against you and that you have to fight against a lot of prejudice: that prejudice, those events which happened to you, your sex, your ethnicity, your religion, your people – all these things are actually YOUR STRENGTHS. They built you. They made you more open, more curious. And to a certain extent “undefeatable”. All of these are great assets for your personal life and a great ASSET for any company. These assets create results, add value, and determine the type of team player you are. And these, ultimately, are the skills and traits that will matter.