Are you one of the lucky people who wakes up every morning eager to get out of bed? Or do you linger under the covers, dreading the day in front of you? Do you envy people who get up at 5:30 am, meditate for 20 minutes, go to the gym, then power through a productive day, accomplishing their goals? Are those people just lucky to be extremely passionate about their work and lives? Or do they have a special formula that enables them to be extremely efficient?
Many people grapple with this question. I am a staunch believer that we are each in control of our destiny and that we must take responsibility for our own happiness. Of course, there are external factors we cannot control that can create obstacles to success, but think of all the entrepreneurs and women in business who – against all odds – overcame challenges and excelled to either build great businesses or become CEOs. I believe we should maximize what we have – not focus on what we don't have, or blame external circumstances.
This starts by leading a life of gratitude. Be thankful for where you are, today – for your health, your family, the wave of your two-year-old child, the tulips that come out in the spring, and the scent of the earth after it rains. Gratitude leads to happiness, and happiness leads to increased positive outcomes. I discovered this truth after I read Shawn Achor's The Happiness Advantage. He recommends doing the following five things every day for 21 days:
1. Meditate for two minutes.
2. Exercise for 15 minutes.
3. Write down three things you are thankful for.
4. Spend two minutes writing about a positive experience.
5. Do one kind act for someone else (this could be anything from an encouraging email to simply holding open the door for someone).
I tried this exercise for 21 days and was lifted out of my fog of inertia and compelled to pursue other activities. But is happiness the only thing that separates those who achieve their dreams from those who don't? Happiness creates an enabling environment for more positive things to come. With an optimistic mind, you start to see that your life does not have to move along by default. Instead, you can steer your own direction with a clear set of goals. Too often our dreams diminish as we age and the responsibilities of adult life take over. So how do you keep those dreams alive? In my recently published eBook, Guide for Ladies Who Relaunch, I lay out 7 Ps for a Successful Career Pivot. I will discuss three of those 7 Ps below:
First, decide what you really want in life. This step is by far the most important and is often influenced by fear, lack of belief in oneself, other people's expectations, or financial and lifestyle considerations. It is important to take time to figure out where you get your spark – that thing that will get you out of bed in the mornings, excited to start your day. And while you may not be able to plunge into creating that dream business or job right away, perhaps there are smalls steps toward reaching your goal that you can take every day. Often career pivots take place gradually.
People buy into the leader, before they buy into the vision - John Maxwell
Personal branding defines you and includes your skills, your values, your social media presence, your network, and the industry you belong to. If you haven't yet been decisive about your personal brand, once you have found your purpose, join relevant groups on LinkedIn, comment on posts in your field of interest, or start a blog. Having a strong personal brand will help you in your conversations as you try to make a career pivot in the corporate world or launch a new business.
Panel of advisors
We all need a support group with whom we meet regularly to discuss our goals, exchange ideas, and help us to expand our network. This group champions your dreams and encourages you to move forward. Many of us already have such a group, although we may not call it a panel of advisors. This group may include friends, family, and professional connections. For female entrepreneurs, I recommend regularly connecting with other more successful entrepreneurs in your field. Ideally, this panel includes someone who is several steps ahead of you in your dream field and who can mentor you. Many individuals also have sponsors – an individual willing to bat for you in a new role or in a new business and whose reputation will help you. For example, if you are starting a technology company, a sponsor may help you source investors, identify a co-founder, and source new board members. A sponsor can help open many doors for your business. Remember: no one is an island.
And of course, mentor and sponsor relationships should be reciprocal, so you should give a lot in return.
Making a career change can be a daunting task, especially when you think about how you are going to get from point A to point Z. But when you break it down into smaller steps, you can get there. First, lead a life of gratitude, and happiness will then follow. And once you are in a positive frame of mind, define your purpose, your personal brand, and build your panel of advisors.
So if you are still thinking of a career change, Nike had the right idea: Just Do It!
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.