Palestinian women suit up for the business world
Written by Alyssa Clark
It’s an exciting time to be a woman, especially for Abeer Abu Ghaith. Now being referred to as the “first female high-tech entrepreneur” in the West Bank, this 29-year-old Palestinian trailblazer has taken her own culture and surrounding business-cultures by storm. Analysts project that this somewhat stagnant sector, before Abeer’s work in it, could double in size over the next five years and could employ up to thousands more— that being said, you go girl.
The success of Ghaith stems from the success of her Internet employment brokerage and software development firm, which she singlehandedly fronted. Putting in 16-hour days, demonstrating her knowledge of local IT and communications and inspiring women across her region and others, these daily projects for Ghaith have been her commitments not only to personal philosophy, but to her business as a whole. With the goal of inspiring women to reach for more than what has been prescribed to them, Abu wants females everywhere to assert financial independence and provide access to available jobs for women everywhere.
“Palestinian women face a lot of challenges,” said Abu Ghaith, the second-oldest of nine brothers and sisters, speaking at her family home in the town of Dura, one of the most conservative areas of the West Bank. “We have plenty of qualified women in my area who have no access to jobs.”
Just last month, Abeer Abu Ghaith was recognized by the regional high-tech leaders as a recipient at the Women in Technology Awards in the Middle East and Africa in 2014. Utilizing relationships between her three major business allys (a close female friend, a male expert in IT training and a company which offered advice in the early stages of development), this Palestinian heroine has set herself to not only make a substantial profit gain, but to make history as well.
The Associated Press reports, “Abu Ghaith graduated from the Polytechnic University in the nearby city of Hebron in 2007 and still works for her alma mater as a career counselor for IT students.”
“Last year, she set up her company, StayLinked, which serves as a talent broker between Palestinian freelancers and businesses in need of services, such as translation, data entry, graphic design, online marketing and website development. Customers include companies in the U.S. and in Gulf countries,” she said.
Abu Ghaith commented on the longevity of women in her society and the change she wishes to be in the world, ““As a woman, I can help and change the world in my own way, even if the society wants to confine us in the kitchen and the house,” she said, sitting at a desk in her cramped bedroom, which doubles as an office. “I have changed the world from the house.”
The women who found work through her are more than grateful.
“She gave us a job opportunity,” said Zeina Abu Sneineh, 24, a recent university graduate who believes she’d be unemployed if it wasn’t for Abu Ghaith. “People over here think that what women have to do is get married and have children,” added Abu Sneineh, who grew up in Houston but returned to the West Bank with her family.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.