Mariam Ahmad Shahada is one of the six women who work at Repsol’s office in Libya. She enjoys the support of a multinational company in a country with a social and cultural context that is different from Europe’s. Mariam is clear on what she wants: to evolve and move forward both professionally and socially. For the time being, she is the Manager of the Department of Information Technology Projects and Services. This is her story.
“Though I was born, grew up, and studied in Libya, I am actually Palestinian. My father came to Libya *45 years ago; he was born in our country Palestine in 1942 and one of my dreams is to return there some day.”
“As you can imagine, things aren’t easy for a woman in the kind of society I live in, much less at the beginning. It’s hard for *the people around you,* society, and even yourself to understand that you aspire to build your own professional career. People don’t place much confidence in you and I assure you that getting a pat on the back and hearing the uplifting phrase of “good job,” is hard.
Things aren’t easy for a woman in the kind of society I live in
That’s why, when I first joined Repsol in 2001, I must say I was pleasantly surprised. As a multinational company, Repsol offers women the kind of opportunities that would otherwise be difficult for me to get. In fact, I can only be grateful for the kind of bosses I had. They were a great source of support for me. For example, the first boss in REPSOL was Spanish. He gave me the opportunity to learn and to solve problems in a short amount of time. He was my guide. He would tell me to try things, not to be afraid to make mistakes, that it was normal to fail at the beginning. This gave me confidence in myself and my abilities, something that would have been unthinkable elsewhere.
Mariam in a work meeting with her team
The great challenge women face is changing their mindsets. Women must stop thinking their work is solely and exclusively at home. Having a family is compatible with working at home or at a company. I’ve done it. Any difficult situation can be overcome. In your worklife, it’s possible to find people who will help you, who will pave the way for you in some fashion, who have confidence in you.
I never imagined I would end up working for a Spanish company. In fact, I never imagined I would learn to speak Spanish. I must confess, however, that the language came first. I had always wanted to learn different languages. I started studying English early at home and officially at the age of 16 years in Libyan school. However, a friend of mine at University which knew Spanish encouraged me to begin learning the language. She told me I could learn Spanish language by myself and she was right, you have to learn to be self-sufficient.
I never imagined I would end up working for a Spanish company. In fact, I never imagined I would learn to speak Spanish
During my interviews for the local companies I worked for, they would tell me they offered support to multinational companies and that knowing their language is a plus in the vast majority of cases. I have learned some Spanish Language in Libya before 2008, and then in December 2008, I spent a week in Madrid and took intensive Spanish language course. In a week, I learned a lot of Spanish. I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if I’d stayed a month (laughs). All joking aside, it was marvelous and I have very fond memories of my time there. Honestly, I would love to go back to Spain. In 2010, I took three intensive language courses (English, Spanish, and French) at the same time. It was pure madness, but, in a year, I learned a fair bit of three different languages.
You have to move forward. What I tell young women is to be proactive. People and companies need you as much as you need us. Work hard, read as much as you can. Learn from others, be patient, and draw from the experiences of others, because even the most experienced will learn something from you, which is why you have to continue reading and studying.
That’s what I’m doing. Not only in terms of learning new languages, but also my area of expertise, IT. For five years, I have been putting aside two of my three great pastimes, and the time I used to spend cooking or going shopping I now devote to reading. I read and study as much as I can to continue to evolve. You can reach the goals you set for yourself with study, training, and effort. I am confident I will fulfill all my dreams, even if it takes a long time to do so. I won’t lose hope. Not ever.”
What I tell young women is to be proactive. People and companies need you as much as you need us. Work hard, read as much as you can.