How to challenge your cultural background in order to succeed as a Woman in leadership by Maha Alaoui

Automatic Summary

Unveiling the Inspiring Journey of Maha Halawi

Hello, everyone! I am Maha Halawi, heading a pre-sales team for Salesforce in the Middle East and Africa. I am here today to inspire you all with my story, highlight the significance of female leadership, and provide some actionable steps that you can implement in your life. But before that, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who made a remarkable impact on my career.

Embracing the FST Lifestyle

Originally from Morocco and France, I take immense pride in my roots. They gave birth to my concept of the FST lifestyle, which stands for Food, Sports, and Travel. Being from two gastronomically rich countries, I am passionate about cooking and equally love indulging in different cuisines. To maintain a healthy balance in my life, I partake in various sports, including boxing, crossfit, and handball. Travel also holds a special place in my life, assisting me in growing and opening my mind, helping me acknowledge diversity, and enhancing my tolerance towards differences.

My Voyage from Morocco to Middle East and Africa

Born and raised in Morocco, I decided to move to France for my studies. This decision was my stepping stone towards the first significant phase of my life— independence. In France, I got the chance to meet and learn from a variety of individuals.

Fascinated by the immense cultural difference between Asia and Europe/Africa evident from documentaries and movies, I ventured to China for an exchange programme for my Masters in International Business. This exposure enriched me with various experiences and kick-started my journey in the tech world.

When a recruiter approached me for a tech role, I was initially hesitant since my background was in marketing and business. However, after being assured that the company could teach me the necessary hard skills, I went for the interview with several assumptions and self-doubts. But guess what? I got the job, and thus began my wonderful tech journey!

Battling Imposter Syndrome: The Power of Hiring a Career Coach

In my journey, I also faced bouts of imposter syndrome - a psychological pattern where one doubts their skills and fears exposure as a "fraud". It was during this uneasy phase that I decided to hire a career coach. It turned out to be an excellent decision as it helped me to cope with and overcome this syndrome. It’s crucial to invest not only in education but also in developing soft skills. Surround yourselves with a supportive network, maintain good physical and mental health, and don't hesitate to engage professionals to coach or counsel you towards success.

Envision Your Life, Set Your Values

Another key aspect of personal growth is having a clear life vision and defined values. Visualization is a powerful tool that can help in defining your goals, values, relationships, and the environment you seek. While you build your vision, it's essential to pay attention to the people you include in your journey. Creating a culture of feedback is also crucial for your growth as it helps develop a mutual understanding and improve relationships with colleagues. Moreover, it is equally important to dedicate part of your time to give back to the community and help those in need.

Connect with Maha Halawi

If you have any questions or require professional advice, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Remember, success is a continuous journey, and you are unique. Stay passionate and driven towards your goals!

Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. Good morning. Good afternoon, Mr evening. Uh My name is Maha Halawi and uh I lead a pre sales team uh at Middle East and Africa level for sales force. First of all, I would like to start this talk by uh saying thank you.Thank you for your time. Thanks to every single person that's made an impact in my career life. Uh I'm very grateful that I have the, the chance to be here today and to share with you my story. So the agenda of today is basically uh split to four pillars. So first of all, I'm gonna walk you through my journey and explain to you why I'm here. And then we're gonna talk a bit about female leadership, how my cultural background impacted me. And then I'm gonna give you some insights and actionable steps that you can follow. To turn your cultural background and pattern to your advantage. Please feel free to send me a chat if you have any question, just be mindful about the fact that I cannot see the chat while presenting. So I see only my slide and I'm gonna get back to the chat uh after the session. Thank you. So the FST lifestyle. So this is a concept that I uh invented. So basically, I am Moroccan and French and FST lifestyle stand for food, sports and travel. I come from uh two big countries.

If we talk about cuisine, gastronomy, Morocco and French are, are very well known for that. So I, I love cooking and obviously I love eating and I eat everything I cook and to maintain kind of like a healthy balance between my mind and my life, et cetera. So I do a lot of sports. So I train a lot. I love boxing, crossfit, handball. So this is something that uh make me feel good. This is something that empowered me and keep this kind of like a balance in my life and the T stands for travel. So I strongly believe that traveling, make you grow, traveling, allow you to meet people from a different horizon with different perspective, different way of seeing things, thinking and then it helps you open up your mind and think differently and be tolerant about differences.

Now let's go to my journey. So my journey started in Morocco. So I was born and raised uh in Morocco in a very diverse family when it comes to uh ethnicity, uh religion, uh et cetera. And then II, I was raised there and then I decided at some point to, to move to France, which is my second country to, to, to study there. It was a great experience because it was for me the first time, like I'm leaving home mom and dad and then going and starting my journey by myself. Uh in France, I had the opportunity to, to be with my family, my extended family, but also to meet new people from a different places to learn from them. And to study. At the same time, at some point, I was very attracted by China. I was attracted by the difference because I've always felt every time I was watching a documentary uh or a movie, I always felt that this part of the world is very different than Europe or Africa. So let's go and let's discover what, what can be done there. And they went there for an exchange program. So I did my masters in International Business and it was a great experience because once again, I got to meet ad a people that were completely different.

I had this kind of like cultural shock, you know, between us European slash African versus people that are coming from Asia. It was very interesting and it was very, very rich experience for me. Then at some point, I decided to come back to Paris to France. I did my MB A and then my tech journey started there. So a recruiter called me uh one day asking me if uh I would be uh they, they have a position actually in a big tech company, they have a position and uh my profile was interesting. So maybe I should consider to come for an interview. So the first reaction was for my side was like, maybe you made a mistake because I have a marketing and business background which has nothing to do with tech. So I think there is a mistake mistake there. I'm not an engineer and plus I'm a female. So it's a very male driven world, like it's for male, it's not for female. So, and then while having this conversation with the, with this guy, the the recruiter, sorry, I, I figured out that they, they were looking for kind of like soft skills and they can teach me the hard skills. So I was like, ok, at the end of the conversation, we agreed that I'm gonna go for, for the interview. So we set up the date and everything. And then once I finished the call, the drama started in my head, I'm female.

I'm not sure if I want to go to the tech world, I don't have a bi uh engineering background, et cetera. And they made a lot of assumptions, lot of assumptions. And at some point I was like, I'm just gonna go do the interview, fail it. And then that's it. And guess what? I got the job. And it was very surprising for me because I wasn't expecting the interview to be done in this way. So I started my, my tech journey as an individual contributor, I was very happy. And then I got to another uh company uh called Salesforce in France where I, I got at the beginning a technical role. So that was very funny because after this experience that I got in, in Microsoft, I was not scared anymore to, to, to speak technical, you know, even if I have a marketing and business background, I was able to learn the hard skills and to develop them. So basically, my job was to implement salesforce technology. Uh in France, I did it and at some point, I wanted to re invent myself. I wanted to go for something else. And then I, I moved to the UK where I was uh working with sales force for a team that was dedicated to enable customers on the technology.

And it was at eme a level and it was great because I had to, to meet a lot of people in Europe, a lot of uh dual business with a different culture, even within Europe and see how like culturally we can all be different, but we can all be aligned and respect each other and grow with each other.

And then at some point, I wanted something again, completely different. So for me, I was feeling like I still can go to the next step to the next level. I still can put myself in a very challenging position where I can maybe learn something and grow. And I decided to go to Dublin in Ireland. So it was the first time for me. So the first day for me in Ireland was the day where I took my suitcase from Paris and London and I moved to Ireland. I was even not able to speak English because five years back, uh I wasn't able to speak English because I was working in French. And uh the education that I got was more French than English. It was very challenging. But I was very, I was welcomed with from like I was, I was welcomed from the Irish people who and the British as well, who, who helped me along the way to learn English and then to interact. So these people never made me feel like I did like not speaking English was like a problem for them, you know, and then the opportunity that I got by moving to Dublin is to cover the Middle Eastern market. So I was working and I'm still working covering uh UAE uh Lebanon ks A eg Kuwait.

And here for me, it was like coming back to my roots when it comes to the culture, I was born in Morocco and you know, in the Middle East and North Africa, we have more or less the same culture. We look at women in the same way. We uh we have this, we visualize success for a woman in a very, very specific way. And I'm gonna talk about this later and then I started my leadership journey. Uh I was very happy, excited about it, but it was very challenging for me. And I'm gonna, I'm gonna explain why. And now I'm in a stage of my life where I'm thinking about my next step. I would like to move to a different country. I'm happy where I am in the tech world. I'm happy where I am in the, the company I work for. But for me, it's time to re invent myself and to go to the next step or next place and explore different things. So why I'm here today. First of all, for me, uh I am in a stage of my life where I feel like I, I have to share my story with an open heart with the community, male and female. I've been through a lot. I explored a lot. And uh for me, it's important to give back and to share my experience. I would love to inspire and give a hope to every woman as much as I can by maybe sharing some tips and tricks and sharing my journey.

And also the most important thing is uh for me, it's still work in progress. So I haven't made it yet to the summit. It's a journey, it's a healing process, working process, but it's still kind of like going on. No, my story. So I told you this before, like I got promoted to a leadership role. So I worked so hard to get this leadership role. You know, there was a lot of competition and I had to prove myself and to work. And you can imagine all the drama around and then I got promoted one day to this position. And this is how I was perceived by my colleagues, my family, everyone, she's successful. She made it to the leadership. It was her kind of like dream if I may say et cetera. So everyone perceived me this way. Now, let's look at how I was perceiving myself. Meanwhile, I was feeling like, do I really, really deserve this promotion? Can I really be a leader? I had a big moment of doubt. Fear. Can I make it happen alone? Should I give up now? Should I keep going? Massive self doubt and a lot of self belief, limitations. And then at the beginning of my journey, I, I was convinced that I can, I cannot make it happen alone. So I went and I hired a career coach and it, it was one of the best investment that I've done.

And I'm gonna explain why in the next slide. And then by having this conversation with my career coach, basically, she summarized all my feelings to two words. It's called imposter syndrome. For me. It was completely new because I've never heard about this world. And she was like, OK, let's Google it. And let's look at the definition we did. I started reading and oh my God that was me, that was me with all my cultural background, with my self belief, limitations, with all the fears that I was generating to myself. And it was heavy. It was hard for me. You know, because when you grow in a culture, when where you are seen as a woman, like if you want to be successful, yes, you need to study, educate yourself, but you have to get married at some point and have a family. And if not, you're not that successful. I come from a cultural background where if I want to speak up as a woman, I need to be mindful about. If a man is speaking, I need to wait until he finish. And I can't go against the idea that he's sharing. For example, I come from a cultural background where I have to be quiet as a woman and respect and say, yes, thanks God. Things are evolving, changing.

There is a lot of organizations that are now supporting women, uh helping people to speak up helping women in their, in their journey. But 30 years back, this is where I was coming from. Now, let's move to how I got I came over all of this fear, the imposter syndrome, how I started kind of like working on myself to get better, et cetera. So here is the first thing. The first thing that I would recommend to every single person is to invest in yourself. The first thing that comes to my mind is education. Education is the key for success. You have to learn, you have to keep learning and you have to stay up to date. It doesn't matter if you're learning something related to tech as you are in the tech world or um I don't know, culture, it doesn't matter the topic. What matters is the learning, learning new skills, opening your mind, your brain and embracing new things. The second thing is uh I would highly recommend to surround yourself with people that can support you in this journey. So from a career point of view, my example is for example, I hired a coach. So once I got the promotion, I went online, I used my network and I hired a career coach and I'm very, very grateful that uh she, she's working with me since the beginning of my leadership journey because today I can see my progression, keep connecting with people.

I know it has been challenging for everyone for the last two years to keep this kind of like momentum. But now life is back to normal. So connect with people as much as you want as, as you can share your experience, get their experience back, get their energy and improve yourself. Uh You can be successful in the career. If you keep educating yourself, you hire a coach, et cetera. But the most important thing is you need to look after your health, your body, your mental health eat well, sleep well, I know we hear it everywhere but we don't really do it. So, eating well and sleeping well, make you feel good, mentally and physically exercise as much as you can as well. For me, exercise is my therapy and practice mindfulness. So this is something that I discovered lately. Uh when COVID started, actually, I started kind of like meditating and I hired uh uh we call it a holistic counselor. And then she works with me uh on at the uh energetic level. OK. So we do a lot of mindfulness, a lot of kind of like therapy, talk, et cetera.

And uh one day we were talking about the topic and I, I got upset and then she mentioned the inner child concept and I looked at her and I was like, seriously, we are here to talk energy. I would like you to help me to identify what would be my next step to help me kind of like balance my energy because it goes up and down and it's tiring et cetera. And she told me, look, maha, if you don't understand the little maha within you, you can't move forward, you will not be able to move to your next step. You have to go back to this little girl to check on this little girl and to make a peace with her and automatically this will be reflected in your path. It was a great conversation actually. Uh I started looking at that but it's heavy work. So it's work in progress. The second thing that's I highly recommend is envision your life. And to do this, the first pillar that you need to think about is like your values. I know today and especially in the tech board, we talk a lot about values, et cetera. So you can see this everywhere but ask yourself what are really your values? Understand them when you identify, for example, a value, ask yourself three times why, why I feel like it's my value, why and why?

And then brainstorm about it, think about it and then write it down and then this is your value. So you can start once you have the basic, when you know your value you can build on top of it. And the exercise that I like is the visualization, visualize who and where you want to be, write it down, draw it and create it. I have a story about that. Actually, uh I've been promoted a couple of years back and the leader that was uh uh supporting me in my career back at the days. Used to tell me every time I will go to him. Very upset. Maha, tell me, where do you want to be in five years time? My first reaction was I don't care about five years time. I have a problem. Now, I'm in a challenge. I want you to help me to sort it out. I want things to go differently and then you will go like, OK, take a big breath, close your eyes, big breath. Tell me now, where do you want to be in five years time? Describe what you have around, who is around. And then after taking a big breath and thinking my response would be, yeah, you are right.

I am at this place doing this, I'm surrounded by this type of people and then automatically, I will be kind of like I will calm down automatically and then step back from the situation, from the emotional anger, step back and be more kind of like mindful and factor driven about the decision that I will make.

The power of visual visualization is is is very high. So sometimes we we can go just like yeah, OK. It's funny exercise. It's not you are able to create the life that you want. If you visualize it, draw it and then it will be easy for you to create it. It doesn't have to be perfect. It's work in progress. But you need to start somewhere. Also by doing this visualization, you will be able to create this kind of like your own mental safe space. This is how I call it. And this mental space for me is very crucial because this is where I come can this is where I can get back to where I am going through a challenging situation. For example, the third thing is I would highly highly recommend to build a culture of feedback around you. And I have a good story about it. It happens to me many times to jump on a call or show up on a meetings with 10 men in the room. And I am the only female when you walk in, in a room and you have a full room of men and you are the only female. It's upsetting. I agree. I feel uncomfortable fine.

But while having the meeting and during the conversation, I noticed that I was usually, I was very often starting my uh sentences or phrases with uh sorry, can I say something? Uh sorry, I have a question and sometimes I will be talking and someone will jump interrupting me, interrupting me and then someone else will jump interrupting me at the beginning. I was really pissed off and I used to call my friend's colleague, male and female after having this experience and asking them, is it happening to me because I am a woman? So some of them went like, yes, maybe and others were like, no, doesn't have like anything to have with the fact that you are a woman. And what I tried, what I started to do is like noticing this behavior, identifying the people with this behavior and then building a feedback and then going and speaking up and sharing my feedback with these people, sharing how I felt, how uncomfortable I was when I was interrupted during this conversation and I discovered that men around me were truly kind of like they, they did understood like they did understand the, the my my point of view.

Like I was impressed because some of them told me, oh, you never told us we now I've never felt like you were upset or you were angry. I'm sorry. And then since then, my relationship kind of like with my colleagues male when I show up in a meeting changed completely. Some of them still are still interrupting, but it's not because I am a woman. It's just the way they are, which is fine. OK. But others now are more mindful about me speaking up having my time sharing my ideas, et cetera. And this happened because I took a step back from the situation. I built the feedback and I was very mindful about when I built the feedback to speak with fact. But also I was very mindful about everyone's cultural background. Because when you build the feedback, you don't give a feedback to a German person the same way as we do with the Spanish or with a Moroccan or with someone from Saudi or someone from Lebanon or someone from Australia. So the cultural aspect of it is very important. So be mindful when you give a feedback and make sure that you have an action plan that you can kick off just after the feedback. And the last one is g back many, many people need our help giving feedback. Doesn't only kind of like take your time, OK.

To share your experience. It's also bring you this kind of like fulfillment feeling. You're making an impact, you're doing something good for the community, dedicate time to do that. And also for us as a woman, uh we shouldn't be waiting until we reach the summit to start looking at other women to bring in them. We can do this while climbing the mountain. We can give a hand and then take people with, with us all along the way. And also to all women out there, be more inclusive toward women. Understand that that in a team as a leader, you might have a people from a different background, people that look at things differently, make them feel good, make them feel included and build diverse team. Ladies, ladies and gentlemen, that was me. Thanks for having me. Always keep in your mind. You are unique. Do what you love and be passionate, driven. I'm gonna switch back to the chart and we still have the time. OK. Yeah. So if you have any question, feel free or I have sorry, I was not uh the same thing. Hi, welcome. So, oh, hello, I interacting. Thanks for your interactions and sometimes Jessica. You're welcome. You're welcome. My pleasure. My pleasure. My pleasure. If you have, if you have any questions, feel free to, to reach out to me via my uh via my linkedin.

I would be happy to, to support and help and, and help and give a guidance as much as possible. You say sorry, you're welcome. My pleasure. I love how to deal with. No, they think I do not know how to do the most of the work because I am a woman. I MRI, I, I, I wouldn't maybe uh agree 100% with that. So for this topic especially, I, I spoke about the culture of feedback. So I want to understand from, is it an assumption that you are making or is it reality? And to know that you will have to go through maybe the the feedback session, you know, build your feedback, suggest actionable sta uh steps and then see how it goes. And uh you know, from my experience for this story about walking in a room with the full of mail, et cetera, uh I discovered and I, I thought about it like, you know, the tech word is male driven. Yes, we hid it everywhere but it was not an invasion, you know, a couple of years back, like women came in and then they got rid of women and then now it's male driven. No, it just happened that the tech world was dominated by male and now it's changing. So the idea here is when you go and you do your feedback, think about the fact that you are not kind of like two teams creating a gap. We are smart.

They are this et cetera. Think about how you can bridge the gap and build the success together. This is how I, I look at it and best of luck, Miss Re best of luck. Thank you. Thank you, Bernice. Thank you. Hope that uh it was a helpful session and uh looking forward uh hearing your feedback. Thank you.