In the summer of 2007 I was flown to Dubai first-class to meet with the CEO of the company that published Forbes Middle East. He was in the market for a managing director for the business titles and I was on the short list.
The three-day visit was a reconnaissance mission to determine my interest in a move to Dubai. It also served to see if the publishing executive team liked me.
I met with the team in my hotel. Apart from the CEO, there were three men and a woman. I was pleased to see a woman in a senior role. She smiled at me but sat back behind the men who proceeded to grill me about my knowledge of publishing.
After an intense but friendly hour of discussion, the man who would be my CEO suggested to the woman that she take me on a tour of Dubai to show the best areas to rent a home. So I spent the next three hours with this female executive.
It provided me with the opportunity to get behind the sales pitch the CEO had given me in the morning regarding working conditions. It wasn't the size of my office that concerned me. I was interested to know how women were received in business in Dubai. I noted that she had been quiet in our group meeting, allowing the men to take the lead.
She explained that it would be difficult for me to gain appointments with some clients if the leaders of the organisation were men. I asked her how she was able to do business under those conditions. She would take a man with her to meetings if she was meeting with a man. The implication was she would not be taken seriously as a business person without a man to validate her position.
It didn't take me long to decide on a move to Dubai. Not a chance. Dubai was and no doubt still is an attractive city for business and career progression. Buckets of money were on the table to sweeten the deal. But the idea that I wouldn't be taken seriously because of my gender was the most critical part of my decision.
As I mentioned I was invited to visit Dubai so the executive team could also check me out. The shocked expression on the faces of all the executives, including the woman, when they first met me told the story. Their questioning indicated that they believed the business environment would be too tough for me. Not the fact that the organisation was needing some fresh thinking but that it relied heavily on advertising revenue from clients who would be unlikely to agree to meet with me. The CEO was British and he knew I was a woman before I arrived. But it was clear that he was relatively hands-off so not really in touch with the operating environment. The rest of the executive team were locals.
I imagine they were relieved when the alternate MD, a man, was appointed to the role. I know that change comes when we challenge views and conditions head-on but it wasn't a fight I was prepared to have in a foreign country.
Have you turned down an opportunity that looked better on paper than in reality?
Marina Go is GM of Hearst-Bauer, publisher of Harper's Bazaar, ELLE and Cosmopolitan. She is also chair of the Wests Tigers, a director of Odyssey House McGrath Foundation and a member of the advisory boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Remarkables Group and Women's Agenda. She has an MBA from The AGSM and is a member of the AICD. Her new book is Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders.
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