When I was 25 I started working as a female consultant in Saudi Arabia. I was based in London, where I did my masters work on refugee studies, political asylum claims from Libya in particular. I joined a company that worked in Libya, but those positions were full and I joined a project in Saudi Arabia instead. In hindsight, my career advice is that you need to be open to these right and left turns, taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you.
Having the beginning of my career in the middle east and africa was such an amazing experience, few people have the opportunity to go. In the middle east people on the street would ask if I was a nurse, because most women there were nurses. I would go to business meetings in buildings that had no women’s toilets. Back in Europe or the US, people would say to me “oh it must be so hard to be a woman working in the middle east,” but actually it was a very rewarding professional experience. People were very respectful and I experienced less discrimination on the basis of gender than in situations that I encountered here in the west.
What’s interesting is how much the dynamic changed throughout the time I lived there, as more and more women joined the workforce, I started having more female counterparts, there was real respect for eachother and there was commitment to change the way things were. As a female in the middle east I had access to both worlds. Regularly I had to stand in the women’s line and wear an abayah, while my male counterparts in a different line were wearing suits. A strange feeling, yes, but I think it’s important to enter a community and try to understand how they handle things. As a young person, everyone wants to change the world, which you should and you do, but it is also important to remember to go out there and try to understand the world first.