On a sunny Dubai Friday back in November, we got to interview Leila Serhan. I probably shouldn’t say this, but it was the one interview I walked into totally unprepared.
Marilyn was Leila’s point of contact during the preproduction phase. So she was the one guest I did not get to meet, nor talk to before recording the podcast. I did not know what to expect. Marilyn had told me bits and pieces about Leila’s story, but just enough for me to have a vague idea about who Leila was. I knew that Leila was Lebanese, that she was the Public Sector Director for the Gulf Region at Microsoft. I knew that Leila was a strong leader who nonetheless had never negotiated her salary. In a nutshell, I knew the headlines of Leila’s life.
It wasn’t until I walked into her house on that Friday morning that I got to really know her. It did not take me long to fully grasp the magnitude of Leila’s strength, her tenacity, her total and absolute fierce personality. I remember at one point, while Leila and Marilyn were in the thick of their interview, I thought to myself: this is why we are making this podcast: to provide young girls and women with this caliber of role models.
She Simply Did Stuff
From very early on in her career at a Lebanese telecom company, Leila set herself apart from the pack by, for lack of a better word, doing things, fixing things, being proactive about things. She did not wait for someone to tell her what to do. Armed with an ineffable curiosity, Leila pinpointed what needed to be done and did it. This allowed her to go from the basement of the telecom company to the room where it happens at the young age of twenty-two.
A lot of times as women, we are always scared to step on someone else’s toes, at least I know I am. At my previous job, I would always wait to get permission to work on a project, or wait to be told what to do. Leila’s story has inspired me to be bolder in taking more action.
In fact, Leila’s propensity to get things done is an example to be followed by men and women alike. Whenever you are starting a new job, or have been frustrated at an old job, you’re best bet is to locate a problem, or something that needs fixing - and just do it. It’s worked for Leila, and I am sure it will work for you too.
She Paved her Own Path: Laying Brick by Brick
When you get to know Leila, or when you listen to her episode, it won’t take long for you to realize that she is determined and ambitious. What’s even more amazing is that she has complete agency over her career. In other words, she got to craft her path on her own terms. She was able to to go from finance to marketing, to climbing up the corporate ladder to roles as General Manager, up until her current role as Public Sector Director. When she saw a job or opportunity or promotion she wanted, she went for it.
When Leila first joined Microsoft, she joined as a financial analyst. However, she quickly realized she was doing a job that she simply did not want to do. Three months in, she resigned. However, after talking to a senior level colleague, Leila ultimately decided to stay and switch to marketing, an area that interested her far more. With Leila these stories are a dime a dozen.
Listening to a woman who had such agency in her career is truly inspiring. If Leila’s story teaches you anything, let it teach you this: women can build whatever career path they want.
She Pays it Forward
At one point during Leila’s conversation with Marilyn, I thought to myself - Leila would be such an awesome mentor. So when Marilyn asked her what she did to give back, I just loved Leila’s answer. She never refuses to mentor a young woman who asks her. I like to imagine Leila inspiring an army of women who are just as kickass and fierce as she is.
Not only does she mentor others, but she has also set up an angel investment fund to help female lead startups. It’s one thing to inspire others, but it’s a whole other thing to make such a direct difference for women in the Middle East.