Patricia Myers, 4word mentor and an Executive Coach, spent almost a decade in the Middle East working in banking and leadership development. In our interview below, she tells us a little about that experience and how she was able to make an impact in the lives of the women with which she worked.
4word: How did you end up in the Middle East? Isn’t it true American women can’t work in most countries there?
Patricia: A call to my husband from a headhunter in New York changed our lives. It was for a banking job in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. They assured us they would find a management position for me, too. The call was in 1999, two years before 9/11. Two years before we, and most of the world, knew where Jeddah was.
No one can enter Saudi Arabia without a company sponsor and an elaborate visa process, so I jumped at the chance to see this exotic country on the “look-see.” We prayed for a sign from God as to whether we should really consider this unique experience. When I visited the Saudi American International School, my tour guide was a pony-tailed blonde who looked a lot like my Katie in jeans and a soccer tee-shirt. That was our sign.
4word: What job were you offered?
Patricia: As it turned out, the bank was overly optimistic about finding an American woman a management job, so I was on my own. When I finally met with the local director of an international consulting firm, he wouldn’t physically touch my resume. He kept pushing it across the desk to me with his eraser tip —as if it were contaminated! But, within a month, the bank offered me a job to develop their Ladies Private Banking Group.
I also started informally coaching the head of Men’s Private Banking. I had to throw any notions about feminism out the window. The men respected women, but the language was rather awkward. My director called me “his little guardian angel” because I seemed to keep him out of trouble with corporate headquarters. I had to overlook such “incorrect” cultural phrases and see that they valued what I was offering.
4word: So men worked side by side with women?
Patricia: At first, we didn’t exactly work side by side. The men were on the first floor and we were on the second, but we conferenced into staff meetings the first year. When our director came to our floor, we all ran for our black abayas and headscarves and “covered” when he came to our office. Here is the miracle: within a year, the women were invited to join in the staff meetings on first floor. That was a great day!
4word: What other changes occurred for women during your tenure?
Patricia: When my husband joined the bank, women were not permitted at the corporate head office. About two years later, the first Saudi woman, our Chief Economist, joined the bank at head office. I was the second woman to move to head office, as Talent Management Director. Coaching became a formal part of my job, and I developed a Management Associate program recruiting Saudis with MBAs from the US and Britain. Several of these MBA recruits were women. One woman I interviewed brought her father and mother to the interview! She turned out to be one of our most outspoken associates. I learned to stop judging through my American eyes.
I also started a mentoring program where the senior leaders coached the young high potentials. This was a huge decision on the bank’s part! Men coached women—with the door open, of course. (Just like Billy Graham!) I loved my associates—men and women who, like young Americans, wanted to make a name for themselves in their careers. They also struggled with the balance between family and home, just like many professional Americans. There were far more similarities between us than contrasts. To this day, several of my associates call me “God Mother.” I keep in touch with them through Facebook and take so much pride in their ongoing accomplishments.
Within three years, we had 40 women working at the head office, several in management positions. We took one step forward and two back; two forward and one back. No different than when women began working in the US. We would have a few amazing months of men learning to work with, and for, women. Then, the Mutawa (the religious police) would raid the building and insist that the women not ride the elevators with men.
That morning, I got on the service elevator (with garbage bags in the corner). The ladies hugged me and were crying. I gave them my “we are doing this for your daughters” speech. I got off the elevator, went into my office, pulled the drape and cried. But the steps forward were awesome. Several of “my ladies” (that’s what we called my women) are now in senior positions at the bank and across the Middle East.
4word: Knowing what the world is today, would you have made the same decision?
Patricia: I later worked in Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt. It wasn’t Rome or Paris, and unfortunately, the world now knows where the Middle East is for all the wrong reasons. No one ever expected 9/11 and how it changed the world. Still, it was one of the best decisions my husband and I ever made because it gave me a unique opportunity to impact that part of the world, especially women.
What professional opportunities have been presented to you that seemed at first like they wouldn’t work out? In situations like those, it is important to have Patricia’s courage to step out of your comfort zone and see what the future holds. You never know what you might accomplish, both professionally and personally!
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Patricia Myers specializes in executive coaching, talent management, and helping groups manage change. Her consulting capitalizes on 25 years experience in US marketing, project management and corporate affairs in telecommunications, finance and manufacturing along with ten years working in the Middle East in talent management and organizational development as Head of Talent Management for National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia. She was also a senior consultant and executive coach at a Cairo-based Organizational Development firm and coached over a hundred leaders of Zain, a major Kuwait telecommunications company. Currently, she does independent coaching and consulting.
Deeply passionate about elevating people’s effectiveness, Pat has coached and mentored hundreds of senior leaders and key young talent and has led team coaching and training to improve relationships through constructive feedback. Pat has developed international talent management and mentoring processes for businesses focused on developing and defending their talent pool, has facilitated team effectiveness and change processes using the Appreciative Inquiry process and is certified as an Extraordinary Leader© trainer.
She has a BA from Villa Maria College in Education and Communications and earned a (Masters) Diploma in Clinical Organizational Psychology from the French University- INSEAD –Europe’s leading business school. She is certified from INSEAD in Consulting and Coaching for Change. Her clients list includes international firms such as KPMG, Equate (A Dow Chemical JV), Hilton Hotels, Zain Telecommunications, Assa Abloy, Intercontinental Hotels, Proctor & Gamble, Pepsico, CBS, and many regional firms, along with private clients.
She is proud to be a mentor for 4word.
Pat serves clients from the Dallas/Fort Worth area and resides in Colleyville, Texas.