DIMA GHAWI, 39
Talent development manager, IBM
Through various global leadership roles within IBM, Dima Ghawi has lived and traveled around the world. She builds, develops, and manages strategic business relationships with teams from cross-cultural backgrounds. Partnering with the United Nations in South Africa and IBM Corporate Service Corps, she taught women in rural areas entrepreneurial skills to help lift their community out of poverty. Last year, she was a featured TEDxLSU speaker, sharing her own personal transformation to inspire others to take risks and exceed limitations.
Inspiring book: Who Moved My Cheese?
This small and simple book provides a very memorable lesson. For me, it serves as a reminder to keep aspiring to change and not get too comfortable personally or professionally.
Major professional accomplishments: Through various global leadership roles within IBM, I have lived and traveled around the world to build, develop, and manage strategic business relationships and teams from cross-cultural backgrounds. Partnering with the United Nations in South Africa and IBM Corporate Services Corps, I worked on a Women Empowerment initiative focused on teaching women in rural areas entrepreneurial skills to help lift their community out of poverty. In addition to my professional responsibilities at IBM, I have had the opportunity to give speeches globally on leadership and empowerment topics. Some recent events include my TEDxLSU Talk entitled “Breaking Glass: A Leadership Story,” which was based on my personal transformation, and was focused on inspiring the audience to take risks and break external and internal limitations. I also delivered a keynote speech at the Global Women Leaders Conference in Dubai, UAE regarding the importance of women’s role in leadership, economic development, and global business.
Volunteer and community involvement: I am a board member of several Baton Rouge organizations that are focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) and promoting women in technology, including the Foundation for East Baton Rouge School System, Louisiana Women in IT, Louisiana Tech Park, and Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. Using social media and virtual web-conferences, I founded a global community for women that provides opportunities to learn and connect together about leadership and empowerment topics. I am an active mentor to professionals in twelve different countries, working to advise and guide them with their career progression and business skills.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I dreamed of becoming a genetic engineer. At an early age, I found a book about genetics in the library and I could not put it down–that was the first book that I read cover to cover. Even with its complexity, the concepts made sense to me. Even though I did not become a genetic engineer, I still follow the science, and am amazed with how the tiny genes shape our bodies and influence our health.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? My first job was a teller at Bank of America. I learned the importance of smiling and establishing eye contact while communicating with clients. At that time, it was challenging for me, and culturally was very different from the way that I was raised in the Middle-East where it is considered inappropriate for a woman to look others in the eye and smile without a valid reason. My manager used to draw happy faces on sticky notes and place them all over my monitor to remind me to smile. Now, I am always smiling, and I am thankful for having learned early on this important lesson.
What is your favorite place for a business lunch in Baton Rouge? I love the healthy and daily fresh baked food at Magpie and enjoy its local feel. Magpie was the first café I tried when I moved to Baton Rouge and I was tempted to buy everything on the menu. Every time I go there, as I am opening the door, I wonder who I will find inside. Magpie seems to be the center of our community and it is my favorite place to have business lunches, see familiar faces, and network.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? I was born in the Middle-East, into a culture which put limitations on me simply because I am a woman. Growing up, I observed my grandmother and my mother and realized that they had no voice and no choice; they were taught to be followers. I longed for a different life; one not defined by cultural expectations and oppressive family limitations. I wanted the world to hear my voice, and I desired to have the power to make my own choices. Having the courage to break out of that environment, no matter the costs, in the pursuit of MY dreams is my greatest and most challenging achievement. Ultimately, this led me to become the first educated woman in my family, provided me the opportunity to live and work globally, and positioned me to fulfill my potential as a leader. What makes these achievements even more meaningful is that I now use them to connect with and inspire others to do the same.
The old saying goes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Specifically, what are you “being” to make Baton Rouge better? Education opened my eyes to the infinite opportunities that the world offers, and gave me the confidence and skills for personal success. I am fortunate to have key people in my life that demonstrated the value of education and encouraged me to pursue it. Now, it is my turn to pass this blessing forward and empower others to receive of gift of learning. Baton Rouge is experiencing incredible growth, and educating the next generation is critical to the foundation that our city must have in order to provide a sustainable and successful future for all its citizens. Therefore, my focus is working with educational programs in the Baton Rouge area by connecting and facilitating partnerships between businesses and individuals that are leading education initiatives. In this way, we all can collaborate to empower our children, our citizens, and our city.
Mac or PC? I use a PC for work, and a Mac for my personal use.
What’s your preferred mode of communication: text or phone call? I prefer face-to-face communication for its personal interaction.
How low will you allow your remaining battery life to get (in %) before you have an anxiety attack? Zero, and then the panic kicks in.
What app gets you through the day? Evernote, a dear friend introduced me to it and I got hooked. This app helps me organize my work and personal tasks to be more productive.
How many times do you hit the snooze button? At least four times, and sometimes my alarm clock gives-up on me.
Breakfast at home? Breakfast on the go? Breakfast at your desk? No breakfast at all? At home. It would be difficult to survive my workday without a healthy breakfast.
Is the glass half empty or half full? What’s in the glass? It is always full with champagne.
Which living person do you most admire? I admire Malala Yousafzai. Every time I watch Malala, I see a calm young girl in a colorful veil, but I hear an unrestricted old soul filled with wisdom. I ask myself, “How could a girl her age say “No” to an oppressive system while the adults in her community are accepting it with fear?” This young girl is my inspiration; I admire her determination to change the future inspite the risky obstacles, even when she is staring down the barrel of a gun being fired at her. To some she may be a “civil rights” symbol who is changing the lives of Afghani girls through education, but to me, she is a beam of hope for change, who through her example is teaching adults around the world to stand up and say “No.”
What is your greatest extravagance? I love healthy, delicious food prepared with skill, creativity, and love. I enjoy special exotic meals in unique restaurants, as well as the fine selections I get at Whole Foods, which I believe may be solely dependent on me for their high earnings and profit.
What is your favorite journey? My life is my favorite journey, especially when I moved from Jordan to the US and experienced culture shock and self-discovery. As a woman born in the Middle-East, I was expected to live a certain way, but here in America I am able to create a new life filled with opportunities. The journey is not over, but so far it has been so deeply rewarding.
What’s your most treasured possession? I treasure two gold bangles inherited from my grandmother. She never took them off, even when she was cooking or cleaning. They always made the loveliest tinkling sound as she moved, which made me feel safe because I could hear that she was near. Now, thirty two years later, every time I wear them I intentionally shake my wrist just so I can hear their beautiful sound coming back to life, and that makes me feel close to my grandmother.
If you had to be a teacher of something, what would you teach? I already teach my favorite topics; they are leadership, empowerment, and self-discovery. All of these can’t be learned simply by hearing someone teach them, but by inspiring others to live their life in such a way that they dare to discover what is possible through their own actions.
What is your theme song? “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi. It’s such a passionate anthem of courage, confidence, and self-actualization.
What makes you laugh every time you think about it? Right after I initially came to America, I started my first full-time job in October and my team planned a Halloween costume party for the office. They selected the theme of “Wild Wild West.” As a new immigrant to the U.S., I did not understand the cultural reference, so I didn’t get what the theme meant. To me it just seemed to suggest we should act wild. I thought, “What would be wild for me?” I had always wanted to dress up as a genie—that seemed pretty wild. So, on the day before the office party, I went to a costume store and was excited to buy a purple and gold genie costume with a very tall hat and gold flat shoes. The next day, I wore this wild costume to the party and was wondering why my team members were all dressed up in cowboy hats and jeans with fake plastic guns on their waists. I also was wondering why everyone was staring at me and hiding their smiles. Now, I can’t help myself but laugh every Halloween when I remember this firsthand experience of culture shock.
Who’s the most famous celebrity you’ve ever met? Pierce Brosnan. I met him while attending a business conference. It was at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles in early 2000. I saw him as I walked into the resort, then I paused and thought to myself “ahhh, 007.” I was hypnotized in that moment and found myself in front of him shaking his hand. He is even more charming in person than on the big screen.
What’s the next challenge you have planned? I feel that my life’s purpose is to share the transformation that I have experienced and thereby empower others. I am passionate about encouraging others to burst out of their constraints, shatter expectations, and bloom into their full potential. While I am defining the next phase of my life, I know that it will entail a global movement of encouragement, empowerment, leadership, and transformation. I feel charged to use my life’s experiences to connect with both women and men globally and inspire them through my speeches, online forums and social-media, live events, and print, to envision a better future. My goal is not only to inspire, but to empower others to break their own limitations and to help them discover their potential. I realize that this is an enormously huge goal, and I also know that I have the rest of my life to achieve it. Positively influencing people’s lives is what makes my life worth living.
Why have you chosen to make your home in the Capital Region? I am loving the Capital Region and feel so at home here. But the truth is, I did not know much about it when I first accepted the offer to relocate here with IBM. I was mainly excited about the job description and the new responsibilities. I was open to move anywhere to do this job because it is aligned with my passion for employee talent development. I have found the community to be most welcoming and hospitable, and I am fortunate to be part of it. I also love the growth that the Capital Region has been experiencing, and I want to personally continue to contribute to it. I can’t imagine a more fertile place for growth.