At the age of 30, Lina Rishmawi, a professional electrical engineer, is Customer Service Manager — Distribution Channel at Southwire Canada. Before that, she was Internal Technical Sales Engineer involved in software development. You know the expression, “being comfortable in your own skin,” and it’s striking when you see Lina for the first time. I met her at the ElectricElle Golf Tournament this fall and was taken aback by her openness to everyone around her.
I asked Lina why she had studied electrical engineering at university.
She spontaneously replied, ”Oh, because my dad, uncle and both my brothers are engineers, either electrical or mechanical.” But why electrical for you? “I like to get into details of things, I like the control of things, small details you can do with your hands to power up something.”
I then asked her how she had felt as a woman studying in predominantly male discipline. Her response really took me by surprise. She said, “I wasn’t originally aware it was male discipline. For me it was a family discipline. Plus, in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the universities are single sex institutions. I studied only with other women. It was when I arrived in Canada that I realized that the discipline was predominantly male, but I like challenges.
“At the beginning it was hard to adapt. Everything was different, but at the same time, it felt great to be part of it all.”
Lina’s family emigrated to Canada after she had already begun her engineering degree, which she completed at McMaster University. “My mother wanted her children to have a better life and a better education… It took us three years to get into Canada, and once we were here I felt for the first time in my life at home.”
Just as well Lina likes challenges, because when she graduated more lay ahead.
Since completing her engineering degree as well as a number of business courses, Lina has worked in a mostly male environment. She started her career as an inside sales engineer. “At the beginning, when people crossed paths with me they assumed I was working in administration. They reacted in different ways when they learned that I was an electrical engineer.
“It was quite difficult at first, but I developed a thick skin, I learned the language, and now I don’t think I could be any happier. I like the technical aspects of my work, but I can’t sit behind a computer all day long. I need frequent contact with people. In my current job, I enjoy conducting regular visits with my outside sales rep to my customer, which allows me to nurture the relationship we have with them and help build the trust we have with them. It took me one year to find this job, but it is the perfect fit for me.”
I asked her if it was different from what she was expecting when she graduated. Without hesitation she said, ”Oh, I never expected to get the best of the two worlds so quickly, sales and technical support.”
What personal attributes/abilities/skills are you drawing on in your work life that you weren’t expecting to? How do they help?
The questions make Lina laugh. She realized early on that she is a good listener. Customer service requires it, she says. If customers have a problem, they want a quick solution. She adds that good listening helps clients remain calm, making interactions more positive and productive. She also discovered that she has a lot of empathy. “Putting yourself in the clients’ shoes, you understand better where they want to go. It is definitely a rough environment. I was not used to that, and at the beginning I was overwhelmed but I’ve learned that customer relationships can go very far. Once you gain their trust, it can be very rewarding for everyone.
What decisions do you find are the most difficult to make?
“I find it difficult to separate work from your personal life. I try not to bring my work at home, and to keep my personal life out of my job. I prefer to stay late at work than bring work at home. I think it helps avoid chaos in your life.
If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?
No hesitation in Lina’s response. “One change I want to see is to have more women in our industry.* I’m accustomed to be almost always the only one in my group, but I would like it to be different. I would like to encourage women to come and work in our industry. They’re not doing it spontaneously, so they need to know as early as possible that technical jobs are challenging and very stimulating. I would add, ‘Join our industry: it is wonderful and so much fun, you feel you can conquer the world, you are competing against men, it’s an environment in which we can grow and thrive.’”
* Jim Taggart, President of EFC, wrote about this issue in the September 3, 2015 issue of CEW. Read his article, “We Need to Engage More Women in the Industry. Me included”
Read more Peers & Profiles in CEW by Line Goyette: