Don’t sweat the small stuff

By Stella Szapiro Duque- Business Operations Manager at IBM Middle East and Africa.

This story is just one of many that I can quote when asked how IBM supports my career.

I got pregnant with my daughter right at a major milestone of my career. I had been offered a new position with IBM that would result in a promotion and significant career growth. While I had been working hard for the opportunity, I actually was convinced that it would be impossible to continue in the role being pregnant.


At my first official day in the new job, I scheduled time with my new manager and my last agenda point was “Other Topics”. We walked through all agenda items and were actually running out of time when I asked to just extend the meeting for couple of minutes as I had some further points that I urgently needed to address. I was prepared for the reaction – frustration, disappointment, resentment.

My manager was just amazing – he gave me a big hug, congratulated me and was very happy for me and the family. He did not doubt for one moment that I could balance work and my new private commitments. In fact, during the last few years he has continued to be extremely supportive with flexible work arrangements and to trust in my capabilities.
So, let me summarize three major factors that helped my career growth in IBM – opportunity, accountability and mentoring


IBM is a company with over 300,000 employees which means we have a very diverse workforce. Depending on capabilities, education and preferences, IBMers can pursue careers in a vast array of different professions and across a diverse spread of countries. It takes some courage to change business units, countries or professions. But there is so much to gain and so many different possibilities to make a great career – all within one company. While it is important to have a career plan, chances are always coming up – if you keep open and flexible. When I started as Client Solution Executive in Dubai, one of the major outsourcing projects had been assigned to me – this was a tremendous opportunity. After the first couple of customer meetings, it seemed clear to me that a young woman might not be the best choice to lead the sales activities. I approached my manager offering to step out for the best of IBM and suggested he assign the project to somebody else in the team. My manager just looked at me and said: ‘You are a young woman – and this will be a challenging new role for you, but there are a lot of options in IBM – it just takes some courage to take them and make the best out of it.’


It took some time to understand that in IBM I need to take charge of my personal development, learning and sustained employment. When you take your success into your own hands, when you take ownership of your achievements, development and ambition, you can accomplish a lot. Too many people believe that hard work will yield results automatically. IBM taught me to talk about my achievements, to actively network and drive my career objectives. Too many people also believe that to achieve great things we must focus single-mindedly on work, at the expense of everything else in life. It is equally important to take charge of your objectives outside of your work commitments and balance your work/life goals. IBM has given me lots of support to effectively handle work commitments and balance my work/life.


The most significant impact on my career has been created by mentors – both official mentors and other colleagues who provided unwavering support and coaching. IBM Executives – far more senior than myself – always take time out of their busy schedules for mentoring and coaching. Challenges that I discussed and addressed were going beyond only professional matters and I have gained a lot of benefit from consulting experiences and seasoned IBMers. One of the major lessons my mentors taught me is to prioritize and focus and not to sweat the small stuff.


Stella Szapiro Duque is Business Operations Manager at IBM Middle East and Africa. You can find her on Linkedin

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