Isabel Gomez, General Manager for IBM Global Technology Services in the Middle East and Africa

Isabel Gomez has been on quite a journey. Having joined the industry in Spain in 2004, she moved to Prague in 2012, then Istanbul in 2013, and is now based in Dubai. She describes the journey as a “wave of opportunities” that she took up one by one, leading her to where she is today. Working in the Middle East was never part of her plan, and even the fact that she works in the professional services industry is, she says, “a little bit of destiny”.

But while the wave itself may be powered by destiny, Gomez’s success in riding it, by her own admission, owes a lot more to self-determination: Yes, there have been people who have helped along the way, but Gomez is under no illusion about her role in shaping her own story: “I have had a wonderful mentor in my career, and she helped me a lot in my growth… But in the end, I do believe the opportunity itself is shaped more by hard work than luck. You’re offered an opportunity because someone thinks you’re ready to take it, whether or not you take opportunities depends on you.”

I do believe the opportunity itself is shaped more by hard work than luck.”

Getting to that point can be hard for women in the professional services industry. As a woman, a mother, the different business and social customs in the countries she has worked in may have presented a number of challenges. Gomez states that when you demonstrate the value that you are delivering to the business, you earn respect, and the barriers disappear. “I always received a lot of support from my clients, colleagues and my biggest treasure—my family.”

It almost certainly helps that Gomez is as self-aware and confident as she is. Asked whether she’s ever felt like she had to adjust or change her persona or style to be taken seriously as a woman in this industry, she answers quickly: “No, I believe every human being has their own values, and this is their charisma, and I think this is our biggest asset.If you want me to be another person, I can’t because I am Isabel. I have my own style. I am emotional. I enjoy happiness, I live a life as me.”

Choose your path, and whatever you choose, be happy.

That honesty also comes through in the way Gomez speaks about what she sees as the myth of having it all as a working mother: “If you want to be a perfect mother, and when I say a perfect mother, I mean that you do all the activities that your kid requires of you, a perfect wife, a perfect worker, it is impossible.” Gomez sees this as an issue that both men and women face, though she admits that it’s a greater challenge for women, for whom, she says, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Ultimately, it all comes down to “making choices that are right for you, and you alone, rather than looking for answers elsewhere.”

Gomez also raises an important point for work-life balance. In her eyes, it’s all a personal choice and nobody has the right to judge: “I believe that the work-life balance works differently for everyone, so you have to find your own. If you ask if I attend all the school activities of my sons, no. If you think it is a problem for me or for them, it is not. What matters is the quality time that you spend together.”

It’s a message that she is keen to pass on to other women: Reflecting on her career so far, Gomez says the best moments have always been about the people she’s worked with and mentored as opposed her professional achievements. She particularly enjoys mentoring and developing women, and tries to lead them towards new opportunities, while reminding them: “You can never be a superwoman. Superwomen only exist in the movies.”

According to Gomez, some of the barriers that stand in the way of progress for women are constructed by women themselves. They trap themselves by trying to achieve the impossible, and then plunge into self-blame when they cannot live up to those expectations. “We want to be perfect but it is almost impossible. Be happy with what you are and make it work for you, not for anyone else, only for you.”

Asked about whether she has any advice to junior professional women in this industry, Gomez says that she doesn’t believe in role models. She adds “Every woman creates their own career path. Know what you want. Whatever you decide will be good for you. I always tell my young women mentees: ‘Choose your path, and whatever you choose, be happy.’” She might reject the idea of herself as a role model; she might reject the idea of role models altogether. But Gomez is a true inspiration.