Nabila Toubia: “It is the parents who have to educate their children about equal rights and opportunities”

By Gonzalo Toca

Nabila Toubia Morcos is pure energy and forcefulness. She’s also a smile. This woman from Sudan owns a strategy and human resources consultancy called EN-CAPS, which she directs from its offices in Jordan. In spite of her full schedule, for years she has found time to defend the rights of women, especially in Arab countries, through the International Women’s Forum. Her vision of feminism is, at the same time, an exercise in admiration for those men who value and support their daughters and female co-workers, and a call to the responsibility of families to try and educate their children in the spirit of equality: Nabila has immense confidence in the possibilities for women as long as they believe in themselves, work with other women instead of seeing them as rivals, and learn to cooperate with men. She is also exercise vigilance over governments and companies so that they will favor gender equality.

Why do you feel that your experience at IE Business School has been important in your career?

For a start, because we have organized joint management and leadership programs for women between IE and the Jordan section of the International Women’s Forum, which I have presided over twice. In addition, I have been a student at IE Business School. I studied in the AMP Blended program, which allowed me, thanks to the enormous diversity of the students, to better understand the needs of other cultures and other sectors. It also gave me the chance to meet some absolutely extraordinary professors. My second course was a GSMP, the Global Senior Management Program directed by IE and by the Business School of the University of Chicago. It totally changed my mentality… I never thought the same way again! I learned to pay special attention to the strategy of companies and to align with the business model.

What’s the origin of your passion for defending the cause of women in the Arab world?

That passion comes from my father, who empowered women, defended them… because he believed in them. And of course from my mother too. Both of them made sure that each one of us sisters was more secure and energetic than the previous one. I’ll tell you more about us: one of us works for the African Development Bank; another is a neurosurgeon who’s strongly committed to the fight against feminine sexual mutilation, especially in some African countries; the youngest one is senior vice-president of the Wells Fargo Bank; and I run my own consulting firm, called EN-CAPS. Our parents also taught our brother that he should always respect us. Even when we were 12 or 13 years old and were fighting, they never let him raise a hand against us. My father told him: ‘If you do, you’ll have to leave home.’

So the fight for equality between men and women should begin at home and not in Parliament…

Exactly. Politics is necessary and I sympathize with some of the measures that have been taken to favor equality and the presence of women in management positions. But everything should begin at home. Just as happened to us [she hits the wooden table in her office five times for emphasis], it is the parents who have to educate their children about equal rights and opportunities. My husband and I taught our only son right from the start that there were no women’s chores at home, that we all shared the load, and that I worked just like his father. And today he too defends women’s rights and is demonstrating it by the way he educates his daughter.

I’ve also heard you say that you think women and men are very different in companies. And you don’t just say that as a defender of the equality of the sexes, but also as a consultant who has advised multinationals to invest in their female workers.

The fact is that we women lead and manage differently. Men tend to see problems with less attention to details but with more perspective and an overall vision that we women sometimes lack. Women are more systematic and more perfectionist than men at work, but it’s important that they not let their perfectionism and attention to detail prevent them from seeing a problem overall. Another priority in women’s agendas should be to learn to cooperate among ourselves instead of seeing each other as rivals. We have to understand that to achieve equality we also need to cooperate with men.

Even an energetic and secure woman like you must have bad days…. What inspires you then to make the supreme effort?

I usually don’t say this but I will: I am a Christian and I have great faith. My grandfather was a pastor in Sudan. In addition, I’m convinced that each time that I don’t achieve something, I’m failing myself. I’m convinced that if I don’t take care of myself, then nobody will. I’ve been a widow for the past 24 years and my only child, Michael, lives far away. What also helps me to keep going is the feeling that I have a responsibility to give back to my family and to society everything they’ve given me.