“I realized I was overqualified for the job and I could do better than that,” she says. How many women are brave enough to say that aloud in the work place?
I met Mary Jane in San Francisco, far from her home turf. We were both Filipina Women's Network Global 100 awardees. As she spoke onstage, her audience was mesmerized. Among Filipinas in modern day outfits, Mary Jane stood out with her dark, long dress that reached to her shoes. Her headpiece covered her entire head yet emphasized expressive eyes.
Mary Jane’s story kept us riveted.
“My father had a machinery parts business in Manila. I was 15, in high school when he was diagnosed with severe emphysema. It destroyed his lung tissues. The expenses were high.”
Determined, Mary Jane found part-time jobs to pay her degree in chemical engineering at the Adamson University in Manila.
After college, she first worked at a textile company in the city. Soon after, at 22, she got a job offer in Dubai. She was confident her BS Chemical Engineering degree would get her a good position. When she felt she could do better, she did her best to say so.
“After eight months in the factory, I worked as a chemist for a well-known construction quality control laboratory. I was the only female chemist, a rare opportunity in a male-dominated work environment.”
Mary Jane moved to the Geoscience Testing Laboratory in 1988 as a Quality Assistance Officer.
Six years after, Mary Jane was general manager. Today, she is the Chief Executive Officer with a series of awards to showcase: Emirates Woman of the Year (2013); FWN 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World (2013); Pamana ng Pilipino Award (2012); Blas F. Ople Award (2009); Woman of Substance Honoree (2009); Emirates Business Woman Award (2008);Young Asian Achiever UAE (2011); Bagong Bayani Award (2007); Most Outstanding Adamson Alumni (2012, 2009).
Her leadership led Geoscience to work on megaprojects: the Downtown Burj Dubai, which included the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Metro and Emirates Road.
Mary Jane is very frank. When she feels she can do better, she says so. It is not easy for Filipinas to speak up. Our culture trained us from the cradle to be the submissive voice in the home. The exposure to other countries and cultures has opened our world. And Mary Jane has traveled the world. Filipinas now dare to be heard.
In the course of reaching for the stars, she married her husband, Mohamed Al Mahdi Lari, the love of her life. They’ve been blessed with two children, Humaid and Noor. It is a story of hard work and outspokenness
“Meeting and talking with influential women taught me that leadership is influence. Influence involves challenging societal views of what a woman should be, how she should act, and what she should have by way of career success,” says Mary Jane.
“Influence creates opportunities. The influential women leaders I met were generous in sharing what they’ve learned. Symbolically, they held the door open for other women.”
When her father fell ill, her mother stepped in to assume the dual parent role. “My mother was my role model. She did her best to work hard and raise us.”
The strength from her mother influenced Mary Jane later on. “Influential women leaders are the beneficiaries of support from their families, husbands, children, parents, siblings, co-workers and friends,” she observes.
Her faith is her anchor. "I converted to Islam before I got married to my husband. It helped me a lot because it gained me the respect of people I met, especially the men. It uplifted my morale when I embraced the Islamic way of living."
What inspires her? “My ultimate dream is to have a happy God-fearing family and a simple life. I want my children to embrace life’s true values, to work hard and be humble,” Mary Jane says. “There is no greater treasure than a loving family who find it in their hearts to be there for one another.”
Bravo to this brave Filipina in Dubai.
Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey, is a journalist, food writer and member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). She blogs about Filipino home cooking and culinary travels to the Philippines on her site AsianInAmericamag.com.