When you’re not just “The Wife”

My husband and I had a recent debate about whether to admit to the clients that we were married and not just colleagues.

This might sound like a strange discussion except that the meeting was with two South Asian businessmen in the Middle East. If we let on too soon that I was also ‘the wife,’ they would not take me seriously as a consultant.  They would immediately assume that I was not in the meeting because of my expertise, but because my husband allowed me in that door. They would assume I was a secretary and direct their comments and queries to the man in charge.

It sounds strange, but we have this conversation before every new introduction, followed by the question, “What shall we tell them about our background and experience?” In the latest meeting, we decided to put it all on the table.  I cringed waiting for the big question after handing out our business cards. The two men read the cards carefully, looked confused, and then stuttered, “Ummm … you have the same last name—why?”  They wanted to ask but were not sure how to do so appropriately.

In my travels, I have learned that people view marriage in very different ways whether in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  Most of our male friends and business contacts have a wife and girlfriend(s)—the wife is for childbearing and rearing (rarely ever leaves the home) and the girlfriend is for fun.  How do I know?  I often meet both (at different times) and have to act quite casual about the whole thing.  Meanwhile, I wonder whether “the wives” have any idea what’s going on.

These guys can’t imagine working with their wives because it would really cramp their style.  It’s hard to lie about your location and activities when you are together much of the time. These men shake their heads and look at my husband with pity—feeling very sorry for him.  I pretend that I don’t understand what they are suggesting. My husband–who is one of my biggest champions and promoters–laughs and moves right onto business.  He probably takes a respectability “hit” by doing so, but he doesn’t care … and I really appreciate that.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

Michele Rigby Assad

After obtaining a masters degree in Arab Studies at Georgetown University, Michele applied—along with hundreds of others from the university--to work for the CIA. After a long and grueling hiring process and a year of intensive training, she became an intelligence officer for the National Clandestine Service, the covert (operational) arm of the Agency. Serving for a decade as a counterterrorism officer, Michele worked in all of the awful places you hope you’ll never visit, including Iraq during the height of the war. To date, Michele has traveled to 45 countries, lived in six of those, and has a lot of crazy stories to tell about life overseas. While working for the CIA, Michele initially decried the traits that made her different from senior male officers, but later realized that these traits were what made her a great intelligence officer (empathy, intuition, strong interpersonal skills). Now she’s on a mission to show women that they have the elements to be a Femme Fatale—the incredibly intelligent and operationally astute woman that gets stuff done. After years of service to her country, Michele has left the undercover life behind and now works as an international management consultant focused on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. She has a more “normal” life now and a lot more time to do the things she loves: writing, cooking, traveling for pleasure, walking on the beach—and most of all, inspiring others!

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