WHY A #GLOBALSISTERHOOD MATTERS TO ALL OF US WITH SIBEL BOSTANCI CELEBI, HEAD OF LEARNING & TALENT DEVELOPMENT AT GE – BASED IN TURKEY
Kimberly: Welcome to The Sisterhood Report. I am Kimberly Faith, your host.
We are in a changing world my sweet sisters and it’s such an exciting time. I hear from a lot of you, you’d like to think about what all these changes mean for you, for your life and the life of women in general, but who has time? Well, the good news is that I have done the heavy lifting for you and each episode of The Sisterhood Report, I sit down for a one on one conversation with a guest who is an influencer in their own way and together we connect the dots. So let me ask you, what if you could see the much larger story unfolding? What if you could learn new ways of thinking that could absolutely revolutionize the way you and other women see themselves, each other and the world? Well, the fact is that we can change the world one woman, one sister at a time. It starts with you and me, right here, right now.
Today our guest is all the way from across the world. I am very passionate as many of you know about this concept of a global sisterhood. Sibel Bostcani Celebi comes from Turkey. She actually works with GE and she works with women both in Turkey and Africa. There are a lot of things that I could share about her but the best thing to know is that she’s down in the HR world for 18 years and she has actually had a lot of experience with diverse audiences and populations. The first time that she and I connected was in the summer of 2018 and I was able to learn all about her passion for women. That passion for women worldwide is why I invited Sibel as our guest today and so I’d like you to welcome our next guest, Sibel.
I am very pleased today to welcome a dear friend and colleague that I met recently, calling all the way in from Turkey. Good morning Sibel.
Sibel: Good morning Kim, glad to be with you.
Kimberly: I am so glad to have you. Why don’t we start? I shared with everyone your Bio before we started but why don’t you let them know how you and I first met, Sibel?
Sibel: It was great meeting you first of all, Kim. As you shared in my Bio, I am part of GE Learning Organization as GE Learning Leader and we were invited to an advanced communication training in Paris by Euler Art Facilitator, Faculty and Guide I would say. It was amazing, one week together in Paris.
Kimberly: Yes it was; we had a terrific team. It was interesting Sibel, as we, several of us, started to talk, you and me and Gafi from China, when we started to see that we had a shared passion for the empowerment of women.
Sibel: Definitely, it’s close to my heart and it’s definitely a passion for me.
Kimberly: I was curious. Why don’t we start there, if you would share a little bit of background for you, maybe outside professional? You are based all the way in Turkey and part of what I’m trying to do with this podcast is to have us begin to realize that what happens in one country affects women in another country, so I would like them to get to know you a little bit Sibel, first of all, and try to picture what life is like for you over there in Turkey?
Sibel: I’m from Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, but my parents came from different small villages in Turkey. My mother was part of a family where she had two brothers, elderly brothers, and my father has eight siblings, so it’s a big family. Both of my parents, especially my mother, didn’t have an opportunity to have education after primary school, which is mandatory in Turkey, just because her brothers didn’t let her have an education. What I always heard from her was that... she always says, “If I had a chance to have an education, I could do this. If I had a chance to have an education, I’m sure I would do that.” She’s 72 now. She is very regretful that her brothers didn’t let her study. As a result, I was lucky I guess because my mother is a very strong female, very strong person. I have a sister, elderly sister. My mother wanted both of us to have a very good and strong education
Kimberly: That’s very impressive, so that wasn’t the case for all the families there?
Sibel: This is not the case for all females, I would say, in Turkey especially in small parts of Turkey. Like my mother, many females are not sent to school after primary school by their fathers or by their brothers, like my Mom. They are not given this opportunity and even some of them, like one of my cousins, they are pushed to marry, it’s a must to marry, even though they would like to have an education.
Kimberly: I know you said your mother supported you and encouraged you to get an education but that had to be a little challenging in that country with you and your sisters learning and growing because you obviously have a successful career, so how did the mould change for you?
Sibel: Again, being in Ankara of course, being in the capital city is helpful and especially having parents like my Mom and my Dad with the vision of my parents was very helpful. Even though my Mom didn’t have an education she wanted us to have a strong education and she fought for it despite all the challenges. We also had some financial difficulties. Despite all the challenges, she did everything and I’m thankful to my Mom because it’s all thanks to her efforts that I am now who I am, as a strong female who is fighting for female rights as well and who has a strong career. This is thanks to my Mom despite everything she had gone through. She could easily say, “Okay, I haven’t had the education so no need for you as well.” This wasn’t the case.
Kimberly: What stands out for me is I actually had the chance to meet your daughter while we were together and so obviously you probably are changing things for her. If you would, how did things change for you? You went on to get your school and then you went on to a career, what is then the fuelling...what is in the fire I guess, the passion, that has been fuelling you on your journey?
Sibel: [Chuckles] Of course, as I said, what is fuelling me, even today, is this gender inequalities. What I’m seeing in Turkey, outside of Turkey, it’s not unique to Turkey. I’m travelling a lot all around the world and what I’m seeing is that all of us as females, we are, more or less, experiencing similar challenges so this is fuelling me. I strongly believe that if we can educate females around the world we will have stronger societies, stronger populations.
This is fuelling me everyday and my passion is to help young females and young males to understand that, for example, I call myself a feminist but when I say this some people are thinking that it’s like an insult and I tell them, even to males, being a feminist means that I am defending your rights as well as a male. It is going after gender equality because we are not being to males as well because in Turkey for example, we want males to be the money earners. They have a strong pressure on them. They have to be the financial cover. Why? This means that I’m trying to spread the word that indeed if we have gender equality we will have easier lives and we will have stronger societies. This is fuelling me.
Kimberly: I absolutely agree with you. In fact, I had even shared with you the book I wrote because that’s where we share the passion, because I also believe the same thing. I believe in equality for both and I think it is important to have both men and women. Let me digress for a minute and ask you, how are you having conversations with men and trying to encourage them to see this differently because this is steeped in tradition and you’re trying to have them see a very different world?
Sibel: Ha! It’s not easy [Laughs] because I’m starting at home, with my husband, with my father, with my brother-in-law. It starts at home. Let me give you a story. We were having our summer holiday, my parents have a summer house in another state in Turkey called Izmir. We were all together with the wider family; my sister, her husband, my husband, my parents, all of us. My sister has a son as well, my daughter, all of us are there. I found ourselves, me, my sister and my Mom doing all the housework and still were continuing to work, cooking, cleaning and everything and the males, our husbands just sitting, resting, going to see sunrise and everything.
My Mom, even though she’s a strong lady, she has grown up with this tradition, customs and practices and she keeps telling me, “Prepare the dish. Prepare the table.” I say, “Why Mom? I’m also here to rest. They are adults enough, when they are hungry, they can prepare their dinner and they can eat.” She says, “No, no, no, no. Prepare the table. Prepare the dinner.” So I was like, even though my mother maybe a strong female, she’s still having this, for example. So I’m telling my husband, “I’m sorry, I’m also having my holiday. Let’s do it together.” This starts at home.
Kimberly: That’s a great idea and you know what’s interesting, here we are all the way across the world from each other, Sibel and while the extremes may be different these are the kinds of stories that we hear from women all over the world.
Sibel: I am sure.
Kimberly: What do you say to your daughter? Your daughter here is between... she sees the changes that you are making, she sees the world change. What do you say to the young women of Turkey when it comes to some of these issues and the importance of them moving forward?
Sibel: First of all, let me start answering your question giving another example. Today in the morning, I facilitated a session on storytelling and I have ten participants, most of them were females and when I asked them to introduce themselves, regretfully, many females... I told them to tell a story about who they are and many of the females when they were telling their personal story they said that their parents never wanted to have a girl, they wanted a boy. It was so hurting.
Kimberly: It’s heart breaking when you hear that.
Sibel: Heart breaking, exactly; it’s heart breaking. Some of them told their story. As a result, they ended up... One of them said, “I didn’t want to regret my father so I ended up studying mechanical engineering and I’m in front of cars, I love football.” I guess, she wanted to behave like a male which is hurting. I’m trying to help young women. My daughter understands since she’s born and since she can understand things, for example one thing that I tell her, “You can do everything and anything if you work hard, if you want to do it.
There are of course certain limitations with your skill sets but there is no such thing that women cannot do this or man cannot do this, that is man’s job or this is women’s job. I’m trying for her to understand that if she wants she can do everything. One day when she was in primary school she came home crying and telling me... I said, “What happened?” She told me one of her classmates told her that she cannot do something because she was a girl. Can you think of? I said, “No, if you want it, if you work hard you can do it; but if you want it.”
This is something that I keep telling them to believe in themselves, to develop themselves and then whenever they work hard, they educate themselves, they believe in their powers, they don’t need to have permission as one of your evidences is telling in your book. It resonates a lot with me. Many females think that they need permission and approval from people around them because they are just females and I am trying to help them understand that, no, they don’t need permission or approval.
Kimberly: You are right. I knew there was a reason why you and I got along in the first place, Sibel.
Kimberly: The thing that’s so interesting to me is that when I would speak with groups of women around the world I begin to find this common belief systems that were happening with women globally so it wasn’t just in the United States, it wasn’t just in your.... these were things that we actually had in common. What I would love to hear from you is that when you hear about women advancing in the US or in another part of the world, what does that do for you all the way in Turkey? I do believe that we inspire each other and I’m trying to show that we really are much more connected and much more alike than we are different.
Sibel: I totally agree Kim. To be honest, before travelling outside of Turkey, I had the assumption that it’s only in Turkey because we are a Muslim country and this comes from our customs and practices. Then when I started travelling and especially in developed countries like Europe and especially US, because what we see in Hollywood movies is different than the real world, I was thinking that what we are going through will never happen in US; then, I had seen that it’s the same.
Sibel: It is very similar, even not the same. This told me that, okay, apparently, this is kind of the same challenge for all of us.
Kimberly: It is.
Sibel: There are some slight differences. Again, this told me that it is really important to inspire and help especially females, but not only females as I said at the very beginning, but men as well to understand that it is good for all of us to have the gender equality. As you know, Justin Trudeau says, he keeps saying, we all have to be feminists.
Kimberly: Yes, and that word feminist is difficult for some people; for some people it’s a challenge for them, others, they like it. What I tell people is the same thing with that word is to find out how you need to define it for yourself. Don’t allow the world to put you in a box. Again, you can define that and I think that part of us finding our power to be able to do that.
When you have worked with women Sibel, I know that you’ve said you had several stories, what are some of the most inspiring or motivating stories of transformation that you have seen with women, that you’ve encouraged them and maybe seen them actually take steps for themselves and said, “Wow, they really made a difference in their world.”
Sibel: Very recently Kim, what is happening in Saudi Arabia, for example, is very inspiring. When I started working with females from Saudi Arabia, I was very impressed. Those ladies are really... They are well educated, they know what they want. Yes, they have currently some societal pressure and limitations but you can easily see that they are fighting for it. Recently, they re-earned the right to drive. You know this, most probably.
Kimberly: Yes, I was very excited about that.
Sibel: This was a big step ahead and now, there’s a discussion in Saudi Arabia that females will not have to wear this hijab. It’s also another big step and those are inspiring things. In Saudi Arabia, for a female to work in any organization, they need approval still, this is legal, from either their parents or husbands or brothers. This is a legal requirement and it’s not easy. I see that there are many of them more and more females in Saudi Arabia are fighting for it. This is so inspiring. This means that no matter what challenges we have around, we have strength to fight with them and make progress. Similarly in Africa... There are lots of similar stories all around.
Kimberly: Sibel, one of the things I recognised was all the countries of course, if I were to place them on a continuum, we do have varying degrees of what kind of freedom women have. When I work with women in the US, they have the freedom to do pretty much whatever they want here and the challenges are breaking some of the mind sets that are inside their own heads. What would you say to a woman in the US, or in a country like that, that has a lot more freedom than some of these countries already to encourage them to step out of their own mould and cross over that barrier of their own fear, knowing that what they do when they succeed does in fact affect you and your sisters in Saudi Arabia and Africa and others?
Sibel: Indeed, you already very well said, Kim, at the end of the day, yes, as females, like my Mom, still she thinks that we have to serve because we are females, we have this mind sets in our minds which is also not helping us to move forward. The first step starts with our self awareness. What are our belief systems? That’s why your book was very helpful, Kim. All this belief systems and the stories of these females, while reading the stories, it helps you to reflect your mind set and then you are finding yourself like, “Aha, yes you know, I do the same.”
This kind of understanding then, if you share your experience with someone else, another female, which is what I am trying to do, I am sharing my stories with others, then it inspires someone else. It’s not easy. I’m fighting with lots of beliefs or mind sets, blocks that females have. We are blocking ourselves because we are grown...
Kimberly: Sorry, say that one more time Sibel because I think that’s really, really important.
Sibel: I believe we are, first of all, blocking ourselves with our belief systems, with how we are grown up. We have to first of all build our self awareness and understand our mental models and once we can do this, this will inspire us then to change.
Kimberly: I think part of what’s going on Sibel is the fact that there was a time when it did not matter how much a woman wanted to change things. There was a period of time in the past where there was very little change that she could make; but it seems, based on how I’ve been mathing this out around the world, it’s like we’ve almost crossed over an invisible threshold that we now, when we change the way we think internally, we can make more change now in society than we’ve had the chance to in the past. I would be curious about what you think about that.
Sibel: Definitely, as we start changing our mental models, our belief systems, we have an opportunity also to help others like Shirley Sandberg was telling in her book, “Lean In”, she’s giving an example, a story which hurt me a lot. When she was pregnant, she had to park her car outside, very far away from the office building, and she had to walk a long distance after parking her car. One day she had to ask for a closer parking space and I don’t remember this part whether she managed to get it or not but then she thought, “Why don’t we do this? I am the leader in a company and I never thought this before that this is something important for a pregnant woman.”
We have to help each other; building systems. It’s such a small thing indeed, having a close by parking space for a pregnant woman but it helps a lot. Right?
Sibel: While we change our mental models, while we change our belief systems we also start helping other females if we start changing processes, systems, organizations like Shirley Sandberg is doing right now.
Kimberly: Sure, and you know what’s interesting Sibel is that even though you and I spent that week together in Paris we were very busy with the program so we only had a chance to have brief conversations about our passion for women. Then, when you took the book home obviously you must have been surprised then about how some of this really resonated with what you believed as well.
Sibel: Definitely, as I said Kim, reading your book and reading all these belief systems and stories of these females, it resonated a lot; very similar.
Kimberly: Right, and that’s part of what I’m trying to do with this podcast, to have us realise that we are not really so different and I’m trying to encourage women who are already in some of these countries who have the freedom to go ahead and step out there. The more we do it, the more it helps you.
Are there any other stories that you want to share, just about things that are happening in Turkey and even what is happening with young women in Turkey, anything which you want our listeners to be thinking about as they move forward?
Sibel: Let me tell you one more story, personal story that is funny and also tells a lot. I’m driving since I am 16 because as I told my parents they’re not like other parents thinking that this is man thing, this is woman thing; so my father taught me how to drive at a very young age. I’m driving very well and many females in Turkey especially in the past, in my time, didn’t have this opportunity so when they started driving they were so afraid and hesitant so it affects how they drive. Many of the female drivers at my age were not good drivers. As such, people, sitting in my car, I will not say people, but gentlemen sitting in my car, the first reaction ever having, “Oh my God, you are driving like a man.” I must tell him, “Is this a compliment or an insult? Tell me.” This is what you experience.
Kimberly: That’s funny
Sibel: [Laughs] It is funny isn’t it?
Kimberly: That’s funny. You are exactly right, so all of those freedoms, you really were very fortunate Sibel to be able to have parents who were that supportive. Were there other families that were supportive of their daughters like that or were you very rare?
Sibel: Luckily in big cities, of course there are other parents. In smaller cities, it’s still not that easy to be a female so that’s why as well...
Kimberly: Let me ask you as we wrap up here with this podcast, what do you hope life is like when your daughter is your age, that when she has made it through several of these new kinds of ways in the world, what do you hope life is like for her and her children; both her sons and her daughters? What do you see in the future?
Sibel: What I see or what I hope? [Chuckles]
Kimberly: Let’s go for what we hope; let’s hope we can manifest that.
Sibel: What I hope is to see gender equality and I will say secular country, because in my world this is very important. Secularism is very critical for females especially in Turkey. I hope that my country will continue to be a secular country where females will not have any gender block in whatever they would like to do.
What I see is not that optimistic, I have to say, going forward with recent happenings in my country but my hopes are always positive.
Kimberly: Yes, and I sincerely hope in our lifetime Sibel, that we can see the day where girls do not have to come into a class like they did for you this morning and share with you that their families were disappointed that they were a girl.
Sibel: Oh, yes.
Kimberly: That in fact, one day in all countries when girls are born they will be valued just as much as men and that we will find collectively that we can build a better society, and I think that your messaging is so vitally important Sibel.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have you on the podcast here today. I genuinely hope that this is simply the beginning of our journey together as all of us, so many of us around the world are doing whatever we can, day by day to make a difference.
Sibel: Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity Kim. This is also, as I said, to my heart, if I can do something, a little thing for any female around the world, this is a big thing for me. Thank you very much.
Kimberly: We are in fact a global sisterhood and that’s the final thought that I would like everyone to keep in mind as we sign off from the podcast this time. There is much work to be done for us all to step into the power and make a difference in the world. Thank you everyone, we’ll tune in next time.
I hope you found this edition of The Sisterhood Report thought provoking and inspiring. Please know the role you play in the collective story that is unfolding is powerful. The world needs you, yes you, Y-O-U and everything that you have to offer. Thanks for joining us today, as always, you can find my book, “Your Lion Inside” on Amazon, 800-CEO-READ, and all e-book sites. It’s been truly my pleasure to serve you today my sweet sisters until next time.