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Male ally, Youssef Chaker

Youssef Chaker, CEO of Bear and Giraffe

Youssef is a proud male ally for gender equality in and outside of the workplace.  Prowess Project is featuring him this week because we are all in it together to make change.  Want more? See Youssef and three other male allies at our “Men Tell All: Gender Equality in the Workplace” panel on June 5th.

Background– What have you done, where are you from, what do you want us to know about your past?

My family is from Lebanon.  When I came to the U.S. to go to college I had the opportunity to choose between Virginia and California because that’s where my relatives were living. I decided on Virginia to be with my aunt who is very independent and had no children at home.

I grew up with a lot of powerful women, they were definitely the “culture center” and the heart of the community.  Women raise the kids, develop what our community looks like – they are the bedrock of society. My mother was a confident working mom, raised by my amazing Grandmother.  My Grandmother went to school then got married right after and began her family. She raised six children and always was the center of our family.

Women were the top students in all my classes – it didn’t matter the subject- it wasn’t just languages or arts.  I grew up seeing that all people can do whatever they want to do, it made it obvious to me what the world should be like.  

I attended a community college while getting familiar with the culture and country, with my sights on UVA. It’s a top University and that’s all I knew. I never visited and didn’t know much about Thomas Jefferson, but I knew it was the place for me- the right spot, the right fit – and from that moment on, I have excelled at going after what I want. People always ask, “How did you figure it all out?”  Well, I just did. With no access to advisors, I just figured out what I needed to do, got accepted into the school and moved forward.

I have learned that people are quick to tell you that “you can’t”.  I don’t ask many people’s opinions and instead, just figure things out.  Eventually, you’ll get it down and figure it out on your own. I was an average student in my classes and was often told “no” for new opportunities and I never listened – and I believe that has made the difference.  I believe in stepping up to the challenge and figuring it out for yourself. If someone else has done it, then you can do it, too.

As a male, what does women empowerment mean to you?

Removing roadblocks that exist for women just because of their gender.

Give women the opportunity to do what they want because that should not be dictated by someone else.  All women deserve to be here at the table and be heard.

People with different backgrounds have different needs, we tend to form what we do to fit us. I believe we should invite people in and allow people to be flexible and don’t stress about the rest.  Is it ok to cry? Yes. you don’t have to fit a mold.

How are you helping to achieve that at your company AND day-to-day?

At Bear & Giraffe, I want to take in people who have a “yes I can” attitude and I want to support them by opening doors to opportunities.

As a male who hires many women, and often times moms wanting to reenter the workforce, what are some pieces of advice you have for them?

Put attitude aside and relax, it will all be ok.  Life and work are not so serious, we complicate things a lot. Most of us are not aren’t surgeons or have dying patients, everything is going to be ok.  Be patient with yourself, and stop putting so much pressure on yourself. As long as you work on yourself and invest in your skills, it will click and be fine.

Also, know how to work quickly, learn how to be ready and move quickly. Speak up, find a way to step out of it, and notice the people who want to help you.  Ask questions and learn- if people are bothered by you asking questions you aren’t in the right place.

What do you wish that your coworkers knew about your work style?

I work really fast, I have mastered the tools that I use from day to day.

What’s your all-time favorite productivity hack (this can be in personal or professional life)?

When in doubt just Google it, there is a short cut for everything out there.  

Also, if you do something three times then automate it – find the shortcut.

Fast forward 30 years, what does the future of work look like?

That’s a good question.

  • Probably even more desk jobs and hopefully they will be remote so, therefore, you own your own day and environment.
  • More time to contribute to your life and better work-life balance.
  • The opportunity for people who have been left out, such as women, individuals with disabilities, etc.  With more remote, work from home opportunities the obstacle of traveling to and accessibility in the workplace will be removed.
  • Unfortunately, I foresee people developing fewer interpersonal skills though – with more remote jobs people won’t have contact with people who aren’t like them
  • I hope we have a better basic minimum income and will see a decrease in the disproportionate wealth
  • People who can’t afford the tech will have fewer opportunities
  • More people working a fractional amount of time with more time to focus on family and hobbies

Parting words

I want my legacy to have an impact on the world -my focus is on equality between men and women.   I want to help create a powerful change in equality.

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