Dell’s Dagher leads the tech industry with pride in its Arab heritage and commitment to diversity
CHICAGO: Lebanese expat Rola Dagher, who rose from sales on the phone to one of the top female Arab tech executives, said racism and discrimination abounded throughout her professional rise.
Dagher, global channel director for Dell Technologies, told Arab News in an exclusive interview that her company has a strong presence in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab world, which it plans to expand over the next few months. years.
Former Cisco Systems Canada President Dagher said she was driven by pride in her Lebanese heritage and her ability to serve as a positive role model for women in the male-dominated IT space, after overcoming the racism on his way to the top.
“I’m 51 and I still deal with it today, (even though) I don’t…at Dell, because Dell is amazing,” Dagher said.
“I’ve faced it in my career. I was bullied, insulted. So many people said, ‘what is Cisco thinking, to hire her as president of Cisco Canada?’ So many people said, “What do Michael (Dell) and Billy think about putting her in as global CCO? She is the first Arab woman to reach this level. But hey, we proved them wrong, and that’s the best reward there is when people doubt you; you show them exactly… what you bring to the table.
Dagher said being Arab makes her “so proud to give back to the Arab world”, citing progress in the Gulf and praising Saudi Vision 2030.
“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the business – over 30 years and I work in the biggest company in the world – but every time someone talks about the Arab world, my heart skips a beat because it’s is my world, and that’s where I come from, and I want to do good,” she said.
“Unfortunately, I looked at Lebanon and what Lebanon is going through. It breaks my heart because no matter what you do, (there) is so much struggle. But if I look at the Arab world, I see this what (King Salman) is doing in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi Vision 2030, the advancement you see in the Arab world in specific countries – it makes me so proud to give that perspective back.
“In terms of all the sectors and companies and the direction they have in this country, I look at the theme of what they’ve done and it’s amazing,” she added.
Technological advances in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, will continue to grow, Dagher said.
“We expect growth in the region to continue. Over the next five years, we’re talking about three to five years, I’ll tell you that (we) are constantly exploring avenues to help grow our team, our customers, and our partners.
Dagher was born and raised in rural Lebanon, emigrating to Canada in 1989 when she was just 16 to escape the Lebanese civil war. She raised two children as a single mother, but said she learned to be strong as one of six daughters in a family without sons.
“Having daughters back then was not a good thing, and they kept pushing my mum, (telling my parents) that they should have a son. But my parents proved to them that raising six daughters is amazing,” said Dagher, calling herself a “self-made career woman” who worked her way up from her first job in Canada, in retail, to support her family.
She then moved to Bell Canada, where she worked for 15 years as a telemarketer selling long distance services to families. Dagher moved up to account manager, then was hired by Dell in 2011 “knowing nothing” about what the company was doing.
“I came into Dell as an account executive and went… to a director, to a vice president in two years,” Dagher said. “So, Michael Dell said, ‘Who is this fiery Lebanese in Canada making me so much (money)?’ And they basically gave me the top job at the time, and I was the first woman to lead 150 engineers responsible for all of their R&D.
Dagher moved to Dell’s leadership, saying her rise was fueled by her “passion for learning technology.” She acknowledged that she had no formal education, joking that she had “a doctorate in life”.
Cisco contacted her while she was at Dell with a job offer which she added was ironic because she had applied for an account manager position there but was rejected. “They said at the time that I was too aggressive,” Dagher explained.
In June 2017, Dagher was named president of Cisco Systems Canada.
In August 2020, she returned to Dell as Global CCO overseeing business and retail partnerships, marketing and communications.
Dagher’s commitment to female empowerment is evident in her recognition as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women of 2020 by WXN, as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100, and by Women in Communications and Technology as its 2019 Woman of the Year. She was selected as one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants for 2019, was named “Lady of the Cedar” by the Lebanese Embassy and received a 2018 Leadership Award of the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to his role at Dell, Dagher sits on the board of the Cedars Cancer Foundation and advocates for children and young adults with cancer.
She is a co-founder of the BlackNorth Initiative, an active member of the 30% Club and sits on the Circle of Champions of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, which promotes growth through diversity in the workplace.
A champion of mental health causes, Dagher also sits on the Foundation Board of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health and the Advisory Board of Catalyst, where she supports work to accelerate progress for women in the workplace.
She is also a board member of Kids Help Phone.