This is the third and last in our series of interviews with some of the consultants whom we can draw on to provide quality cultural training for our clients. Unlike the subjects of our first two interviews, Carol Cunningham and Laura Sicola, this consultant has dealt with intercultural relations since childhood.
Lobna “Luby” Ismail likes to say that she was born “connecting cultures,” the name of her training and consulting practice. As the oldest child of the only Muslim and Arab family in a generally conservative community in the South, she spent much of her time mediating between her parents, who had come to this country from Egypt in the 1960s, and the surrounding community in which she went to school. She had to explain concepts like pep rallies and proms to her parents, while also trying to explain to neighbors why her family didn’t celebrate Christmas, didn’t eat pork, and didn’t eat during Ramadan.
Attending high school in Egypt – a place where she had an extended family, everyone looked like her, and the community was overwhelmingly Muslim – was an eye-opening experience that led her to seek to bridge the gap by studying at the School of International Service at American University. But it was a course in intercultural communications she took that introduced her to this field and started her on the road toward her 22-year career. Luby could teach people to survive and thrive in another culture as her family had. “Adapting to a new culture, while maintaining the integrity of one’s own religious and cultural identity, is challenging yet critical.”
Following Luby’s graduate studies in Intercultural Relations, she became an international student advisor. However, following the birth of her first child, she wanted to pursue her two passions, motherhood and intercultural communication. She started her own business, initially training individuals and groups relocating abroad. Business changed after 9/11 when she received a call from the Justice Department; she was needed to train first responders and law enforcement officers on engaging effectively with Arab-Americans and American Muslims. For the past decade, Luby has trained federal and state officials, and emergency responders, law enforcement officials and other community leaders. She also trained soldiers deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Today, Luby equips companies to successfully engage globally and to create and build a more inclusive and diverse workplace.
When we spoke, Luby was headed to Bogota, Colombia, to address an international group of HR managers about inclusion and diversity. Other clients include Johns Hopkins University, Sodexo (a food service giant), and Darden Restaurants (owners of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurant chains, among others) Darden worked with her to open a new chain of restaurants in the Arabian Gulf countries: United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Diversity can be an “incredible competitive advantage” for an organization, she says, as long as diversity doesn’t just mean the addition of bodies with no change in thinking. When a variety of perspectives and experiences are represented “around the table,” and are heard and valued, it can make all the difference to the bottom line.” That’s why cultural, diversity, and inclusiveness training should be part of a good business plan.
See the related profiles: