On the 21st and 22nd November the 3rd Arab Women In Business and Leadership Conference was held at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Dubai. After two successful editions in 2015 and 2014 that featured more than 400 attendees with 60 speakers representing a number of industries and 20 countries, the third edition was much awaited.
One of the main focuses of the Summit was the professional empowerment of women in the region, specifically within the UAE. Many of the speakers discussed the UAE’s goal to raise the country’s ranking for gender equality to the top 25 in the world by 2021.
The attendees had the opportunity to hear about this from the point of view of different industries, thanks to the diversity of the 32 speakers. Lawyers, CEOs, and Government Representatives were there to provide the attendees with relevant information on the topics discussed, as well as to answer all questions during the Q&A sessions.
Other topics that were extensively covered during the two-day Summit included the economic empowerment of women through education, as well as the region’s customs and laws and ways in which women can promote and support each other within this context.
Jumanah Anter, Senior Vice President of Global Communications for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa discussed gender-blind and other assumptions that are constantly being revealed by many hiring professionals. During her speech Ms. Anter tried to make sure that at least those women in the auditorium will in the future “take time to listen to other women” in order to not to fall under the burden of first impressions while climbing the ladder of hierarchy in the workplace.
One more key point about building a successful career in the industry was made by Sara M. Al Shorouqi, Executive Director of Group Communications for Emirates Defence Industries. Discussing the importance of emotional self-awareness, Ms. Al Shorouqi pointed out at the fact that a sense of fulfilment after the completion of tasks in the working environment does not always match the female leaders’ expectations of this so-called “end-state”. She reminded attendees of the conference about preciousness of time and effort in the workplace, “Fully investing ourselves, our time and energy in the next venture we often do not fully realize the actual reason, the emotional state we are trying to reach by performing those tasks”.
The speaker called her female colleagues to, first, estimate their expectations of projects’ outcomes and, second, to account on the strategies accordingly to make sure the two result in a successful outcome. A wake-up call for many of those in the auditorium, Sara M Al. Shorouqi’s speech prompted some professionals to reconsider their expectations about the Summit, while leaving other businesswomen with bigger questions about career prospects and life goals.
Following up on the topic of women empowerment, Mariam Al Afridi, Director of Government Communications for the Dubai Department of Economic Development, highlighted that men like to network in-person more often than women, who prefer connecting online. Given this, the female participants made the most out of the networking sessions, a key feature of the summit, by sharing their contact details and discussing future cooperation opportunities.
Apart from sharing inspiring life stories with the attendants, speakers also conducted panel discussions on topics intrinsically tied to the broader conversation about female empowerment today. In a panel discussion titled ‘Legal Framework to Develop and Support Women’s Economic Empowerment’, various female leaders in the industry discussed the social, cultural, political and educational aspects of women empowerment. Diana Hamade (Attorney at Law and Legal Consultants, UAE courts and DIFC Courts) commented that “Federal law regulates family law. As a woman you need to be obedient – if you aren’t, you’re punished by being kept impoverished. This is decided by the male in the relationship i.e. father/brother/husband. A second challenge related to the personal status quo is that women aren’t allowed to leave their house without a good reason”. Emphasis was put on the need for women to believe in themselves, build their careers and find support groups to help them in their journey.
Another central aspect of this conference was the significance associated with mentorship. Speakers stressed the need for budding entrepreneurs to find mentors to advise them in their careers. To that end, they also said that mentorship is all about having a connection- it’s about relationship. One can’t just go up to a person and ask them to be their mentor. Furthermore, a mentor has to bring you back to reality but that doesn’t translate into them putting you down. At the end of the day, it’s a two-way process; mentors benefit from the interaction as well.
This year’s Arab Women in Leadership and Business Summit video is still in the making, but all interested can see the last year’s edition:
About the Authors
Hafsa Ahmed is a first-year student at New York University Abu Dhabi. With a new-found enthusiasm for the spirit of experimentation, she’s applying it to everything from her courses at school to various forms of writing and photography, discovering new passions along the way. In her downtime, she blogs and goes through her extensive playlist of TED talks.
Cristina is a second-year student from Moldova majoring in Social Research & Public Policy and concentrating in Arabic and Economics. While interning for a social innovation hub run by the United Nations Development Programme, she discovered a passion for social innovation.