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Paving the Future Path of Arab Women

Being a senior professional in one of the leading regional law firms, I have worked and still working in a male dominant environment. I have been surrounded by men at all stages of my career which is extremely normal and expected in the Middle East.

When I was asked to talk about the main challenges facing women in general in their careers, investments and business ventures, I was emotionally triggered as this is a topic that I was concerned with for a long time; at school, university and now in my daily working life.

In order not to repeat the same speech that is always being said in response to this type of query, though it is still relevant and accurate, I wanted to focus more on the main practical issues that women deal with nowadays, which are as much cultural as legal.

I believe it is very vital for women to focus on the opportunities they have more than the challenges that they usually face. Arab women have always been victimized and this affected the way they perceive themselves in the business environment. Most of the time and in our regional community, we are faced by women who suffer from lack of self esteem or excessive self esteem. Both examples are a direct result of the way women are being raised, treated and educated.

Middle Eastern societies are based a lot on competition and comparison. Women need to get themselves out of this circle and focus more on their progress and objectives.

Employment laws in the Middle East, for example, do not support in any way working mothers. This forces most women to make a difficult choice: whether they will invest in their careers or in building their families. Even though a number of women form a considerable part of the local workforce, they are always found handling low range administrative positions. We rarely see women going out of their way for a promotion as they are afraid that they will not be able to cope with the pressure of maintaining a family and a career.

Women still living in challenging conditions not only regionally but also internationally. Employers are afraid to support the career progress of their female employees. The risk of them following their partners and sacrificing their careers to support their families is very high: therefore it is easier and safer to invest in promoting men as they can be relied on for a long time.

Glass ceiling is one of the main barriers facing women in our communities. If we take a snapshot at the largest regional and local companies, you will not see women in senior executive roles or represented on the boards and executive committees. Few exceptions are spotted but most of these exceptions are for women who secured their seats by holding equity shares or other controlling positions. This is not to discount the power of these women who are effectively working much harder than their counterparts to prove that they deserve their positions.

If we look at the matter from a practical perspective, especially when it comes to certain industries, women are almost absent from the main sectors controlling the economy. Most of the businesses being established by women relate to services. This is another serious challenge as women struggle to find strategic partners or to obtain funding from private investors and financial institutions.

For a long time now, I have been part of different women business groups. Most of these groups, with all respect and appreciation to their importance and positive roles, still work on customary and basic agendas. They gather every month to chat over coffee or a drink and maybe arrange a seminar about promotional topics. This has to be elevated to a much more meaningful level.

I know for a fact that women’s force will not have its full effect unless they support each other from a business perspective by creating work opportunities, business leads and by securing financial support to each other.

Women should be encouraged at this stage to know the force of building a sustainable working environment for the coming young women and this will not be achieved unless those young women are offered the necessary support in their educational choices and when launching their careers.

In the middle of the chaotic political and social situation in most of Middle Eastern countries and while the Arab woman is still struggling to raise her family, all I can do is pass on the lessons I have learned so far during my career to the young Arab woman fighting her way for a better future:
  • Trust your capabilities: Trust yourself, speak out loud otherwise you will not be heard.
  • Focus on your objective: Do not be de-motivated by negative comments. You will be surrounded by people giving you destructive comments and challenging your capabilities and knowledge. You will make mistakes and you will take wrong choices but this is the only way to learn.
  • Be in control of your choices: Do not consider yourself a victim. Always believe that you have the power of choosing your destiny. All you need is the courage to take the first step.
  • Be mindful of the opportunities you have (however little), and take maximum advantage of them.
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Published: November2014
Publication: Global Thinkers Forum
Title: Paving the future path of Arab women
Practice: Corporate and M&A
Authors: Rima Mrad
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