Thriving Women Behind The Camera

By Yasmin Al Heialy

Lara Habib, Senior Presenter at Al Arabiya News Channel, and Sahar El Mizari, Senior News Anchor at Dubai TV, share their path to success, give their advice, and talk innovation.

Taking the media career to the next level

LH: While at CNBC, I had only presented from the comfort of a studio but in Kuwait, I was a reporter, which meant being on the field following up consistently on major news to break it first. Luckily, I succeeded several times. I remember my first day at work, which was the day a new head of the Kuwait Stock Exchange was announced. As luck would have it, I was sitting with a friend who had his details and thanks to that, I facilitated the first live interview with the new head of the Kuwait Stock Exchange within minutes of his appointment.

But beyond the reporter aspects, there was the fact that I was presenting and producing a 30-minute program from the field, while my team was in Dubai. During those 26 episodes, I learned everything there was to know about television, from cameras to audio to framing and editing and the list goes on.

SEM: I took my career path to the next level by working hard and concentrating on the details, which makes a big difference in my opinion. Then, believing in my capabilities and staying updated in terms of look and content.

The single most important decision for success

LH: I pushed myself to accept new challenges at work beyond my comfort zone, for example moderating high profile debates on topics I may not be an expert at. The most recent example being robotics and technological advancements in the luxury sector!

SEM: I allowed my professional and personal life to work side by side in my growth. In my opinion, success isn’t related solely to our working life but also to all other components in life. I believe in the power of a good strong family relationship and its impact on everything else. Family is a key factor, in my eyes, to building the base in our lives in order to develop an external successful professional aspect.

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Lara Habib, Senior Presenter at Al Arabiya News Channel

In her mid-twenties, Lara chose to leave Lebanon for Dubai, and with that, her career as a research analyst at BLOMINVEST bank. She spent the last three years in Lebanon in that field, and had received an MBA degree. She never imagined that she would end up in media. When Lara arrived, the intrigue of a new field lured her and she took on a new position as a business news writer at CNBC and shortly after, was given a chance to present business news. Two years in, Al-Arabiya News Channel approached her, having recently launched their own business shows to great success. During her first couple of years with them, she would shuffle between Kuwait, where she reported from and the studio in Dubai to present the business news bulletins. In 2008, she moved to Dubai to work full-time.

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Sahar El Mizari, Senior News Anchor at Dubai TV

With more than a decade in media, Sahar describes her career path as a long journey filled with memorable adventures and incidents. She began behind the scenes, out of the spotlight, where she was preparing to be the presenter she always wanted to be. Learning about different aspects of media all while working in it was vital to her understanding of how this field works, which as a presenter is important.

“You can’t be in front of the camera if you don’t know everything happening behind it,” she says. A few years in, she made the transition to becoming a presenter, first through morning shows and news briefs, producing different segments to then eventually becoming the senior news presenter she is today. “This gradual slope was challenging but enjoyable and I hope there will more to come in the coming years,” Sahar explains.

The time challenge

LH: Regardless of my shift, my day, as any presenter, begins before I head into the office. For us, business presenters, if there is a market open, we are on some level connected to the news. Half an hour on air does not mean half an hour of work. The truth is, we cover many topics, spanning from currencies to commodities to local and international stock markets, so a constant and updated understanding of all these is essential. Sometimes I’ll be in the actual office for five hours, and other time, it’ll be easily twelve, especially if I am working on a special report. I manage my time thanks to technology, coffee and above everything else, an amazing team at home and in the office.

SEM: On a daily basis, I work nine to ten hours. I have to admit that it’s really hard especially when you are a wife and working mother but the magic recipe is to wake up early and to set your priorities.

Biggest lessons learnt at work

ADAPTING

LH: No matter how successful you become, always know that time changes quickly in media, and you must adapt and learn. You must also realize that television and journalism remain a group effort, you can’t sustain your success if you don’t acknowledge the work of the team beside you.

DEVOTION

SEM: You should never take life, work, or people for granted. No matter your post or place on the hierarchy chain, you can be easily replaced if you are not devoting yourself enough to your career.

10 years from now…

LH: It’s hard enough predicting what’ll happen next year, let alone in 10 years.

I do know that we have a chance to interview very interesting and successful business people in our job, and they are no doubt inspiring. I see myself, one day in the next 9 to 10 years, when the right opportunity comes, as an entrepreneur, but, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d leave media.

SEM: We’re living in a changing environment and an uncertain period of time in our region due to wars and clashes, which might affect our lives, future and destiny. I do believe in the power of media, it’s a weapon that if used well, will help us, especially in the Middle East – to pass this phase safely in order to have a better future. I see myself in 10 years belonging to this medium that is media, which will carry on its shoulder the responsibility of awareness that will impact the social changes that will follow.

Lara’s advice for the women of media

– No matter how successful you become, keep your feet on the ground. You should realize that television is your work and not your life so draw a clear line between the two.

– Looks do matter as a TV personality, you need to dress up in accordance to what you’re representing and this will add to your credibility. For instance, you can’t cover wars wearing high heels. However, looks are far from being the major factor that will sustain your career.

With Christine Lagarde head of the IMF

Bringing innovation in

LH: Initially, I brought innovation to the company as I was lucky to be one of the few who pioneered the coverage of stock markets in the Arab World. We were a handful of business and media people who wanted to deliver stock news with the standards and creativity present in the international channels. It was an ongoing learning process and over a decade later, we are still innovating and maintaining our leading position.

SEM: Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and this is what I believe in to make a difference in any field or industry. With that in mind, I work hard on my higher education and on reading different books about different subjects, which open doors for me in order to come up with new ideas and enable us to be more innovative.

Men and Women in it together 

SEM: Television is a small world that reflects the actual real world, which is built on men and women’s engagement. I don’t believe that women only or men only are the face of TV. I would say that it depends on the nature and the content of the show, and that it depends on the character of the presenter. It’s the same situation in televisions or news rooms, it can’t be women or men, rather they should be together, each doing their job even on air; it depends on the show, the content, the character of the presenter himself or herself.

Stereotyping in Media

LH: I recently came across Women’s Media Center annual report which has statistics on women in media in the United States. It showed that men dominate around 70% of the times of evening news, they report 65% of political stories, and 90% of sports coverage. The sad truth that the gender gap is still in Media. This of course doesn’t shadow the enormous success that women achieved in the news specially the ones that were bold enough to reject this stereotype.

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Sahar’s advice for the women of media

– Treat others the way you want to be treated.

– Concentrate on the nature of the job itself, not only the look of it.

Empowering women

SEM: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai, said that the UAE is keen to empower women by encouraging them to assume leadership positions. This happens through many initiatives, for example by forming the gender balance council, where the government showed keenness to increase the roles of young Emirati women for the nation’s progress. This is the strategy of Dubai TV as well, and the Dubai channel network in general. As a port of this country, it supports women and ensures that they are given leading roles in the development of the country.

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