I do agree that the legal world in general is dominated by men, and this is especially true in the Middle East. Throughout my career, I have worked in a male dominant environment and I have been active on a number of boards where the majority were men. This is regrettably the case in certain professions. Women are not as well represented on the managing boards of law firms – this seems to be the tendency on a regional level as well as an international level. The reasons for this are more relevant to the nature of the profession itself rather than to the normal challenges relating to women in the business field. Being a lawyer is not a simple behind the desk job, it is a job requiring a lot of commitment. The client and the career will take priority over anything else. The legal environment in itself poses many obstacles that can put women in situations where they will have to choose between their career and their family life, and they will have to choose repeatedly throughout their career if they do not have the support of their families or partners.
On the other hand, women in the Middle Eastern region are living in challenging conditions; they are expected to handle most family related responsibilities inside and outside their homes besides their work and it usually puts a lot of pressure on them. Unfortunately, it is a well known fact by now that women will end up working much harder than men to be respected, seen and recognised in the workforce.
As a working woman, I expect to and do face numerous gender based challenges throughout my career. I do not however consider such challenges as threats or even as barriers that will influence my continuity or development.
Women endure several obstacles in the early stages of their career. Young women especially can be dismissed easily due to their lack of experience and lack of self-esteem. This will change overtime and as they get experience. Nonetheless women do generally struggle to prove themselves in a working environment and for that they will have to achieve a lot more than men working in similar positions.
Women are still fighting to obtain equal pay to their male counterparts as well as equal opportunities. This is of extreme relevance to executive roles in certain sectors such as finance, insurance and oil and gas. The glass ceiling is one of the main barriers facing women in our communities. Notwithstanding the above, certain women have been driven to excel due to such challenges and have thus surpassed the challenge through dedication, commitment and professionalism. It is vital for women to focus on the opportunities they have more than the challenges that they usually face. This will allow them to turn unfortunate or difficult circumstances to their advantage and use the experience as a stepping stone to move forward in their careers.
I am very proud of the fact I handle a team mainly comprised of women. I have been committed to create, for these women, an environment that will allow them to excel and reach their maximum potential and avoid situations where they will have to face unprofessional related challenges and obstacles. I have also been working aggressively to help my female colleagues and team members raise their profiles and push their boundaries by reinforcing their self-esteem and professional experience. I invest in the education of the women around me at work in a way to allow them to develop their knowledge. Through the support of BSA, I have been exposed to numerous opportunities of training young students who are looking to start a career in the legal field. Personally, I value and admire a workplace environment that enables women to operate and excel in a positive and energetic manner – supported by the overall culture and vision of employment. There is an inclination in Middle Eastern women to be both supportive team players and grow successfully, a combination of traits that you rarely encounter in their male counterparts.
Numbers do prove it. If you consider the different elements relating to the long term employment of mothers, you will easily see the financial benefits it brings to any institution, especially with respect to the recruitment costs, part time assignments and work retention, not to mention growth-oriented strategic thinking that develops in long term employees. From a personal perspective, mothers display self-motivated character traits that allow them to be more efficient and productive. I do take this opportunity to refer to the great role certain organisations and companies are taking to support the employment of mothers and re-launching their careers, for example “mums@work”.
There is still a long way to achieve equality for women in the MENA region. Positions will differ slightly between different countries on that level. In general, women in this region face all types of discrimination, lack of opportunities and lack of proper education. These problems can be traced back to the traditional norms which hinder women from pursuing their own path without any influence from their communities and close circle of family and friends.
Laws relating to women’ rights have and are still mostly the same for the past three decades. In some countries in the MENA region, parents do not send their girls to schools after a certain age while they invest fully in the education of their boys. Girls are still getting married at a very young age without their consent or approval. Labor laws in most of the countries in the region do not support working mothers and do not provide any minimal protection for woman against discrimination and abuse in the work place. Even laws relating to personal affairs are extremely biased in favour of men and mostly prejudice the women’s position in family related disputes. The situation across the region with respect to women’s rights is still very primitive, except for the UAE which pioneered a lot of legal changes that reinforced the position and protection of working women.
I do believe however that things are changing fast now and that the level of awareness about women’s capabilities is expanding across the board. The challenges that are being faced currently by women in the MENA region will reinforce their position in their communities and will allow us to hopefully see this reflecting in the enactment of new laws.
Success is always the result of hard work. It is also the result of team work. I have been lucky to have the support of a great family, partners and colleagues. I do tend to take this opportunity to encourage women to focus on their work and not to be demotivated. They need to trust their capabilities and be mindful of the little opportunities they have and to take the maximum advantage of them.
The UAE is a very positive country and it offers endless opportunities. I can say it is among the best destinations today for women entrepreneurs – bureaucracy is very limited and the level of evolution of the government system is exceptional. The UAE also came a long way in updating their legal framework to enhance the position of the companies being set up in the UAE to allow them to compete equally with any company on an international scale.
I call on the Executive-Women Community to join their forces and support each other. Put aside your differences and work together to create a better working environment for the young women to come.
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