For most of the month, I have, as editor of Arabian Business sister title CEO Middle East magazine, been steering the team through the annual maze of selecting 50 women in the Arab world who are setting the standards for business excellence and success in the region.
It is published each March to coincide with International Women’s Day, the global celebration of and advocacy for the contribution of women in the modern world – in whatever context they choose to make it.
Naturally, as a business publication, we focused on the world of work, whether it is executives that left a major company to found their own business, pioneers building businesses while striving to empower other women, thought leaders spreading awareness for the likes of blockchain technology or cancer research, or accomplished professionals in fields such as journalism and the judiciary.
Then, of course, is the new generation of superstar bloggers and social media sensations who have since gone on to add “CEO” to their business cards.
Looking at the list, there is clearly no one way to achieve success; there is no single prescription for women to unlock the doors to the upper echelons of the corporate world. Indeed, it could be argued that women in the region are at the forefront of creating entirely new paths to achievement, making new moulds to outline the features of the enterprising female professional.
There probably aren’t, for instance, too many business schools who would plot a route that looked like that of pan-regional translation company Tarjama, which services contracts from governments, tech companies and multinationals with its network of women working from home – usually as they juggle family responsibilities.
That, though, is the story of Nour Al Hassan, a woman born and raised in the region who, while ignoring any glass ceilings blocking her route to the “C” suite, managed to build a business that intuitively understood the domestic context of the majority women in countries such as Saudi Arabia and her native Jordan. In perhaps a uniquely local success story, she provided an outlet for vast reserves of untapped talent that didn’t require a paradigm social shift.
Which brings us rather neatly to the women featured in this issue of Arabian Business, which features a selection of its own pioneering women – Nour Al Hassan among them. It includes a couple of notable firsts: Amna Al Owais, our cover star, is the first female chief executive of the DIFC Courts, which itself has a staff that is 80 percent women, while Hessa Al Mezrou is the first female general manager of a hotel in Saudi Arabia.
Elsewhere, there is the duo behind Akyasi, an app which removes the arm-straining burden of a major shopping expedition, and some go-getting tips from one of Dubai’s most irrepressible PR and communications entrepreneurs.
During the discussions of who to include and who to leave out, as well as the general comparative nature of any conversation between humans from both sides of the gender divide, we were reminded of that episode of Friends from Season Three – now on Netflix, of course.
Anthropologist Ross and fashion assistant Rachel argue about him snoring through a 45-minute lecture on “strappy back dresses” that she was attending to advance her career. It prompted, deliberately and provocatively, the argument as to whether the business of fashion is more or less important than the business of archiving history.
It’s with more than a little relief that, looking at the talent on display in both magazines, even the gender divides of 1990s New York seem horribly outdated.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.