Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Female Visionaries in the Workforce


– The Future Is Female is a
program that aims to increase women’s presence in the
public sphere and to start the conversation about
women’s place in society. This year, our theme has
been focusing on women’s participation through the labor force. In Qatar, women hold the
majority of bachelor degrees and yet we do not see that
translating into the workplace. We aim to address this issue in two ways. By giving the women the skills and opportunity to get their work out. We have hosted workshops in art, writing, computer science, and negotiations in which participants were
able to learn new skills and work on creating
paintings, apps, and articles. Furthermore, we have
an exhibition coming up in collaboration with
the Qatar Arts Center on April 5th called the Female Gaze which aims to highlight women’s arts. Qatar does not lack in successful women. The women you will see on the
panel today will show you that and they are just a fraction
of the amazing women who are working in each field. What Qatar does lack
in is a venue for women to discuss the barriers they face. And more importantly,
people who acknowledge the existence of such barriers. That’s why we’re here today. We’re here today, yes, Qatar
is full of successful women, but that doesn’t mean
they didn’t have to face barriers to get to where they are. Yes, Qatar is full of hardworking women but that doesn’t mean we get equal pay. Yes, we have women in the public sphere but they’re only welcome
there if they don’t transgress in the way they look and in what they say. Otherwise they will
get publicly crucified. Finally, I would like to
take a moment to mention all the women this
program couldn’t yet help. The domestic workers
in most houses in Qatar who have to face distance
from their families, low pay, and, on occasions, abuse. When I say the future
is female I do not mean that it belongs to women like myself who had the opportunity
to get their voices out. I also mean that the women the economy has rendered invisible. Laudable efforts have been
made in order to progress domestic workers’ right
but we must not forget it’s our personal duty to
ensure they are not robbed of these rights and that they
are treated with respect. I hope this conference will
be an opportunity for us to discuss these issues and
how we can move forward. To begin our conference,
I would like to invite the dean of Georgetown
University, Dr. Ahmed Dila to present the opening remarks. (applause) – Thank you so much. I love it, it’s beautiful,
excellent, it is. Distinguished guests,
students, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome
you all to Georgetown and thank you for joining
us tonight for this Paniri Conference organized
by the Future Is Female. The Future Is Female is
a club which was founded by our student, Asma
Jihani, who won the social adventure challenge held
by the Resolution Project of the Youth Assembly in 2017. As part of this she received a fellowship from the Resolution Project
which provides support for socially responsible young
leaders and entrepreneurs. This student of course has other students here at Georgetown who are working with her on this activity. This student club exemplifies
many of the values we hold as an institution,
serving the community with skills, workshops,
and providing a platform for women to share their work and encourage and inspire one another. The students started this
program because they saw a disparity between
women’s education levels and their participation in
the labor force of Qatar. They recognized that many
women earned advanced degrees but were not active in the
workplace and public sphere. They wished to start a
conversation on women’s rights and increase female
participation in the labor force by providing mentorship,
workshops, and networking opportunities that encourage and ease the transition into the workplace. Asma and her friends
have also been supported in their efforts by
workshop leaders and mentors like Dr. Amal Malki, the founding dean of the College of Humanities
and Social Sciences at HBK. This demonstrates how
initiatives like this and events such as the one today are truly collaborative community efforts. At Georgetown, women comprise the majority of our student body and
we are proud of that. So we witness their drive, intelligence, and ambition every day in
the classroom and beyond. Our students are diligent
academics, dynamic leaders, compassionate volunteers, and
full citizens of the world. We are pleased to host events such as this which bring together
successful female visionaries who are making an impact in their fields to share their experiences. The women here today are
role models for the next generation, demonstrating
what can be achieved through the pursuit of excellence
and by taking advantage of the many opportunities
available to them. Our panelists for today, Machaille Naimi, Nourah Suleiman, Fatma Sehlawi, and Azza Salah. And Dr. Amal Malki, our… An example of the achievements
that we were talking about and that we were discussing tonight. I would like to thank you
all for joining us today and supporting the student initiative. The panelists will be properly introduced by one of our students, Retica
Ramish, in a few moments. But in conclusion what I would like to say is that we are proud of this work and we’re proud of the
work that our students are doing on this front. And I would like to
quickly comment that, yes, the future is female and male, maybe, but so is the present
and the past, welcome. (applause) – Thank you Dean Dala. Our next speaker is Dr. Amal Malki. She is the founding dean of
the College of Humanities and Social Science at
BKU which encompasses the masters of arts in women’s
society in development, the first of it’s kind in the region. She has also been the first
supporter of this initiative and her mentorship has been invaluable. Please join me in
welcoming Dr. Amal Malki. (applause) – Good evening. It’s wonderful to be here and
see these exceptional women bravely bringing us together underneath the Future Is Female initiative. And as long as they’re saying
it, I’m happy to believe it. I’ve been lucky to mentor their initiative and work with Asma and her colleagues and if there’s one thing they exemplify it is the feminist
consciousness that we need to move forward in
addressing women’s issues is Qatar and elsewhere. Let me begin by saying
that employment is a means of actualizing a woman’s potential. And for a woman to strives
to excel and compete with both men and women
and contribute to national economies and also build
their own livelihoods, words like aspiration,
capability, and choice are not abstractions to be admired. They are tools of living to be implemented each day for any successful woman. Especially those who have attempted to shatter the glass ceiling. But are women really
important to the workforce? Do we need women leaders? Women are important in any organization, as gender diversity leads
directly to an organization’s greater productivity or profitability. In 2008, for example,
researchers from Maryland and Columbia University
were able to provide the first evidence,
2008, the first evidence that having women at
senior management level is on average good for a
business and indisputably advantageous for specific
kinds of businesses. The researchers noted that a glass ceiling has traditionally hampered American women from entering the senior
management of American business. According to the Exelcom
database of standard and poor, less than 500 of the largest
1,500 US firms in 2006 had promoted even one woman
to their senior management. Only 30 had a female CEO. Prominent female CEOs
in America are so rare that they count as minor celebrities. And after their stint in the boardroom often run for elective offices. Also only 3% of Fortune 500
CEOs in America were women in 2006 with little increase
noted by the end of 2011. So in other words, put a woman
on your senior management team and your business will do better. What about making a woman of
the CEO of your organization? They found that for
companies with women CEOs the positive correlation
curiously did not hold. They have no definite
explanation for this finding, but they guess that there
may be something special about the CEO position, the
need to be tough and inflexible, bad cop, perhaps, that neutralizes
whatever overall benefit a woman may bring to that position. Breaking their data down
further, they found that female managers benefit a company
most when the company when puts a strong emphasis
on knowledge and innovation and fosters a democratic
and participatory, rather than autocratic,
culture of decision making. These findings mesh well with the research on group intelligence. On average, women have higher
group intelligence than men and are better able to lead
teams by encouraging respect, listening, and participations,
ingredients that bring out the best in team members
when weighing information in order to make decisions. When a company’s bottom line
requires an open decision making process or environment,
a democratic give and take, adding women with high group intelligence yields positive outcomes. So let’s move on. There are several factors that contribute to women achievement and
empowerment worldwide. Mobility and freedom is one of the biggest and the most important
factors, but another one that resonates with empowering
young women, leaders, in the so-called Arab
world, or Arab countries, is the importance of role models. Role models were founded
to inspire new generations of females to strive for
achievement and empowerment. But not any role model. Women can more easily enter
a culture of achievement when from their youngest memories as girls such a culture is already
visible for them to enter. I’ve classified through my research two kinds of role models. Individualized role models
and strategic role models. Individualized role models are
women who may inspire girls without providing models
that are easy for others to emulate, think of Angelina Jolie. Their achievement may be
leveraged through wealth, social position, inheritance,
or lucky circumstances that ordinary girls cannot reproduce. Strategic role models on the other hand are women of achievement
whose success is reproducible through instruction and training like the young ladies we have today. Strategic role models make the roots of their success visible and reproducible for the next generation of women. Now I would like to zoom further and talk about our context here in Qatar. As more Qatari women are
entering the job market the demographics of the
workforce in Qatar are shifting. The shift assumes that the
numbers of Qatari women are increasing and will
continue to increase. It stands at 36.7 in 2017. Women participation in
the Qatari workforce in the past decade or so has
opened up many discussions about women’s capabilities and has lead to negotiating traditional gender roles as well as the cultural
perceptions of women working roles, especially in decision making positions. Assuming leadership roles
are the most controversial as it gives women the
decision making power over matters pertaining to the
whole society, men and women, which makes her powerful. Statistics show that
over the past 10 years the numbers of economically
active Qatari women assuming leadership positions
ranged between two and 4%. And in 2009 only 3% of economically active Qatari women had leadership posts. A glass ceiling exists,
whether we like it or not, for Qatari women as they
still find it difficult to reach leadership
positions and when they do they become easy targets
for sexist criticism. For example, if patriarchal
discourse is generated and reproduced and recirculated on media, traditional media, social media, when one example of a woman leader fails to meet the society’s expectation
she becomes a reference to the failure of all
leading women in general. So let’s talk about the glass ceilings that exist in our case. Some are institutional,
some are cultural biases and blind spots, and
some are self imposed. And we have to admit it. And all lead to gender
discrimination and inequality. Working women, like women
everywhere, have been confronted with challenges and been
forced to make choices that their predecessors did not. Women whose minds are set on
building careers of their own have chosen to postpone marriage plans, causing the marriage age in
Qatar to subtly increase. I think I’m the best example here. Adding to this dynamic,
working mothers are not only choosing to have fewer
children but also facing the challenge of
balancing work and family. Again, fits perfectly. Meanwhile, the increase in the
divorce rate in Qatar society over the past two decades
has also been blamed on the number of women in
employment and other social phenomena that has become
evident as a reaction of the growing number of women joining the segregtated workplaces,
as the increased number of women opting to wear the niqab, the full-face veil, as a
culturally acceptable form of achieving freedom and
mobility in a public environment and whilst working alongside men. So they conform to a
culturally acceptable form of attire but at the same time
have the mobility to move. This effortless but
still dramatic increase in the number of women in the workplace implies that the workplace
has been modified, right, to embrace the growing
number of working women and they are equal to men in terms of opportunity and compensation. However, that’s not true. Although in principle all
positions are open to women, cultural considerations
continue to determine the roles deemed acceptable
and available to women. Women are still restricted in
terms of choices and mobility. Women are also still
under social, cultural, and even legal restrictions
that men do not experience such as guardianship
and travel restrictions. For example, a woman under the age of 25 cannot travel without a
guardian’s permission, despite the fact that a woman at that age most probably is a graduate
maybe with a master’s degree and holding a full-time position. In terms of pay and compensation,
according to Qatar labor law part nine article 93,
women should be paid equally for performing the same job as a man. However in reality women
do not get paid equally and their benefits do not
compare to those of men. Between spouses, for
example, the man obtains marriage related
allowances while the woman needs to prove her
eligibility to claim the same. And as if to add insult to injury, married, divorced, and widowed women get even further reduced benefits. All the statistics show
that men are earning more than women for performing the same job. And while this is a global
phenomenon, of course, not unique to Qatar, it should
not be happening anywhere. Moreover, of all these issues women face, the one that most needs
to be urgently addressed is that of sexual
harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately sexual
harassment is a social trouble that is barely talked about or tackled in formal or informal
public conversations. Far too many incidents
of all different forms of sexual harassment go
unreported, resulting in women choosing to leave their jobs
because of their justifiable fear of having to take the blame. Because we are a culture
that blames the victim. As so often is the case
in patriarchal societies, women are expected to pay the
price for men’s misconduct. The lack of sexual harassment laws mirrors the lack of laws in
general to protect women from different forms of abuse. For example, domestic violence has no law. There’s a desperate
need, first and foremost, to challenge the prevailing
perception of women in general and specifically working women. This needs to go hand in hand
with coordinated campaign or campaigns to promote
strategic role models. Strategic role models, we’re
done with cosmetic role models. Using both traditional and new media. A special focus needs to
target the new generation of modern Qatari women who
don’t necessarily look the same. Qatari women who are keen
on competing with both men and women in education
and in the job market to become an integral part of
the building of our nation. Women’s associations
need to be established and the voices calling for
new legal and practical frameworks to give women real equality need to be embraced and accepted. The government and its official platforms need to take responsibility
for supporting working women through educating and
reshaping society’s perceptions of women’s roles and
developing gender sensitive legislation that is fair to
women and that protects them in both the public and
the private sectors. There is a lot to be
done but we are becoming a critical mass of women whose
cause is gender equality. So change is possible. I would like to conclude and
say that the young Qatari woman and the women of Qatar are the future. So please lead the way
for all of us, thank you. (applause) – Thank you, Dr. Amal. Now for the panel, please
welcome Ret Karramesh, junior at GUQ and member of
the Future Is Female team. (applause) – Good evening everyone and thank you so much for joining us here today. Today we have a group of young, diverse, and accomplished women who have each made notable contributions to
their respective fields. First we have Machaille Al Naimi. Machaille is the president
of community development at Qatar Foundation and has a rich career in business and law. She successfully represented
Qatar at multiple institutions all around the world including the UN and the World Bank. Please join me in welcoming
Machaille to the stage. (applause) Fatma Al Sehlawi is a founder
of Atlas Bookstore in Qatar and is a pioneer in the field of architecture and public design. She has worked as a master
planner and architect at various projects and institutions including Qatar museums. We are so honored to have
you here with us today. Please join us onstage. (applause) Nourah Al Souleiman is
one of the leading experts on human rights in the gulf. She’s of course administrator
at IMF in Kuwait and is the student outreach
coordinator of Ensaniyaat, a project that aims at spreading
knowledge about migrant and domestic workers in the
gulf to social awareness. We are so grateful that Nourah
agreed to fly in from Kuwait to join us here today,
thank you so much Nourah. (applause) Azza Salah is the founder
and CEO of Skylimbers, Talent Training and Production. She’s also the head of
student teaching funding and performance for academics
at Qatar University. Azza has also written a bestselling book about entrepreneurship and leadership. With a deep interest in
the arts and culture, she was also the assistant
director of the State of Qatar and the Center for Cultural
and Heritage Events. Please join us here on stage. (applause) Once again, welcome to The
Future Is Female conference and we look forward to
hearing you all talk about your empowered
stories and experiences. – Salaam alaikum, good evening everybody. I’d like to first start
off by thanking the group of students who really allowed
for this platform today for us to engage and discuss
such important topics. So thank you very much. And I’d also like to thank
each and every one of you who have come here today to hear from us and I hope that we can
take this cause forward. Just a bit about myself,
I think I’ve been blessed in that I have three very
strong role models in my life to the point you were
mentioning, Dr. Amal. My first one is my father. I think that from a very
young age and he would always sit and ask myself and
my sisters and brothers, but particularly the girls,
what we wanted, you know, who we wanted to be, what
we wanted to achieve, and how we would contribute. And he didn’t direct us
in what that would mean but constantly asking us that question really shaped who we are today. And he also stood, I think
one of the things he said to us as children was,
I’ll say it in Arabic, (speaking foreign language) Meaning, a loose translation is, your education is your
tool for empowerment. And that was something that
resonated throughout our lives. And when I went on to decide
that I was gonna study law, especially at that time,
not a lot of women went out to study abroad, first and foremost, and very fewer actually
went out to study law. And there was a lot of challenges, particularly from the family
and others who felt that, you know, why would you allow
her to go on to study law which is a male dominated field? And what will she come back to be? And that would potentially, you know, the social implications of that. But he stood behind that
decision and I therefore went out and studied law and
I’ll discuss that in a bit. The second role model in
my life was my mother. I think I’m very blessed in
that she is a chair person and CEO of a holding company
with a very diverse portfolio. And as a child, and I think
I’ve only come to really understand that dynamic once
I became a mother myself, but the importance of role
modeling herself for us and also balancing the act,
and we never felt a day where, for example, she wasn’t there for us. So she was very instrumental
in, for example, goal setting and being aspirational and
for us constantly pushing to achieve and striving for that. You know, she would never approve of just settling for what we were doing. And there was always
the questions of, okay, what are you going to achieve next? Growing up I think we had
the most packed schedule. It was from languages
to ballet to the arts, summer holidays were never
just normal summer holidays. They were us, you know,
doing reports at the end of every week of what we
did and what we achieved. But again I think as a child, you know, we complained a lot (laughs)
but growing up I really see the benefit of the structure
and how she constantly was a role model for us there. The third role model, I
think she’s a role model for many in the country and beyond, is her highness, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. She was a real trailblazer
and she allowed us to aspire and to think
that we also could achieve something greater than what our mothers or generations before us did. And I feel very honored that I’m able to work with her now as a young adult, I really am, I think,
blessed in that regard. As I mentioned, when I
went out to study law it was wonderful but when I
came back was when, I think, having gone to private
schools and everything you live in this kind of bubble. And when I went into the
workforce that’s when I really had my first realization of the
challenge, what people meant when they say it’s a male dominated field. Just a statistic, and this is years ago, you have 75% of females
who enter the law school and yet less than 8% make
up the female workforce. For lawyers, that is, and it was something I was very interested in and I felt it. So when I joined the workforce
I worked for a private law firm and one of
the reasons was because I didn’t know that I wanted
to go to courts and so forth. And I had my first experience
when I went to court, it was not a very pleasant experience because you are a
minority and you’re trying to represent clients
and you might be before a whole panel of male judges
and there’s all that kind of dynamics that you’re
trying to go through. But the bigger challenge as a lawyer was really your clients,
particularly the Qatari clients might be your father’s
friends, for example, and so they see you as
their daughter or, you know, your brother’s friends and
so no matter what you do you are boxed into either a Qatari lawyer, or a female Qatari lawyer, and
that makes it even tougher. That made me desire to
go on to do my master’s. I’d already done a masters
in international business and finance but I went
on to do another masters in international business economic law. And thereafter I wanted
to do the New York bar, and the driving force behind
doing the New York bar was because, again, it
was for me trying to find what would be the highest
ceiling that I could attain as a lawyer that would allow
people to look at me as a lawyer and not as a Qatari
female lawyer in front of them. And I am thankful for
that because it meant that I went on to be the first
individual, male or female, to get the New York bar and everyone said you shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t bother because there’s a 73% failure
rate for international lawyers going on to do
it and that’s actually, as opposed to it making me think, oh gosh, I don’t want to have that
failure rate on my CV, it actually was the driving force behind me going to do that. Fast forwarding on my
career, one of my ex-clients called me and said,
hey, we want you to come and join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We have this UN convention
on climate change, COP 18, and would like you to come in. My first reaction was well,
I’m not an environmental lawyer, that’s not the kind of thing I do. And he was like, yes, but we
need transferrable skills, come on, and oh by the way, you have eight months to deliver. And it was really, really interesting. We got sent to the UN,
we represented Qatar, we went to the World Bank, bank’s office, we had special training
but as amazing as that was the experience in the
Ministry was what actually made me leave and go back
to the private sector. Because at that point, in
earlier years in my career it was a bit easier,
especially as I went up. When you go in to lead
a group the majority of them will be male, again
there was that dynamics of the difficulty of trying
to get them to either, it’s that inherent
authority that you’re trying to get them to respect and
it was always a challenge. The environment in and
of itself was something that I felt, I loved representing Qatar and I loved international
traveling and so forth, it was such a dynamic experience, but I wanted to go back
to the private sector which is more of a, I think the challenges are not as prominent
and I enjoyed the work that I was doing when
I was at Exxon Mobile. And I still see it, the difference between private sector and government
sector, it’s a very different experience when you’re working in both. After that I transitioned
from Exxon Mobile, I worked in the oil and gas sector, and then I transitioned to,
completely left the legal field. And again a big part of it, I love, everyone says, you know, how
do you feel after leaving law? I loved practicing as a lawyer, but I felt that for myself I’d reached a ceiling. There wasn’t, had I not
left the private sector within the government
sector, I couldn’t see where my career trajectory would be. And that was one of the key
reasons I left the field, although my heart and passion is still, I loved practicing as a lawyer. But I left it, I moved into business. I worked for a private
family holding company and then last year I
was approached to join Qatar Foundation as the president
of community development. And I remember when I saw the
job description I was like, well, what is community development? What does that mean and
what am I supposed to do? And I took on the challenge
and all of last year was a really interesting
year because it was about building up the
pillar, getting the division up and running, recruiting,
bringing the policies and procedures, and all
of that was the fun stuff. The challenging thing that I think, at each stage in your career
you face a different challenge and last year was a great eye
opener for me when we talk about a lack of females
in leadership positions. A big part of my role
is to go out and engage and go to the openings of
all these different events and to show and represent
the Qatar Foundation and, you know, it’s great, but
when you get to these events they have, like the (foreign language) and oftentimes you get there
and it’s very, very awkward to be sitting because
you are meant to network and how do you break that
ceiling when all of the CEOs of the banks, of the
organizations, are men? When all the ministers
aside from us are men? And when you’re sitting
there sometimes, especially when you go down to the nitty
gritty of how the seating is. If there’s no kind of, if
it’s just kind of a bench seating then you’re like,
how do you get your way in between them and where do you sit? I didn’t think of that
on my first interaction but after I got the
protocol thing I’m like, make sure you have
somewhere reserved for me so I don’t interrupt everyone
as I try to find a seat. Because it gets very
awkward for the other males when you’re trying to find
a way, because, again, you are the wife of
so-and-so, you are the sister of so-and-so, and no matter,
I think, what you do, you’ll always, because
of the cultural dynamics there will always be that. And you have to sit, and I
think I’m a relatively social individual who doesn’t
mind breaking the ice, but in most instances it really is tough. Because you have to think
of, how do I, when, you know, two men are talking over you
because they’re both CEOs of an organization and they
know each other very well and they hang out in metula and, you know, deals are done in those areas. How do I as a female overcome
that metulas interaction? And I can’t say I found
the answer or the solution but I do try to find, if I know
something’s being discussed at a metulous and I try to get some people to share that information, I’ll make sure I have an appointment
with that CEO the next day to kind of say, so I
understood that this is being discussed, and to really push your way. And when Dr. Amal mentioned the ceiling that sometimes we impose on ourselves, I think definitely that’s one of them. Because you have to be really
strong to push yourself to find that very fine balance
between being too forward, because then you’re not gonna be able to affect the social
change that you want to, but also being forward
enough to break that ceiling, to go in and say yes, I’m
Machaille, I’d love to discuss. That’s why I’m really happy
that we have this platform today and I hope that we have a
very interactive session with questions from all of you, thank you. (applause) – Hello everyone and thank
you for inviting me over. Such a great initiative
and I’m very curious to see how it moves forward
and starts to sort of implement all these
different goals it has. I’m going to share a
very personal experience with the field of
architecture and urbanism that I’ve been trained in to. When I graduated from high school I almost had no idea of what I wanted to do, what I wanted to study,
where I wanted to study. I knew I was very good in
this sort of practical design field but I also knew
that I was sort of also really good in the science field as well. And I found different
descriptions of architectural programs under different websites
of different universities. And when I went back to
my parents and told them I wanted to become an architect
and study architecture, they were delighted
because it was at the time when everyone almost anticipated this development boom happening in Qatar. It was at a time when
Qatar was sort of starting to invite all these
world renowned architects to come for different projects. So architecture was a
very attractive field to look into, yet there was this big gap in the local market, in the
local professional market of architects, be they male or female. So I was 16 at the time and
my mom was very reluctant to almost let me leave
straight away, right? So I looked at options
here, what options I had, and zero options, no
architectural programs. The next option was to look
at either do another year of A-levels here in Darjah
or to look at the region. I found an amazing program in the region at the American University
of Sharjah and I decided that’s where I’m gonna study architecture. The next step was to
apply for a scholarship and as soon as I went into
the scholarship office I remember the advisor, as
soon as she heard architecture she was like, why, you’re gonna
come back not finding a job, number one, number two if
you find a job you can’t go on site, you can’t deal
with construction workers, you can’t practice field work, which the profession definitely demands. And I wasn’t convinced, I
went back home and I told my parents and my parents were like, it’s just a misconception
of the profession. And unfortunately this
misconception does not only take place here in Qatar but
it’s a worldwide phenomenon where you look around
and read about architects internationally and it is
a male dominated field. Anyways I did go ahead
and study architecture and I came back and started
working at Qatar ATR at the time and automatically
I was given sort of the admin tasks to take care of. I almost became a project
manager where I had to take care of correspondences,
communications, legal work, anything but architecture, anything but design,
anything but the sort of creative side of what I had studied. I came being able to do all
of these different tasks because of the nature of
an architectural degree, yet there was a huge gap in
what I wanted to practice. I found that I had to
sort of either change that misconception within the
organization I was working at or I had to find a different
place where they would encourage such creativity
rather than try to inhibit it. And that’s when I decided to
move to another organization, Qatar Museums, and what happened there was they promoted the profession
from the very first day. They were very encouraging
in terms of me leaving the office, that was something I
did not face in the first job. Instead we became this group of introverted female designers. Not to also forget to
mention that designers was a very broad term, broadly used term. No differentiation whatsoever
between an architect, a graphic designer, an interior designer. We were all designers, the creatives that were put in one office. But then at Qatar Museums it was very much the sort of opposite of that. We were encouraged to
go out on field visits or histories, meet
people, approach people, become more proactive
rather than reactive. We weren’t in the office
waiting for a task, instead we became proactive where we found different projects that we could initiate, different initiatives,
and we went out there and started to propose them to people. And it straightaway changed
my feeling of the profession when I came back after
studying, but it also changed a lot of people’s
perception of architecture. A few years of that and then
I almost reached a ceiling of what I was able to offer within an organization like that. I felt like there was more
that I could do for Qatar, for the architectural and
urbanism field in Qatar, however I did not have
the liberty to do that within such a big organization with many rules and regulations
and the organizational structure itself having to go through specific routes
to get something done. And I found that maybe it was time for me to take everything I learned
from all the different places I worked at and try
to do something on my own. I decided to do two things. One thing that I was
most passionate about, working with books, collecting books, researching though books,
so that’s a book store and a library and then in parallel
was the more creative and practical side of things and
that’s an architecture studio. And I did that with a male
partner, he’s an ex-colleague of mine and fortunately
it’s a perfect balance of male and female within the small team. And we’re also, I mean
the acceptance we get when we go to different
clients or different governmental entities
is very much surprising. They’re willing to hear more
from me than from Nassir who’s my male partner and
it’s almost relieving to him. He doesn’t want to face people, he doesn’t want to face clients, he wants to sit there and get the job done when he knows what is to be done. I, on the other hand, am very social, I want to go out there,
learn from different clients and different groups of
people that we’re targeting for different projects and
so I almost now get to do what I believe this profession
is meant to be doing, right? Socially but also in a professional way. So going back to this misconception
of specific professions, in my case it was architecture,
I think internationally yes it applies to the global
professional market but specifically to Qatar,
if I was to speak about it. Qatar University started
offering a degree in architecture and the first graduating
batch graduated in 2014. Since then they have
almost 30 female architects graduating each year and
they almost disappear. After I see them in their
very last design review they almost disappear as architects. They either join different
governmental entities and become, again,
project managers, admin, a few of them have moved to HR, almost none of them are practicing. Or they sort of can’t find the right route to practice this profession so they almost give up on it soon after they graduate. So I believe that as
part of what I feel like my responsibility to
do now that I’m working through my private
initiatives is to also raise this awareness and understanding
of what the profession is. That there is a major need for it in Qatar because architecture, again,
is not just a creative profession, it’s a social profession, it’s a sociopolitical
profession and it can go on to cover multidisciplinary
aspects of projects and developments that
are happening in Qatar. And I really hope that
through this platform we can also start to look at that, the misconception of
professions locally, thank you. (applause) – Hello, before coming here
and when Asma reached out and spoke to me about this
conference I was worried because I knew I wouldn’t
have a similar kind of path to share but I will start
off, and I came up until now, up until coming on stage I
did not have a speech in mind. I did not have a topic in mind but I knew I was gonna be influenced, and I was. First by Machaille so I will share first a story about my role model. My role model is my father,
was, is, and always will be. My father was a diplomat
for 36 years of his life and he had traveled the
world and he had represented my country, Kuwait, so
dearly and so passionately in the world of politics and diplomacy. And I always aspired to be like him, however I also always
wanted to be a lawyer. When we moved back to Kuwait
in 2008 I would always talk about my role model
Nabeela Almulla as well, who was the first female
ambassador in the Arab region. And this was back when
women did not go out, Kuwaiti women did not go
out, GCC women did not go out and Arab women as a whole did not go out. And I saw Nabeela Almulla
when she was our ambassador in Vienna in 2001 and I just
wanted to have that power, I wanted to be like the
woman who was leading those embassies, was
leading these diplomats. And when we came back to
Kuwait people asked me, who did you want to be like,
what did you want to do, where did you want to work,
and being in middle school it was still law and
I wanted to study law, I wanted to become a lawyer. But I always said that I want to work in the Ministry like my father. I want to become a diplomat like my father and I want to be the future ambassador of Kuwait like Nabeela Almulla. However, the response was always, but no one’s going to marry
you if you become a diplomat. Do you really think your husband is going to travel the world with you? Do you really think your
husband is going to follow you around from embassy to embassy
or from country to country? And keep in mind this is
when I was in grade eight and it did not make sense
because in grade eight I was thinking about break,
I was thinking about summer, I was thinking about spring, I did not think about
whether or not my husband is going to follow me
from country to country. I graduated and then I
did not get to study law because there was outside
pressure where it was, there was always this
criticism towards my father where it’s like, are you really going to let her go abroad and study law? I will say it in Arabic. (speaking foreign language) None of this made sense because I came from a very open family and because it was the five of us who traveled
from one country to another it was the five of us
who understood each other and understood each other’s passions. So I also had in mind
that my father wanted me to go to the American University of Kuwait and study international relations. Strictly political and
absolutely not what I wanted. I graduated with a degree
in politics in 2013 and it was still, what
are you going to do? Oh, I want to become a
diplomat like my father. I want to apply to the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and lead the way of diplomacy like my father and Nabeela Almulla did. And again, who’s going to marry you? So I spoke about this
at a GCC summit in 2016 where it was a summit
dedicated to GCC girls. And we talked about the role of a woman. So I stood up and I said,
why is it that whenever I say I want to become a diplomat, automatic response is
who’s going to marry you? I believe that if a female wants
to do that she can do that. If a female wants to travel
from one country to the other, just like her husband
expects that support from her then she should expect and
get that support from him. It’s not about female or male,
it’s just about that support between two people, and
I was criticized for it. After the conference I was
approached by one of the speakers who told me that someone from
a specific country in the GCC had a complaint about me and said that, why is this girl trying
to change the mindset of our daughters and of our girls? And none of it made sense. I was lucky, though, because
I did grow up and I do come from a society that does
support female role models. Like I said, Nabeela
Almulla, and we also have Dr. Alanoud Al-Sharekh, who
is founder of Abolish 153 who does fight for women’s rights. We have ambassador Emil
Hylit who is the former ambassador of Cuba for
Kuwait and she was also someone that I grew up watching in Vienna. And I wanted to be like
them and I saw how people spoke about them and I saw
how they were able to lead and they did not get criticized
for what they were doing so why is it that I have to
change what I want to do? So I feel lucky in a
way that I didn’t feel like I had to change a societal norm, or I didn’t have to
change a societal mindset that a woman can’t, only
in the term of diplomacy and traveling the world,
but when it comes to NGOs, when it comes to projects,
when it comes to civil society I feel like I’m blessed to have come from a country that allows you to do that. I was lucky to have found
migrant rights (unintelligible) which I was able to start
Ensaniyaat, which is a social awareness project aimed
at spreading awareness about migrants’ and
domestic workers’ rights. Because every time I stepped
out of Kuwait I would hear these stories about domestic
workers being abused. I would hear stories
about, why is this person hanging themselves, or
why is this government not doing this, or why is this person? But then I realized that
this does not make sense because we do have these
laws, we do have articles, we do have so many things
that do protect these workers. So I wanted to do something
that I was passionate about and not something that I
wanted to be and it was law. So I taught myself a law,
and because it was a passion of mine I was able to do it very easily. And I taught myself all
about migrant workers’ rights and I taught myself all about
domestic workers’ rights. And the history behind
this law and the politics behind this law, the politics again. And within Ensaniyaat I was lucky enough to have been able to lead
successful campaigns. We lead gallery campaigns, we lead events, we lead social media campaigns
where members of parliaments themselves then approached
us and told us, please, give us your suggestions for these laws. Please let us know, how can
we change, what can we do? But then there was this smaller
part of the Kuwaiti society that I had to deal with it and it was, with all due respect to
them, a lot of them are my parents’ friends and the
female friends of the family. In gatherings they would constantly, when I tried to talk to
them about domestic rights in gatherings, their
automatic response is, you’re just thinking with your emotions. What do you mean, give her her passport? What do you mean, let her go out? What do you mean, she can wear whatever she wants outside the house? Let it out of here, don’t be
emotional, don’t sympathize. And I didn’t see it as being
emotional, I’m very sure the people that wrote and
drafted and signed these laws were not trying to
sympathize with workers, they were not trying to
think about whether or not this worker is going to be
happy or if she was able, no, they thought about
their rights as workers. They thought about their
rights as human beings. But because, and now
that I think about it, maybe because I am a girl that’s
talking about these rights it was more about me being
sympathetic towards people and me being sympathetic towards workers, or me being emotional and maybe that’s why I was trying to fight for these laws. I ignored all of that and once again because I come from a society
that supports NGOs and supports going out experimenting
with different projects, being flexible with all
these different projects, I was able to succeed with Ensaniyaat. And I was also able to be
applauded by men, women, students, people who cared about laws and people who did not know
anything about these laws. And I feel blessed, maybe
I was lucky in a sense that I didn’t always have
to fight the battle of, oh, I’m a woman, I can’t do this, or I’m a woman, please do listen to me. And I do hope that the
different societies around us do adopt this kind of mindset,
that it’s not about a gender and it’s not about a man
or a female it’s just about if this person is
capable of making change, if this person is capable
of doing something positive in their society or
adding to their society then they should go ahead
and get that chance to do so without having to fight the
barrier of, I’m a female, or I’m a male, or cultural
norms, or religious norms, or any sense of norms
because time is progressing and we can’t be stuck to
the same old traditions of no, you can’t, no, we
don’t have girls go that out, or no, you cannot study
abroad, or no, we cannot travel abroad like Dr. Amal Malki said. But more about, okay, this
person can do a change so just let them make that
change without having to fight a battle of something that
does not make sense, thank you. (applause) (speaking in foreign language) – Good evening, everyone. First of all before I
kick off with my keynote, my first speech, I would
like to say thank you to all the girls who welcomed
us today and invited us today. This is an amazing initiative. When I was at your age I wished
if I had something like this so thank you so much for
having this initiative to empower all the
ladies and all the women. You are the future leaders,
you are the one who are going to make the change, it’s
not us, it’s in your hands and it’s in all of our hands. So clap and I want a big round of applause for all the people who
organized this initiative. (applause) And the second round of
applause for all the males who are with us today, so
they deserve another one. (applause) My name is Azza Salah. A lot of people, when I
start to speak about myself and before they welcome
me they always say, like, Azza, the CEO, the founder
of Skyclimber company, the company that won the
best business project award for Qatar for the year of
2017, the company that it is in Guinness World Record book
and she has the bestseller book which is called
Be a Successful Leader. She is also the section head
for institution for planning and performance of Qatar University, it’s a huge, huge title. When people look at me and
see all these things about me the first thing I say, I’m
a woman before all of that. So today because we are
here talking about women and talking about women
empowerment I would like just to take you through a journey. When we were kids, there is no like, you’re a woman and that’s a male, you cannot go there, you can go there. I used to play with my brother’s friend, we used to go out in the street, we used to wear whatever
we wanted to wear, and then I reached the difficult age. We reached the age of 16, 17, 18. Things started to change. My brother’s friends
are no longer my friend. I can’t ride my bicycles outside. I have to wear this, I have to wear that. I can’t stay outside of the home without having my mother with me. I can’t go anywhere, I can’t travel. But why? Because you’re a woman. I didn’t get it, like why,
why because I’m a woman I can’t ride on my bicycle,
I can’t have my male, my brother’s friends
are still as my friends, because we grew up together,
they’re like my friend. No, they look at you differently. So from that age you have to
not only take care of yourself but also take care of
what people think of you. Which is very difficult. Like for me to control
myself and to control the way I look and to
control the way I behave is so easy to control the
society is so difficult. So since that age I
realized and I’ve been told that, that’s the society
that you grew up in and that’s the life that
you are in so deal with it. I was like, fine. Sine the age of 16, all
the girls who are my age, they used to go to, like, City Center and they used to go to, like, Landmark and they used to wear some
makeup and do crazy things. Because we are women, like, we have to. We have to look pretty. Like, why you have to look pretty, you have to look smarter. So since the age of 16 I started working. I started working in the
Ministry of Art and Culture. Not because I applied for a job, because I was so talented they’re like, we wanna record your voice
in one of the Qatar songs. I was like, hell yeah, I wanna do that. We’re gonna give you one thousand riyal. I wanna do that, I was 16,
give me one thousand riyal. (laughter) I’m a woman, one thousand
riyal just to record one line. I go to school and I invite
all my friends to cinema without taking any penny from my dad. How cool is that, being independent. I’ve learned the art of
being an independent woman. I started to call the Ministry, do you have any new recording songs? (laughter) And that’s when I know the
strength of becoming independent. Not a woman, independent. I started to grow up, I was
like, I wanna be more than this. I don’t wanna just record my voice. So when I used to record my voice I used to like add my notes, I was like, can we add this sentence, can we add that? I started to become expert in culture. So they started to invite
me to all the opera and all the theoretical
musics and performances that they’re doing, having in Qatar. And I used to come and watch,
and I used to really watch. All my friends used to go to
cinemas, and used to malls and stuff like this, I
used to work in my brain. I used to work to become even
more stronger than today. Not because I’m a woman but because I wanted
to become independent. I love independency. I started to grow and
then my the age of 19, because of observing all the performances and learning from the
director, I saw the director out there, I was like, who’s
that man who has the power to control above one thousand
people in a big place opening the big theater doors and having (foreign language), the Father
Prince, (foreign language), having him in the first line and doing this opening and these things? I was like, I wanna be that. I wanna be the woman behind that show that everyone from the royal family come to, attend to, watch it. So by the age of 19 I became
the assistant director. And we started to make theoretical shows not only in Qatar but
also outside of Qatar. And my biggest accomplishment,
when I was 20 years old in Korea, expo, we won
the first place in Qatar as me being also the assistant
director for the show, worldwide, among all the
countries in the expo. So for me, I loved, the second thing I loved in my life was accomplishments. It feels so good. So you have your own
money, no one can tell you, no, you can’t, because
you have your own money. No one can tell you you can’t buy that car because you have your own money! And fourth, it’s like,
you’re accomplishing things. Your friends are calling you, it’s like, hey, we saw you on the news! Oh, yeah, that’s me. (laughter) It felt so good. And guess what? When society started to look at me as a woman I said, like, let’s play. If I am a woman let’s
play the card of a woman. So when I used to go to the bank, I’m a woman, I have to go first. (laughter) I used to play it very well. So my lesson here, the thing
I’m trying to tell you, if someone is trying to
neglect you or look at you in a different perspective or
put you in a specific frame, play in that frame, be smarter. I’m a woman, I cannot stand in the line for a very long time, I
don’t have a male with me. I’m a woman, you have to get me the seat next to the window in the
airplane because I’m a woman! (laughter) So you can request and
ask for anything you want in the world, it’s amazing,
it’s so powerful being a woman. So I love it, I love being a woman. I don’t wanna go through
all my educational life, because when I wanted to study media, I’m a graduate of mass
communication program, my dad said no, you have
to become an engineer or you have to be a doctor. I’m a science fair, I’m a science extreme graduate from high school. So I was like, why? He’s like, because you can’t find job. I was like, I’m already working. (laughter) Why, it’s like no, girls
should not be in TV and stuff like this, it’s a talent. You should be smarter than this. I was like, if I worked
in something that I love, if I study at something that I love, that will become my passion
and that will become my source of income and that’s
what I’m doing right now. I’m using my talent as my source of income and that’s how I got to
be the assistant director by the age of 19 years old. So I went to the university
just for the sake of telling him that I
looked at all the options, I applied to international
affairs, I applied to law, and I applied to mass communications. I got accepted in all and
I chose mass communication. And after one semester I told him, Dad, I’m already in mass communication program. Why I took my own decision,
because I’m independent. I can pay for my fees, I
can pay for all my things and my dad doesn’t even know. My point of the things I’m saying, my dad doesn’t know but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect his opinion. His opinion really matters,
what he was saying back then, he’s like, you’re young,
I know what can suit you in your future better than you. But later on he started to accept the fact that I’m the media graduate
who won the best business, who won the leadership
award at Qatar University. Imagine, do you know
the number of students at Qatar University are 19,000? 19,000 and I won the leadership
award for Qatar University. And also I was also on the Dean’s list and I was also a very good student so he started to accept the
fact that if you followed your passion, regardless of your gender, regardless of whatever you’re
doing, you’re gonna do great. So I graduated from the
stream of mass communication. And when I graduated I
went to Qatar Airways to worked there, I worked for two years. Back then I was still,
this is, by the way, I left the Ministry of Art and Culture, I left the Ministry of Art and Culture when I was 23 years old. My dad told me, like, why are you leaving the Ministry of Art and
Culture, it’ so great. I was like, I graduated. He’s like, what does
that got to do with it? I was like, no, I want a new
accomplishment in my life. I’m a woman but the sky
is always the limit. So I left them, I was like, I
can always come back to them. I became a person with a value. Not a woman with a value,
a person with a value. So I shifted and I went to Qatar Airways. I worked for Qatar Airways for two years. And I left them. Why I left Qatar Airways is like, why are you leaving Qatar
Airways, we get free tickets! (laughter) I was like, Dad, I’m
a person with a value. I learned whatever I can
learn from Qatar Airways, now I need to leave. And he’s like, why do you need to leave? I told him, like, I have an
idea of opening a business. I wanted to become an entrepreneur and I didn’t even know what
entrepreneurship means. But not for the fact that I
wanted to become an entrepreneur and to go to the path of entrepreneurship, it’s just because of the
fact that on one Saturday I had a dream that I had
something called Skyclimber and I had the dream of
the logo and everything. And I woke up, I can’t forget that day, and I hold my phone,
and I started to write Skyclimbers for Talented Youth. And I went to my sister Sara
to studies in Georgetown here, at Georgetown University,
I was like, Sara, I have this crazy idea of opening a club. A club, and see, this
is where I’m taking you. It was an initiative, I want
to open this initiative, this club that’s called the Skyclimbers. She’s like, yeah, go for it! She didn’t even know
what I was talking about. She’s like yeah, go for it. Why she told me go for it, that’s the perfect environment
that you need to be in. The second phone call was for my friend. And I was like, I don’t
wanna mention her name. Hey, I have this crazy
idea, I wanna open something called Skyclimber, and the
first thing she told me, like, (foreign language), are you serious? Let’s just go to the
mall, let’s do something. A lot of the girls decide that they want to stay whatever society has labeled them. Other girls look at themselves not like what other societies
are trying to tell them, like you have to be in that label. Other girls like us today, and I know like all the
audience and whoever is with us today have that
potential and have that understanding that they can
become someone with a value. When you are someone with a value, gender doesn’t really matter. So I opened Skyclimber and
eventually it became a company. I applied for MBA, I got rejected. (laughter) I was like, okay, fine,
why I got rejected? They’re like, you’re too young. By the way, I’m 26 years old. They’re like, you’re too young. I was like, I’m too young for MBA? They’re like yeah, you have to
get two years of experience. I was like, I have nine
years of experience at the Ministry of Art and Culture. They said, like, you have to have two years after the graduation date. So what I did, I was like, okay, you don’t wanna teach me MBA? I’m gonna make my
company the best company. And I won the Best Business Project award in Qatar for the year 2017, that company. And I did not even study MBA. And guess what, they offered me a job at Qatar University and I
went and now I’m working at Qatar University and
I met the dean back then who was the dean of the MBA. I’m the section head for
institutional planning and performance for the
academic so I take control of nine colleges of Qatar University including the business school. (laughter) So I went to the person who rejected me. I was like, Doctor, remember me? He’s like, no. I was like, I’m the girl who you rejected when I applied for my MBA
program and guess what. My company already won the
Best Business Project award and now I’m the section
head for the academics. So your college falls under me. (laughter) How crazy is that? (applause) And guess what, Doctor, I’m 26 years old. Damn, so what I’m trying to tell you here, ah, and then, I’m gonna
complete my stories. I’m sorry I’m being very friendly with you because I think the
environment is mostly friendly. So when I left Qatar
Airways I didn’t have a job. I left all my work to open Skyclimber, I was a pure entrepreneur. I left everything that I do
in my life and I was like, I have to concentrate
on opening Skyclimber. I used to go to Harvard
Business School online just to take some classes
online, teach myself what is value proposition,
what is customer validation, what is all this different terms that I didn’t even know about. So during that period of time, it’s very difficult, when
you’re an entrepreneur, to wake up in the morning. Like, there is no, you
don’t need to go to work. So for the first month I
used to sleep the whole day. I didn’t know what to do with my life. It was a very difficult time of my life. So being an entrepreneur and
opening this new business, the Skyclimbers, it’s a training company. I developed this training
program from talented youth in terms of the art and media programs. We use Australian methodology for learning which is 70/20/10, 70 of the learning is based on practical experience, 20% is networking and 10% is
all the theoretical classes. And I developed a way
of how we can attract mostly the youth to our
organization or to our company in order for them to develop their skills and also to secure jobs for them. So I had my alliances
and I made my agreement with a lot of different sectors in Qatar, ministries and private sectors and a lot of other universities as well. So during that phase of
my life I used to feel like a lot of the time
people were rejecting me, societies were rejecting me. I used to go to the ministries, I was like, I’m a Skyclimber. They’re like, how old are you? My problem was always the age. It’s like how old are you,
and you’re also a woman? Who’s the board of directors
that you have at the company? I was like, no, I’m the CEO. You cannot be the CEO,
how you can be the CEO of the company that you’re talking about who graduated more than 203 people? I was like, yeah, I’m the CEO. So during that period of
time I started to write on my Instagram account
some notes to myself to motivate myself and those notes, a lot of people loved it,
they used to write in Arabic. So a publishing house in Kuwait, Darsima, I don’t know if you
know it, it’s in Kuwait, they saw like my articles
online and they told me, your articles are very nice and we think that it’s gonna be a good book. And I was like yeah, well just take them. Again, a lot of people
think that in order for you to have a book you have to be at least in a certain age, age will
never limit your ambitions and the things that you
can achieve in your life. So they gather all my
notes and that small book that’s called Be a Successful Leader, and now it’s a bestseller in GCC. I wanna end up by saying I
feel so sorry for all the women and all the females and
everyone who lives in societies that do not appreciate
women because I’ve been to a lot of countries and I’ve
been to a lot of societies and I’ve seen a lot of
people, even here in Qatar and outside of Qatar who
don’t have the people who tell them you can be
whatever you want to be. But at the same time I
cold give also the blame to all the women who sit
at home and say, like, society is telling us so
that’s why we should not. And I’m not okay with all
the women who look into like, her lipstick is the most
important thing in her bag. You can wear your lipstick,
you can look gorgeous, and you can have the most
amazing brain in the world. Become a person with a value,
not a person with a shallow thing and only yanni, look
at societies and where they are labeling you, thank you. (applause) – Thank you all for sharing
all your inspiring stories today, I’m really glad
that you put in the effort to come and talk to us today. Please join me in giving our panelists a big round of applause. (applause)

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