'Sisters to do it for themselves': why women need to champion their own career development

In a first editorial column, PRWeek Middle East addresses why women need to be at the forefront in the fight for gender equality.

PRWeek Middle East editor Jennifer Bell.
PRWeek Middle East editor Jennifer Bell.

As a traditional news journalist for more than a decade, I have always been the one conducting the interviews; preferring to wield a notebook and pen or a microphone and ask the questions, rather than voicing my own views.

Journalists sometimes lack confidence in their own opinions - something that changed when  interviewing Lucy D’abo; an industry stalwart and chair of the new Middle Eastern branch of Global Women in PR (GWPR) which aims to tackle gender inequality in the industry.

While quizzing D’abo about this opportunity for women to have their voices heard, her answers struck a chord that drew parallels with my own career; especially in the Middle East over the past seven years.

Too many women, she explained, do not fight for their rights in the workplace. They are often too timid to shout about their achievements. They don't apply for promotions or demand a pay rise as they don’t brag - or even recognise - their own worth.

Is it little wonder then, why too few women stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men in the boardroom?

Women, said D'abo, have to promote their own identity. "For example, what is ‘Brand Jennifer’?" she asked. "What does Jennifer stand for?"

My pause to answer her question, prompted a moment of self-reflection.

If one works, as a woman, in corporate communications and both for and with PR companies across the region, one could well be recipient of the lowest pay packet, despite a wealth of experience and productivity that far outdrew colleagues in the same team. 

Women can be passed over for promotion or quietly accept being let go from jobs, without any explanation. Worse, one may be intimidated by men in the industry - and not find the confidence to say a word. 

Speaking to D’abo, my thoughts turned to the other women in the communications industry who are making strides in the region; who have battled to be in boardrooms, who have juggled a work-life balance to become CEOs, who have fought to own their company.

Take, for instance, Iraqi-British journalist Mina Al-Oraibi, the first female Editor-in-Chief of The National newspaper and a recognised powerhouse in the region. Or Loretta Ahmed, who fought to acquire Grayling's Middle East and Africa business from Huntsworth.

There are many other examples of women who didn’t pause. Who didn’t stop to wonder what they wanted - and how to get it. They recognised their own goals and simply went for it, without fear of failure.

The Middle East has traditionally, especially in the West, been viewed as a place where women lack the same opportunities for men.

Recent headlines have suggested the tides are turning.

Here in the UAE, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has paid tribute to women, describing them as partners in development, and the pride of the nation. In Saudi Arabia, women can now drive and no longer need the permission of a male guardian to travel freely.

More women than ever before across the region are Cabinet Ministers, are at the helm of multi-conglomerates and are top decision-makers across industries.

But women’s rights and gender equality are still a long way off from what they should be.

While, as D’abo said, gender equality is an issue both men and women alike need to tackle, Indeed females can and should now be at the forefront of change.

We don’t want special treatment, we don’t want a hands-up - we simply want the same opportunities - and same financial reward - as our male counterparts.

And that can only be achieved by asking for it, by speaking about it and by championing female colleagues, by creating change and opportunities for other women.

Quite frankly, sisters need to do it for themselves. 

It can be having the confidence to apply for a job which one doesn’t feel 100 per cent qualified for, asking for a promotion or pay rise based on one’s merits, or simply ramping up the conversation about the topic, such as simply having the courage to speak up in a column. 

It would be so welcome for other women to come forward and speak to PRWeek Middle East about their experiences about gender equality in the region and what changes they would like to see. 

Perhaps then, the playing field can truly become level. 

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