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18 May 2011

The whole world is watching you


I’ve just returned from facilitating PwC’s “Emerging Arab Women Leaders – the voice of the future” Forum, held in conjunction with The Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) in London.  Both events sought to ensure that younger generations of women in the Arab world succeed – the audience was largely comprised of Middle Eastern women early in their careers.


The charismatic Dr. Shaikha Al Maskari, a leading Arab businesswoman opened the Forum with a galvanizing message:

“The whole world is watching you [young Arab women] – you must excel, no matter what your job is.” 


Dr. Al Maskari acknowledged the challenges of attendees – the trans-national nature and Diaspora of Arabs, the cultural complexity, the pervasive world media coverage.  “You have a legitimate reason to be unhappy,” she said, “but you don’t have the right to let down the United Arab Emirates.  My message to you is to foster compassion, dignity, leadership, and civility to lead us into a new, emerging world.

May Salameh, Executive Director at INJAZ of Yeman confronted the socio-economic realities of education systems where girls are taught that they are less than boys – and explained that by finding a role model who skilled her up, she was able to ultimately start her own NGO.

How are younger generations different?
Sarah Churchman, PwC UK’s Head of Diversity & Engagement pointed out some key differentiators of Generation Y or so-called “millennials”:

  • will make up 85% of the global workforce by 2018
  • show loyalty to charismatic leaders who inspire and motivate (while not necessarily to organizations)
  • don’t want hands-on management but do want to keep their skills fresh and relevant – and have the agility to do so
  • “work to learn” rather than “work to live”

The family unit and negotiation
One key output of the plenary group discussion was that the younger Arab generation – a cohort that is in many cases more educated than its parents – must help change the mindset of these older generations.  Negotiation emerged as a key skill for young female Arab leaders – engaging with families to navigate parental expectations and retaining a deep sense of culture, while also having the courage to identify personal values and to pursue chosen professional paths.  In fact, an audience member suggested that families should be invited to these events next year to witness first hand the dynamic issues their daughters experience in the business world.

Resilience and empathy
And speaking of families, PwC Middle East Senior Partner Warwick Hunt shared that his own family (he has two daughters!) has played a central role in teaching him leadership skills. 


He stressed the dangers of stereotyping, suggesting we should always focus on what joins rather than divides us.  “We must develop self-awareness,” he said, “and following from that – empathy – in order to be good leaders.”

Warwick believes that in order to foster innovation and create a sustainable future for our communities, our families, and ourselves we must also develop resilience – mental toughness that enables us to handle difficult situations – as well as a sense of gratitude and hope (personally, I just loved that message).  He also reminded the audience to write down their goals and hold themselves accountable.

The emerging female Arab leader perspective
Rima Chammas, Senior Marketing Director for the Eastern Mediterranean and African Market at PepsiCo, and one of the youngest speakers, shared her recipe for success: get out of your comfort zone – “fear helps us survive at the biological level,” she said, pointing out that “trying something scary – at least once,” has helped her grow as a leader (as has volunteering). 

Rima encouraged the audience to develop awareness of their professional gaps but cautioned that these gaps should only be filled if they are career derailers – otherwise we should be focusing on developing our strengths.

And by the way, for all you white men out there…
We’ve talked about white men and diversity on this blog before.  PwC Middle East Managing Partner Warwick Hunt and event sponsor (and London-based PwC Partner) David Grace were as engaged leaders as I’ve seen, both participating fully in the entire event. 

It’s easy to understand that senior executives must often dart in and out of such events, providing an inspiring speech and then hurrying off to their next engagement.  Not Warwick and David.  They were not only wholly present for the event, but active participants – listening carefully to the discussions, making comments from the floor, and of course, networking.  To see this level of commitment from PwC’s senior leadership to progressing talented women in such a critical market as the Middle East bodes well for the work we’re doing here at PwC on the gender agenda.

Finally, on a personal note this was not only a great learning experience for me about professional women’s perspectives in the Middle East, but an opportunity to see PwC friends Rita and Zina (check out Zina’s guest blog from last year if you haven’t already)!

à bientôt,



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As a female alum of PWC (C&L) 1978-90 -- I applaud Warrwick Hunt and David Grace. I hope there are more men like them at the firm and do hope things have changed.

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