FARAYA, Lebanon: Arab women working in media and communications say they’ve begun to plant corporate ladders throughout the Middle East. Several industry insiders talked to The Daily Star about women’s expanding roles in the upper echelons of management, at the MENA Cristal Festival in Faraya this week.
In keeping with Facebook COO’s oft-repeated advice for women to “lean in” to pursue their career ambitions, Arab women in the regional communications industry say they are pushing ever closer toward gender parity in the workplace.
“I think it has less to do with gender and more to do with capability,” Mennah Ibrahim, the head of Brand Intelligence at JWT MENA, said of female representation in regional communications companies. “Over the past few years we’ve seen women making a lot of progress.”
Marketing and communications have provided a corporate niche for young Arab women to thrive in, said Dana Ammar, who manages regional marketing responsible for a multinational firm.
“Back in college a lot of women that I knew went into marketing,” Ammar told The Daily Star.
“There are many women in advertising, digital [communications] and the Internet in the Middle East,” said Stephanie Hospital, a former executive vice president at Orange Digital.
Career-minded women in marketing and communications are finding increasingly welcoming corporate environments in the Middle East.
“Women have realized that this is an industry where they can work for years,” Hospital said.
Still, Arab women in media and communications fields lack the networks their male counterparts enjoy, Hospital said.
“Women often have extra responsibilities, like raising kids, and they don’t spend as much time networking,” she said “And this is an industry where networks are particularly important.”
As part of an effort to bolster relationships between Arab women in the industry, the MENA Cristal Festival hosted a women’s lunch this week in Faraya.
The lunch was part of an ongoing effort to “create a community of women in the region with a desire to promote role models and also to create a network,” Hospital explained.
Participants pointed out that the influx of women to high corporate posts was affecting the content of regional media.
While product advertisements are often targeted toward mothers, traditionally seen as the household managers, regional campaigns now target a broader audience.
“Messages are becoming broader to target men,” said Ibrahim. “Because more women are going to work and spending less time at home, men are having to pitch in with household decisions, and household responsibilities.”
The MENA region, Ibrahim said, is slowly accepting these changes. “I think audiences are becoming more accepting of women and the way that women are progressing in the region, and I think that brands too are coming to see that.”
Challenges certainly remain. Veteran journalist May Chidiac lamented how female news presenters in Lebanon often appear scantily clad. Industry executives “want them [female presenters] to be more sexy, more attractive. They consider this a way to attract viewers,” she said.
Ammar said that because of societal pressures she feels she has to work harder than her male counterparts to prove herself, particularly if she wants to start a family in the future:
“I think I’m trying to move ahead faster [than male colleagues] when I can and take advantage of the fact that I’m still single and able to give a lot of my time.”