July 18, 2016

‘How to thrive and survive as a working woman’

For women in the Middle East, things have perhaps moved even more quickly than they have in the West. For instance, as little as two decades ago, few local women held managerial or leadership positions in organisations in the Middle East but that has changed and evolved more than other regions.

Fiona Elsa Dent and Viki Holton, both faculty at Ashridge Executive Education and authors of ‘How to thrive and survive as a working woman: the coach yourself toolkit’ share their perspectives on career issues faced by women in the Middle East based on their experience of working with many regional women managers who attend the school’s programmes and events.

According to Dent: “During our executive programmes in the region in the past, it was rare to have even one woman attending. Over the past five years, the proportion of women from the region attending our programmes has grown dramatically and often they outnumber men. Conversations with these women drew our attention to some of the key issues that they experience – many of which are similar to women the world over.”

She calls these career multipliers and career derailers. The multipliers that relate to women in the Middle East include the following.

  1. Having a good boss: Good bosses come in many guises but most importantly they will offer you support and challenge.
  2. Demonstrating determination and tenacity: Giving your all to the job and delivering on your goals and objectives.
  3. Being energetic and enthusiastic: Keen, energetic and enthusiastic people tend to be infectious and are an asset to any team or organisation.
  4. Having a mentor or coach: We all need support to help us build a career.

And the derailers include:

  1. Career sacrifice to prioritise children and other family members: Balancing a career with other family responsibilities is by far the most frequently mentioned derailer or barrier for any working woman.
  2. An unsupportive or bad boss: They can do more harm to a woman’s confidence and career than any other relationships you have.
  3. Male dominated working environment: This can affect working practices, promotions and the working environment.
  4. Being a square peg in a round hole: Feeling that you either dislike your job or it’s not the job that you thought it would be when you were recruited.

So what can women in the region do to help themselves to thrive and survive?  According to Dent and Holton, there are three key areas that they believe worthy of each and every working woman’s focus:

  1. Personal Development: Investing in one’s own education and personal development is time well spent and invaluable for building a successful career and working life. Studying for formal qualifications, attending short programmes and workshops that focus on skill development contribute to knowledge and ability.

Additionally, searching out career advice either inside or outside a company and joining relevant professional associations, women’s networks and attending appropriate conferences can give access to people and events that can assist further in one’s personal development. But, more than this the investment in personal development will also help build self-confidence, reputation and credibility.

  1. Circle of Support: We all need support in our career and it is important to understand who it is that supports you and the role that they take.
  2. Working smarter not harder: Hard work helps but in the end it is about being smart and career-savvy – having self- belief, demonstrating your confidence, speaking up, contributing, choosing your battles, knowing when to say no, stepping up and above all having a plan for your career.

A lot of women don’t plan or play a fast-forward on their

career journey but it’s a crucial skill – many of the successful women the authors interviewed for the book spoke about the importance of career planning.

The advice the authors have is that working woman must take charge and create their own career journey.

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