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Empowerment at it's strongest

An Emirati woman’s take on the Women in the World Conference

Earlier this year I found out that I was lucky enough to be able to attend the annual Women in the World Summit in New York City. This event will be attended by inspirational women from a range of industries, including political figures like Hilary Clinton, Italy’s highest ranking female politician Laura Boldrini, Hollywood actresses like Viola Davis and industry leaders like Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

It will be a great event to gain insight in to their incredible stories and see what examples could be applied closer to home. I spent months researching potential speakers, pleading with them to release an agenda and playing out meet and greet scenarios in my mind. I was not about to let this opportunity go undocumented either. I work as a sustainability officer for DP World, a ports and logistics company with a head office based out of Jebal Ali Freezone.

This year, our company announced women’s empowerment as one of our main sustainability pillars, and this couldn’t have come at a better time as we are hearing more strong female voices now more than ever. From the #MeToo movement to Cheryl Sandberg’s Lean in philosophy and the recent equal gender pay announced by the UAE government, things can only get better from here. As DP World is a global business and operating in 40 countries, this would be a great way to learn about some of the issues women face on an international scale.

Day 1

The energy in the air was palpable, and the que to enter the theater curled around the corner of the building. This wasn’t your average event, everyone seemed to be there for a purpose whether that was to be inspired by someone who represented them in society or to resonate with someone who could challenge their view on the world, the possibilities were endless.  I personally learnt a lot today, Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee really emphasized on the inclusion of female voices in difficult situations as they tend to make decisions in a more collective manner. Shortly after Asia Argento who basically started the #MeToo movement produced my favorite quote of the night, by reinstating:

“The betterment of the women in society is the betterment of the whole society.”

It was also great to hear a man’s insight as Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi discussed the challenges of altering a misogynistic company culture and inspiring change through innovation. Finally, to conclude the evening, Viola Davis exuded passion and power in her struggle with racial and gender inclusion. By the end of the night, the excitement and buzz was slowly giving in to my tired eyes as the Jetlag kicked in. The cold night air proved to be the best pick-me-up as I walked back to the hotel in anticipation of what the next day would bring.

Day 2

Today would be the longest day on the programme, and the most anticipated as the tickets for the 2,586 capacity theater were completely sold out. The first session “Pay me what I’m worth” featured some fierce women like the First Lady of New York City and BBC journalist Carrie Gracie. Carrie addressed the gender pay gap by stating:

“I’m interested in systemic equality for this generation of women and future generations of women.”

It was a truly riveting conversation that drew me back to the recent draft law for equal gender pay that was announced on the twitter page of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Another stand out session called “Reinvent the Rules” featured female CEO’s and leaders from various industries. Leila Hoteit – Partner and Managing Director of the Boston Consultancy Group stressed the importance of flexibility and sponsoring female colleagues in the workplace topow create dynamic female leaders. While Diane Von Furstenberg very much focused on drawing strength from within by saying:

“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.”

Toyota being one of the main event sponsors were honoring female innovators through their mother of invention initiative. The inventor that stood out the most for me was Maxeme Tuchman – CEO & Co-Founder of Caribu who invented a software that allows parents to read to their children (aged 2 – 7) from across the world through an interactive touch screen device. Children need at least 20 mins of reading a day as it helps with their development before they start school. Initially this was created for military parents who were stationed abroad, but I thought it could also be applicable to parents who travel a lot for business as many do at the DP World head office.

During the “Future of Work” session a lot of talks revolved around work flexibility, support and mentorship. This was such a great and relevant panel as DP World have recently launched our #MentorHer campaign as a part of #DPWorld4Women that creates opportunities for women to be mentored by men in the business. Melissa Arnoldi President, Technology & Operations, AT&T said:

“I run technology and operations for the biggest mobile network in the world, I can do that because my mentors and sponsors support me.”

This just proves that strong guidance and inclusion is necessary, we can’t move forward on our own and without the support of others.

One of the highlights on the day included watching Hilary Clinton – Former Secretary of State moderate a particularly fiery political session. I must admit it was quite surreal seeing her in person, even more so as she was surrounded by four strategically placed secret service agents. As the day came to a close I was contemplating about what I could take away from all the strong women I had been in the presence of earlier that day. That being said, another quote from Melissa Arnoldi came to mind:

“We have to be accountable to be pulling other women forward with us.”

In a perfect world, everyone would be doing this, I’d love to be able to implement this in my daily life.

Day 3

 Day three started off with a personal Idol of mine, Misty Copeland. She was the first African-American woman to be appointed principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater’s 75 year history. Her session was followed by a couple of fearless doctors working tirelessly in Venezuela to help those with no access to medical treatment that could save their lives. One of my favorite speakers of the day was Sophie Grégoire Trudeau - Gender Equality Advocate and spouse of the Prime Minister of Canada. She really focused on raisings boys through a gender equality lens and bringing men into the conversation, at the end of the day we are all a part of this world and can only benefit from everyone’s voice being heard.

A great stand out story that relates to the maritime industry is the story of Madeleine Habib, a ship captain in an industry with 1% female representation. She has been sailing since her early 20’s and uses her spare time to volunteer for SOS Mediterranee and Captain Medecins Sans Frontieres ship – Dignity One. She rescues refugees whose lives are at risk in overcrowded rubber boats that have been stranded at sea in the Mediterranean.

The day ended quite emotionally with a discussion with socially conscious youth and a song from the Resistance Youth Center Choir. Naiomi Wadler a girl as young as 11 years old, so eloquently spoke about the issues plaguing her as member of Generation Z. She stated:

“There shouldn’t be an age limit for being aware and for understanding the problems around you and doing something about it.”
 

 

This made me think... industries often surpass generations of people and it reinstated that they must be future focused. It’s not enough to only look to the present, we must always ask - what comes next? I’m happy to be working in one such forward thinking industry. With taglines like Our World, Our Future and Creating the Future Now, I can safely say that DP World’s principals mirror my own in attaining that sustainable, equal and inclusive future.

Overall I’d say that my one critique would be that there needed to be more men involved. I would say 95% of the audience were understandably women, but in the words of Sophie Grégoire Trudeau:

“Gender equality and feminism cannot evolve in our humanity without bringing our boys and men along.”