De-bunking Mideast Myths: Sara Mohamed on Arab Women in Business


Lorre White – WOMAN of ACTION™ reports:

Sara Mohamed on Arab Women in Business

lorre white middle east women in business(Source: Economica online exhibition of the International Museum of Women. Copyright Hazel Thompson.)

According to a 2012 global wealth report published by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Middle Eastern women now control approximately 80 billion dollars in personal wealth and make decisions affecting 500 billion dollars in cash and assets. These women are mainly in the Gulf countries, and have become successful entrepreneurs, managers of family businesses, or have inherited wealth from their families.

“What we know today is that the growth of start-ups in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region has increased eight fold since 2005,” says Emirati business woman Sara Ismail Mohamed, “and women are at the forefront of this change.”

Jordan, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have attracted the most early stage investments, mainly due to access to levels of mentorship, financing, and other resources that are unavailable in other parts of the Middle East.

We had the opportunity to speak to Sara Ismail Mohamed, CEO of Al Bashayer Investment Company in the UAE. She was named one of the top female businesswomen in the Arabian Business article Revealed: 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2012 and also received the same distinction the previous year. Mrs. Mohamed is candid about how factors such as culture, religion and social structure affect Middle Eastern women, especially within the UAE’s labor market and society.

  • Does Islam or issues of culture restrict women’s participation in the workplace in the UAE?

I have very strong feelings towards my culture. Like the majority of UAE women, I cover myself and maintain a modest look. Families here are conservative but, we women, have the freedom to really establish ourselves and progress our careers if we so choose.

For me, religion and culture has never been a barrier to participating in society or the labor market. I’ve never faced any kind of push back, internationally or in my home market for being a woman or Muslim.

Also, the UAE is a country that supports the growth of women and encourages women to take control in politics, society, and business. Our rulers encourage all of us – men and women – to develop and grow ourselves. It doesn’t really matter whether we are women, Muslim or Arab, companies are interested as long as we can perform and produce results.

Religion doesn’t stop us from what we want to do with our careers and self-development. As long as we’re ethical and follow Islamic principles, which I understand to be the same basic principles as any religion, then women can accomplish success.

As far as I’m concerned, Islam is telling us to be the best human beings we can be. It’s never stopped us to grow or develop ourselves. From a cultural standpoint, there are people who use religion for reasons other than spiritual growth and character development. Another way to look at this question is that what is wrong in Western cultures is wrong in our culture as well.

If Islam’s true teachings do not believe in the welfare of women, then Muslim women would be unsuccessful in many parts of the world, not just the Middle East. Remember, only twenty-percent of the world’s Muslim population resides in the Middle East.

  • Why do you think these stereotypes about Arab women and Muslims exist?

There are so many successful women in our region that do not seek fame or attention, but it’s amazing that the West still has this backward perception of Middle Eastern women today.

lorre white middle east women 2The number of extremely successful and powerful women is much higher than one hundred. These women are not highlighted by the media or do not wish to be in the spotlight, but are doing a tremendous job at building themselves up and making a difference in their societies.
Sara Ismael Mohamed

It is true that there is domestic abuse and oppression of women in the Middle East, but this is true all over the world. Domestic violence in the United States, for example, affects 1-in-3 women. There is something to say about overcoming challenges because boundaries and restrictions here actually push women in the direction of growth. Middle Eastern women do not let cultural restrictions interfere with their education and progress these days. Once we set our goals, all we need is determination, commitment and passion.

  • What about the stereotype that women lack access to their families’ wealth? This clearly contradicts the BCG report?

Ten or fifteen years ago in this part of the world, most wealth was controlled by males in the family – a father, brother or husband. This was an acceptable aspect of culture where it was traditional for a man to take care of his sister, mother or wife. A woman didn’t necessarily take any interest in managing investment or finances because her needs were being met.

This attitude has shifted and now you see women becoming more involved and proactive in managing their wealth. They like to participate in potential investment opportunities, and take effective investment decisions. The men in the household who are largely responsible for the financials also encourage the women and this helps to sustain the wealth for a long time. This is a very positive shift as we have seen in the past if a woman’s father dies or something happens to her husband, she finds herself in a difficult financial situation as she is unaware of the accessibility and potential of her family’s wealth.

So, both men and women are realizing the importance of involving a woman, educating her, helping her understand where the family money comes from, how it is generated, how it grows and what it costs to maintain their lifestyle.

A woman doesn’t have to participate in the day-to-day operations, but she should have useful information about the business. She will at least know where she stands financially if any kind of catastrophe affects the family.

  • Can you elaborate Islam’s role regarding women and property?
  • Doesn’t the Qur’an state that a man inherits twice as much as a woman?

This Qur’anic view is based on the assumption that the man is supposed to be the one taking care of the family finances. When a woman gets married, it’s taken into consideration that her husband will provide everything she needs. These days, women are demanding their financial independence because of higher divorce rates and broken families. By taking care of their own financials, women feel more secure.

Parents are taking these points into consideration because it is understood that in today’s society not all the husbands are going to look after their wives and not all brothers are going to look after their sisters. Parents are starting to divide the wealth adequately among their children so their daughters are more financially secure.

  • Do you find that Arab women are conservative investors?

Five years ago, a woman may have been afraid to take risks and would have invested her money conservatively. That’s not the case now. She likes to take calculated risks as long as she has enough information and understanding to make sound decisions. A woman is also more likely to invest her money in a start-up company (unless it is her business), which is considered to be 100 percent risky.

  • How has technology changed women’s attitude towards investing?

Technology has allowed a woman to access information and enhances her knowledge. She can use the internet to research investments she’s interested in. It’s all there, available to her. So it’s made her even more proactive in making decisions.

  • What do Arab women like to invest in?

While it’s hard to generalize, Arab women do like to invest in their own businesses, bonds, real estates and equities. They like to purchase and rent out apartments and villas. They also invest in gold and few take positions in currencies, but there are few. These are considered to be quite sophisticated investments and one has to follow the market on a daily basis. Women would prefer to invest in something that can grow on its own overtime, rather than keep up with it every day. They also like equities and Islamic investments.

  • Finally, how is Al Bashayer different from other investment firms?

Bashayer Investment Company in Abu Dhabi offers its clients tailor-made investments and solutions for their financial needs. Many banks in the Middle East are offering women normal banking services such as banking accounts, deposits, loans, credit cards, etc. Bashayer provides investment banking services.

We like to listen to clients, understand their needs and provide them with the right solution. Al Bashayer maintains strategic partnerships with local and international financial companies and maintains an open architectural platform. We also provide corporate advisory services such as business expansion, restructuring, private equities, partnerships and financing along with our strategic partners.

Source: (The Luxury Guru)


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