DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — One is an American journalist and the other is an Emirati businesswoman. Together, they broke boundaries and were united in a universal cause: women’s empowerment.
During Tuesday night’s celebration of unity at the Arts Club, two inspiring female leaders shared how they reached the top and how they paved the way for other women to follow in their footsteps.
Moderated by Moroccan entrepreneur Nezha Alaoui, the event was joined by Jessica Michault, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and Harper’s Bazaar Saudi, and Muna Al Gurg, Vice-Chairman and Director of Retail, UAE-based business conglomerate Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group.
Northeastern University”Empowered Women: Our World” series, the event covered guidance, misconceptions, and the media while inspiring attendees including students, parents, staff, and alumni. A similar event is last week in london.
Introducing the speakers, Clemence Cazeau, North East Youth Global Leader and CEO of artistic concept 37xDubai, paid tribute to the trailblazing women before her.
“The Women in Empowerment Initiative aims to bring diverse and inclusive communities together to empower a better world,” she said. “It includes everything from awards for entrepreneurship and innovators to events and mentoring designed to empower its members to lead change and have meaningful impact.”
From the boardroom to breaking stagnant beliefs
Al Gurg, one of Forbes’ 50 Most Powerful Women in the Middle East, opened by speaking about her passion for women’s rights in the Arab world and beyond.
“For the past 20 years, my background has been in business, but my passion has always been youth empowerment,” she said. “My milestone came in 2010 when I was selected to be a part of the Aspen Middle East Leadership Initiative and it really made me reflect on what kind of legacy I want to leave. I’m very, very passionate about women’s rights.”
As the daughter of a prominent businessman, Al Gurg was welcomed in the family business and encouraged by male relatives. Throughout her career, she has used her position to uplift less fortunate women.
“I think a lot of women in this part of the world face barriers culturally,” she said. “It’s less about the rules of the land and more about the culture of society that sometimes faces obstacles.
“For example, a girl might be smarter than her brother, but she can’t study abroad. These are the social barriers that women face, and that’s why you see a lot of women being more determined because of them.
“That said, the area is very inclusive and encouraging of women, so if you’re interested, there are really places you can go.”
Opening people’s minds through publications
In 2015, she established the Muna Al Gurg Scholarship for Arab Women at London Business School. Since then, she has served on the Sustainable Development Council of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and is chair of Young Arab Leaders, a nonprofit that provides employment opportunities to young people in the region.
This mission continues closer to home as we are taking steps to provide a progressive female framework within her family’s Easa Saleh Al Gurg group, which has operated for 60 years in retail, lifestyle, construction and real estate for many years.
Today, Al Gurg is working to launch her foundation for Arab women and girls, arguing that in order for women to fulfill their potential, the perception of men needs to change.
“One of the things that needs to change in the world is how men perceive women, and we can only do that through the media, and that’s what Harper’s Bazaar is doing,” she said. “It plays a vital role in influencing and shaping how women are viewed. I’m passionate about taking a stand for more Arab women.”
Michault felt the same way, talking about her work promoting women’s voices in publications around the world.
The American writer started her career at the International Herald Tribune in Paris with the help of legendary fashion journalist Suzy Menkes. After working as an assistant to Menkes, Michault worked his way up the ranks to become the publication’s first online style editor.
Her mentorship has had a profound impact on Michault’s award-winning career and instilled a deep appreciation for women who support each other — a legacy she strives to continue today.
“There’s a real psychological shift in women who want to support other women and lift them up, and that’s been my experience,” she says. “We don’t feel as though there’s only one place reserved for women, which unfortunately isn’t always the case.”
Mentorship will never go out of style
For Michault, fashion writing is more than just fashion shows and clothes. Instead, she hopes to provide a platform for budding female designers while telling their stories to the world.
“I was guided by a mentor who showed me the knack and really educated me in every aspect of fashion and showed me the power of fashion,” she says. “Fashion is great and the catwalks are great, but for me, I start and end with telling great stories about women and making sure the rest of the world knows how amazing these women are.”
Along with their successes, the two women also spoke about their past failures and encouraged young businesswomen to accept their mistakes and keep chasing their dreams.
“If you’ve had a big failure in the past, it’s hard to recover from, and now failure is part of success,” Michault said. “It’s a learning point in your career that gives people the opportunity Dare to try the impossible.”
The campaign ends with a very important message.
“You only have one life, so do whatever you want,” Michault said. “Follow that dream and be passionate about it. Just be you because there’s only one.”