Abu Dhabi women set up first female Emirati leadership group

When a group of high-flying Emirati women wanted to network with like-minded females, they struggled to find the right platform. 

Existing organisations focused on learning how to strike deals, so the group decided to set up their own. 

Qiyadiyat (meaning “female leaders” in Arabic), is Abu Dhabi’s first Emirati female leadership platform. It was created last year by a group of friends in management positions to develop, inspire and provide networking opportunities for fellow Emirati working women.

“In the past when Emirati working women got together, they’d have what I call the ‘old conversation’ about family challenges. ‘Oh, your father let you work?’ Or, ‘You got to go to university abroad, how did you manage that?’ Our generation has passed those hurdles,” says Laila Al Hassan, director of communications and PR at Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency and co-founder of Qiyadiyat.

She has been friends with Bodour Al Tamimi, 33, co-founder of Bedashing Beauty Lounge and portfolio manager of an investment house, since school. The pair formed a friendship with the economic analyst Su-ad Yousif, 35, at university – a bond that strengthened as the trio climbed up their respective career ladders.

The friends were spurred on to form the organisation after learning only 1.5 per cent of board positions in the GCC were held by women. 

Qiyadiyat’s first “High Q” gathering was held in February last year, with invites sent to the Instagram and LinkedIn folders of high-profile Emirati women employed in fields as diverse as HR, medicine, communications, energy and marine biology.

“We know girls who know girls, not only in leadership positions but also females who are well educated and have leadership traits”, explains Ms Tamimi.

The first High Q sessions, held in the conference rooms of luxury hotels, were limited to about 12 women to foster a more intimate atmosphere. Now events are marketed on social media to attract a crowd of about 25.

While many UAE developmental programmes bring in speakers from abroad, Qiyadiyat’s uses home-grown movers and shakers who devote their time free of charge. “Our speakers cater to the brains of this country – they’re inspirational to Emirati women because we already know about their successes,” says Ms Tamimi. 

At the last High Q, Qiyadiyat hosted Hussain Al Nowais, chairman of the Khalifa Fund. Another previous speaker, Ahmad Al Sayegh, managing director of Dolphin Energy, said at the end of his talk: “Now I have all of your business cards. I’m in your network and you’re in mine”.

The other type of High Q Qiyadiyat offers is developmental. A Ted talk from the Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg was screened at one session, followed by a discussion on why so few UAE women hold board positions. 

“We asked – is it that there’s only a small pool of Emirati women with potential? Everyone agreed, no. Was it that we stray off the career ladder when we have kids? No,” says Ms Hassan. “The conclusion we came to is that we’re letting other people define our own career goals for us. When we come up for promotion, many Emirati women won’t ask for it.”

At another event, the group tackled personal branding. “A lot of the ladies are accomplished. But when you ask them to do their elevator pitch, they won’t speak so succinctly and their LinkedIn profile is all over the place,” says Ms Hassan. 

Sessions are held once every two months, with plans to increase their frequency. “We make the time valuable” says Ms Hassan. That also means making sure the events don’t turn into venting sessions. “As soon as we see people venting out work frustrations, we say ‘OK, turn that into something positive’. We don’t want that to be our space.”

The atmosphere is also enriched by the sense that ‘what is said here stays in the room’, says Ms Yousif. “Once people bring this attitude to the table, they become a lot more open. It’s relaxing, but also energising.”

Qiyadiyat hope the social enterprise will also become the go-to platform for companies looking to hire Emirati female leaders. “We can show them that the pool is not as small as they think”, adds Ms Hassan.