International Women’s Day 2023

Today marks a significant day for women not just here in the UAE, but all over the globe. International Women’s Day. A global day which actually came together well over a century ago, in 1911, to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. More than that, it also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity – and it aims to encourage important conversations on why equal opportunities aren’t enough and why equal isn’t always fair. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action.

To truly understand this – we need to understand with what each word means. Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
As such, this International Women’s Day it’s all about giving women the chance to have true equity. This quote sums up nicely what this means:
“Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.”
– Susan K Gardener. Dean, College of Education, Oregon State University
Being a woman from the UK living in the UAE, the latter being a melting pot of over 200 nationalities (in my organisation, an award-winning, female led PR agency, Brazen MENA –we have more than six nationalities alone), I don’t think this could ring more true. We all have chances, we all have opportunities – but how do we actually work to fit in with individuals so they all get a chance to be themselves and with that succeed?

No one person – and indeed, no two women are the same – that we know is obvious! And coming from different countries, backgrounds is just one thing. But it’s giving our team (predominantly female) the same opportunities, but opportunities which suit them that is another. What really makes us stand out – and one thing our Owner and Managing Partner, Louise Jacobson, has strived to do since she opened our doors eight years ago is focus on and celebrate people’s differences, so we all have that “shoe that fits”.

By taking a people first approach, a community not competition mindset, we empower our wonderful (and unique) female team to have any chance – equity – to achieve anything and everything they can. We’ve had Account Executives promoted to Account Managers within eight months, team members choose the accounts they work on (I remember when I first started my career a good 18 years ago that never would have happened!) and we were the first agency to launch mental well-being days back in 2019, even before the dreaded C-word was even a thing. And why? Because we know and appreciate not one size fits all – but we can adapt and give a size to fit all – and by doing so we allow our team to grow and truly flourish.

Indeed, over the last few decades – in fact the last century alone, women have fought for equality. And that’s why this year’s theme is so important. That said, we need far more than that and equity is where we need to shift our attention to. So how do we do this?

The UAE has long been a leader in the promotion and support of women in the workforce and this commitment is reflected in the country’s impressive economic growth.

In November 2022, the Dubai Women Establishment (DWE) unveiled its strategic plan for the next five years, which aims to develop new generations of women leaders, improve the quality of life for women in society, creating an enabling work environment for women. These efforts are already paying off, as women make up 50% of the UAE’s parliament and 30% of its cabinet. The country also has a mandatory quota for at least one-woman director on the board of all publicly-listed companies.

Nearly 47.5% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the country are owned by women and 20% of the workforce is employed in these SMEs. This is particularly exciting, as it shows that women are not just taking up traditional roles, but are also heavily involved in starting their own businesses and driving economic growth. Women currently contribute 20% to the UAE’s GDP, and this is expected to increase to 25% by 2023.

When it comes to communications and indeed the PR world, I certainly can think of more female leaders in PR that when I first arrived back in 2016. And indeed, in the UK itself, I had more male bosses than I did female. But it’s how we continue on this periphery and indeed, how we give women that all important shoe that fits?

At Brazen MENA, we work with TOUGH LOVE Advisors, a collective of eight C-suite executives with more than 250 years of combined hands-on experience in more than 120 markets that have come together to create a straight-talking advisory firm with a difference. As part of this I have my own wonderful (and female) business coach – something that has opened my mind to think, act and be different – and with that is opening up opportunities for not just me as a woman individually, but as a woman in business and as the Director of Brazen MENA.

Furthermore, as a business we are looking to empower the next female generation – and our Owner and Founder, Louise Jacobson helped to launch Girls Out Loud, one of the UK’s leading organisations for raising the aspirations of young girls in partnership with Dubai College back in 2022. Not only that, but Louise is a ‘Big Sister’ and for the last year has been mentoring a young girl to empower her, while giving her the space to share and grow emotionally and learn new coping skills particularly around mental health. I don’t think this could be a better way of finding that all important shoe size for her young mentor.

So today, as we see celebrations around the globe – and indeed calls for equality, let’s stop, pause and really think about equity. We have come so, so, so far – and I for one feel incredibly lucky to be a woman, a woman working in PR – and in the UAE.

Today, I’m going to think about (and indeed celebrate) differences – and remind myself, my female colleagues to focus on giving each other, others and that all important next generation of women the chance to flourish, to fit, but most importantly, fit how they need to fit.

– Alexia Lawrence-Jones, Director 

Brazen MENA