NAYA| Nine Panels, Nine Cities: The global discussion on women in leadership

Panels were held in cities ranging from Athens to Amman to Karachi to London.
by Mohamad Shour

3 March 2020 | 18:00

Source: by Annahar

  • by Mohamad Shour
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 3 March 2020 | 18:00

Elise Salem, Rola Hoteit, Roula Azar Douglas, Joelle Abou Farhat, Rana Ghandour Salhab (Annahar Photo)

BEIRUT: Leadership roles oftentimes seem tailor-made to manifest forms of gendered oppression; whether literally, in terms of under-representation of women in politics or figuratively, in how men in power create this ongoing loop of oppression.

Different cultures have different values and traditions, but most have something in common regardless of their differences; under-representation of women in leadership roles. This is precisely why Athena40 hosted a global conversation on women in leadership across nine panels in nine different cities around the world; connecting all the cities through a live stream.

Panels were held in cities ranging from Athens to Amman to Karachi to London.

In collaboration with the Arab Institute for Women, Athena40 chose Beirut as one of the cities, and the event was hosted and live-streamed Monday at the Lebanese American University.

“This is showcasing how it is to be a woman in Lebanon in terms of leadership and revealing the quality of life for women here,” said Myriam Sfeir, director at the Arab Institute for Women. “We are submitting a list of recommendations to Athena40 to show ways we can fix this inequality.”

The panel consisted of six women: Elise Salem, Vice President of Student Development and Enrollment Management at LAU; Rola Hoteit, pilot; Roula Azar Douglas, journalist, and author; Joelle Abou Farhat, CEO; Rana Ghandour Salhab, businesswoman and was moderated by Hayat Mirshad, journalist and feminist activist. All these women occupy leadership positions in Lebanon and have the first-hand experience breaking stereotypes and entering a male-dominated, patriarchal playing field.

One of these women is Rola Hoteit, the first and only female captain of Middle East Airlines (MEA). Originally from a conservative village in south Lebanon, Hoteit spoke about how a friend from her university sarcastically suggested to her to apply from a position at MEA, as they were accepting applications – a conversation that would kick-start her career.

“He was saying things like ‘women can’t even drive, why would they be pilots?’ and I got very annoyed and challenged him. I told him ‘let’s go and take the entrance exam and see who gets in’ and he accepted,” she said. “Twenty-five years later, I fly planes and he does not,” she added as the audience burst into laughter.

Being a female pilot, according to Hoteit, comes with an added pressure because not only do you have to convince colleagues, but also passengers. This same distrust, Hoteit felt when taking exams years before.

“I did my training at the same time as my husband and we would go to the exam and it would be simulators. When we’re done and we would go back to the hotel, he was always so relaxed after,” she said, citing her confused state at his relaxation. “Finally, I found out, when they would give him an engine failure to see how he would cope, they would give me an engine failure and tell me that someone’s hijacking the plane. They wanted to see if a woman can withstand all that pressure.”

A patriarchal society is based on strict gender roles where men are seen as breadwinners and women are seen as caregivers, and this translates directly into leadership roles. According to Roula Azar Douglas, one of the speakers and a journalist, author and instructor at University Saint Joseph, the educational system perpetuating gender roles is one of the major problems.

“Parents should realize that the way they see, treat and raise their sons and daughters will affect their lives,” adding that teachers and schools also have a responsibility in treating students properly and promoting equal values.

One person who had parents with a more equality-based perspective was Joelle Abou Farhat, the founder, and CEO of JO Branding Advertising. Abou Farhat stressed that her father always taught her that men and women were equal, driving to a shock when she entered the work scene and experienced inequality.

In turn, Abou Farhat became the Co-founder and President of the non-governmental organization, FiftyFifty.

“We have a lot of laws that discriminate against women and the only way to change and abolish these laws is to have a big number of women in parliament,” she said during the panel. “We changed the name to FiftyFifty to get a 50-50 representation of men and women on all levels.”

Another one of the women in the panel was Elise Salem, Vice President of Student Development and Enrollment Management at LAU.

“I think it is not a Lebanese trait to say that women have to work twice as hard and be three times as qualified to be promoted or to be recognized,” she explained. “This is a worldwide problem that needs to be fixed.”

All the women on the panel agreed that diversifying leadership positions, including politics and business, would lead to a better world, less oppression and less unjust laws targeting women and other minorities – one of these women being Rana Ghandour Salhab, a renowned businesswomen and partner at talent & communications at Deloitte in the Middle East.

“The trick is inclusion,” she said, stressing that this would lead to more equality, “regardless of what type of person that is or what type of diverse elements they may have, they would have the same chance as another person to reach advanced positions.”

When Salhab was asked why society needs more women in leadership, she refused to answer and changed the question, directing it to the audience, saying “Why don’t we need more women leaders? Just look at the world around you, look at the middle east, look at every other country. If you were running the earth, would you sideline half of the population you have?”


Welcome to “NAYA,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations. NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]

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