Two very different stories, one powerful message. Female leaders inspire Northeastern community at Women Who Empower event in Dubai

Nezha Alaoui, Jessica Michault, and Muna Al Gurg sit on stage talking at the Women Who Empower event in Dubai
Moderated by Moroccan entrepreneur Nezha Alaoui, the event saw Jessica Michault, deputy editor of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and Harper’s Bazaar Saudi, take the stage alongside Muna Al Gurg, vice chairperson and retail director at UAE business conglomerate Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group. Photo by: The Photography Co

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—One is an American journalist, the other an Emirati businesswoman. And together, they are breaking down boundaries to unite in one universal cause: female empowerment. 

In a unified celebration at The Arts Club on Tuesday night, the two inspiring female leaders shared how they rose to the top and how they’re paving the way for other women to follow in their footsteps.

Moderated by Moroccan entrepreneur Nezha Alaoui, the event saw Jessica Michault, deputy editor of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and Harper’s Bazaar Saudi, take the stage alongside Muna Al Gurg, vice chairperson and retail director at UAE business conglomerate Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group.

Part of Northeastern University’s “Women Who Empower: Our World” series, the event covered mentorship, misconceptions and the media, while inspiring attendees including students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni. A similar event was held last week in London.

Introducing the speakers, Clemence Cazeau, a Northeastern Young Global Leader and CEO of art concept 37xDubai, paid tribute to the trailblazing women before her.

“The Women Who Empower initiative is all about bringing together diverse and inclusive communities to empower a better world,” she said. “It includes everything from entrepreneurship and the Innovator Awards to events and mentorships designed to empower its members to lead change and make a meaningful impact.”

From boardrooms to breaking down stagnant beliefs

Al Gurg, who is one of Forbes’ 50 most influential women in the Middle East, began by talking about her passion for women’s rights in the Arab world and beyond.

“My background has been business for the last 20 years, but my passion has been youth empowerment,” she said. “The milestone for me came in 2010 when I was chosen to be part of the Aspen Middle East leadership Initiative and it really did make me reflect on what kind of legacy I wanted to leave. I am very, very passionate about women’s rights.”

As the daughter of a prominent businessman, AI Gurg was welcomed into the family businesses and encouraged by her male relatives. Throughout her career, she has used her position to promote women who haven’t been so lucky.

“I think a lot of women in this part of the world face obstacles in terms of the culture,” she said. “It’s not about the rule of the land, it’s more about the culture of the society that sometimes faces obstacles.

“For example, a girl might be cleverer than her brother, but she’s not allowed to travel abroad to study. Those are the kinds of societal obstacles that women face and that’s why you see a lot of women who are actually more determined because of those obstacles. 

“Despite that, this region is very inclusive and encouraging of women, so if you’re interested, then you can really go places.”

Turning the page on perceptions through publications

In 2015, she launched the Muna Al Gurg scholarship for Arab women at the London Business School. Since then, she has taken a role on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sustainability Board and is the chairwoman of Young Arab Leaders, a nonprofit that provides employment opportunities for young people in the region.

And the mission continues closer to home, with initiatives underway to provide a progressive female framework within her family’s Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, which has been operating for more than 60 years across retail, lifestyle, construction and real estate.

Today, Al Gurg is working on launching her foundation for Arab women and girls, and for females to reach their potential, she believes male perception needs to change.

“One of the things that needs to change in the world is men’s perception of women and we can only do that through the media and that’s what Harper’s Bazaar is doing,” she said. “It has a crucial role in impacting and influencing people’s perception of women. It’s my passion to platform more Arab women.”

The sentiment was shared by Michault, who spoke of her work lifting women’s voices at publications around the world. 

Support the Women Who Empower program at Northeastern

The American writer started her career in Paris at the International Herald Tribune under the wing of legendary fashion journalist Suzy Menkes. After starting as Menkes’ assistant, Michault worked her way through the ranks to become the publication’s first-ever online style editor.

Her mentorship had a lasting effect on Michault’s award-winning career and instilled a deep appreciation for women supporting each other—a legacy she strives to continue today.

“There’s been a real mental shift with women who want to support other women and lift them up and that’s been my experience,” she said. “We’re not feeling as though there’s only one spot left for a woman and sadly that hasn’t always been the case.”

Mentorships never go out of style

For Michault, fashion writing is about more than just runway shows and clothes. Instead, she hopes to provide a platform for up-and-coming female designers, while telling their stories to the world.

“I was guided by a mentor who showed me the ropes and really educated me across all aspects of the field of fashion and showed me the power of what fashion can be,” she said. “Fashion is amazing and going to shows is amazing, but for me, my beginning and end are to tell amazing stories about women and make sure the rest of the world knows how fantastic these women are.”

As well as their successes, both women spoke about their past failures and encouraged young female entrepreneurs to embrace their mistakes and continue to chase their dreams.

“If you had a big fail in the past then it was very hard to come back from that, whereas now failure is part of success,” Michault said. “It’s a learning point in your career and it has given people the opportunity to dare in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.”

The event closed with a very important message.

“You have one life so do what you want with it,” Michault said. “Follow that dream and be passionate about it. Just do you because there’s only one.”

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