This series shares personal accounts of trailblazing women on why it is so important to gather in sisterhood and what they did to create it for themselves. Meet Marie-Claire Maalouf, Chief Creative Officer at Edelman, Dubai.
What does sisterhood mean to you, and why is it important in empowering women?
Sisterhood means cultivating a sense of solidarity and support among women. It is a powerful force that uplifts and empowers, enabling us to celebrate each other’s successes, learn from one another, share experiences, and be there for each other during challenging times. Personally, I find the term ‘sister’ in sisterhood limiting, as I have also experienced men in my community who have shown unwavering support and belief in me, sometimes even more so than some of my close female friends. I would suggest using the term ‘support system’ to encompass a close-knit community that helps women overcome obstacles and challenges they may face in both their personal and professional lives. In the advertising industry, where women still face underrepresentation in leadership positions, this support system becomes crucial in staying on track with career goals and breaking through the glass ceiling. By fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace - agencies, clients, and the community as a whole can benefit.
How have female mentors and role models influenced your personal and professional growth?
I am fortunate to have had the guidance and support of several incredible mentors and role models both male and female throughout my personal and professional journey. Their influence has been instrumental in shaping my growth and development. I never saw gender as a barrier to success. I was born in a family where both my parents broke the stereotypes of what a traditional Arab family looks like. My mom embraced more of her yang energy at work, being the General Director in the Ministry of Economy and a woman in a leadership position, with men reporting to her. My dad, being in the art field, broke every stereotype of what a husband and 'family provider' should be and look like in the Arab culture with his flashy pink elephant pants, floral clothing, and unconventional ideas. My unusual family dynamics and the influence it had on my early childhood played a big role in creating a supportive and inclusive environment where I always felt comfortable expressing my ideas, and point of view - unafraid of being myself. Mentors for me were a mix of family members, friends, colleagues, spiritual leaders from the Pranic Healing Community, and my Kinesiology teacher - Michelle Chedotal. My mentors varied depending on the goals I had. I believe that you can have a different mentor for every goal you set for yourself. And I always looked out for experts in the field that I was pursuing. For instance, when I wanted to be better at parenting, I researched the best coach in Dubai and signed up for their parentology course. I learned that success is not solely defined by professional achievements but also by personal fulfillment. Good coaching would encourage you to prioritize well-being, set boundaries, and seek support when needed. I am grateful for their influence as they have shaped me into the leader I am today and empowered me to become a mentor myself, thus paying it forward to the next generation of aspiring leaders.
In what ways can female mentors and role models inspire and support young women in pursuing their dreams and aspirations?
Female mentors provide relatability and representation. Seeing successful women who have overcome challenges and achieved their goals can ignite a sense of possibility and drive in other aspiring women. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was really scared about breaking the news to my line manager. I was afraid that his attitude would change towards me, and that he would not trust that I could still deliver in the same way. But that was my own internal monologue and my own limitation. Kinesiology coaching really helped me here, and my worries faded away when I experienced the actual support I received from him at that time. Like most working moms, I also dealt with the guilt that makes you feel like you’re not doing enough at work or at home. Kinesiology coaching also helped a lot here as I learned about the principles of life design, internal and external language reframing, and setting boundaries. I also believe companies can do a lot to alleviate this pain and insecurity by creating flexibility for working parents, as both moms and dads need it. When I delivered my daughter, I was blessed to have been working with Impact BBDO; they wholeheartedly supported me. Together, we designed flexible ways of working where I could be available for my child and still be connected to my work duties remotely for a few months. This was way before COVID-19 taught everyone to work remotely. Mentors can foster a sense of community and collaboration. By promoting an inclusive and supportive environment, they encourage young women to uplift and empower each other, rather than view each other as competitors. They can help young women navigate male-dominated industries, break barriers, and access opportunities through their own networks.
What are some challenges faced by women in finding or accessing female mentors and role models, and how can we overcome these barriers?
Early education, both in school and at home plays a big role in understanding who you are as an individual and the role you can play in life. However, in more traditional societies, there still lingers some traces of a mold that’s set for women to fit into, and that acts as a barrier to growth. These societal behaviors have restrained women from actively reaching out for information, whether it’s out of shyness, internal limitations, inherited perceptions about their purpose and role in society, or having an invisible barrier that is adopted from others around them. These barriers can be overcome by teaching women to follow their ambitions from an early age, to set powerful goals for themselves, to voice their ideas confidently, and to see the value of having allies who can help them achieve their set goals. Yes, progress has been made for sure as we see more women joining the workforce, being entrepreneurs, and following their dreams. But when you scratch beneath the surface, the internal language that most women use with themselves is somehow not really empowering. So, some detoxing from societal pressures is still needed there. Whether it’s done through therapy or coaching, each person connects with a different modality that works for them. My journey in clearing obstacles started with my energy studies in Pranic Healing and continued later with my Kinesiology studies which helped clear a lot of limiting beliefs with the help of my mentors, instructors, and classmates. And the work is still not done. It’s like a physical shower that you need to take daily. As you grow, more work needs to be done to clear internal obstacles that prevent you from stepping up to the next level.
How can we encourage more women to take on mentorship roles and actively support other women in their journey?
Most successful women have packed schedules and busy lives because they are juggling so many responsibilities at once, so mentoring others outside their direct team doesn’t become a priority. As they become reference points of success in their fields, it is also a societal and human responsibility to share this knowledge and journey with younger women and act as an inspiration and guide. They have the duty to contribute to the growth of others by igniting that spark in other women to pursue their ambition, step up in their role, lean in, and look for ways to make a difference in society. Networking events, conferences, and online platforms play a role here in creating that connection with younger talents. Also, rewarding leaders for mentorships and making it part of their job description and KPIs is something that can be more commonly adopted as a practice. A great example is 'The Outstanding Leadership Awards’ application which recognizes the entrant’s work outside the company walls – such as any mentorship experience in university, public speaking, etc. While this can be a great incentive for leaders, we don’t need to wait for awards to push us to do it.
Share a personal experience where a female mentor or role model made a significant impact on your life. How did it shape your perspective and goals?
A key player in my journey of transformation is my incredible professional Kinesiology practice and Pranic Healing instructor, Michelle Chedotal. Through her, my classmates and I learned powerful techniques that created a cosmic shift in our lives. Some members are now high-level leaders in their industry and one of them is also in the ad business as a successful Managing Director. Kinesiology reshaped my perspective and goals in a more meaningful and powerful way. Through balancing sessions with my peers, I tapped into my inner strengths, clearing away limiting beliefs, and old obsolete patterns that come in the way of unlocking one’s full potential. Michelle’s wisdom, spiritual inclination, and support helped me navigate challenges and embrace opportunities with renewed confidence. I am deeply grateful for the profound impact she’s had on my life. Today, as an Executive Creative Director, I stand tall, knowing that the teachings channeled by her have shaped me into the leader I am today.
What are some key qualities and attributes that make an effective female mentor or role model?
A great mentor needs to be a recognized expert in his field. Just like when you are looking for a qualified doctor, you do your research before trusting and consulting with them. The second quality is something we in Kinesiology call NCRW, meaning that we see everyone as Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole. We don’t see individuals as broken victims that need fixing. We inspire mentees to become the best version of themselves by helping them set powerful goals, showing them the power, they have in creative problem-solving, and providing them with tools and techniques to put their goals into action while pushing them to shine through their own uniqueness. An effective mentor shows empathy and actively listens. They empower their mentee to come up with their own ideas. They don’t interfere with their own agenda or manipulate their mentees into following their own ideas on success. Good mentors know how to create a safe space for their mentees to be vulnerable and be okay with the concept of failing forward.
In what ways can sisterhood and mentorship help break down gender stereotypes and foster a more inclusive society?
When women see others rocking leadership roles and breaking into non-traditional fields, it’s like a superhero origin story, inspiring them to defy expectations and dream bigger. With a loving community by their side, women gain the confidence to conquer imposter syndrome and unleash their potential. Through networking, doors swing wide open, unveiling new opportunities and experiences. Mentors pass on their super skills and knowledge, arming women with the tools they need to succeed in their chosen fields. As these mighty women rise, they become advocates for equal opportunities, fairness, and inclusivity where everyone benefits from this beautiful mix of different perspectives. As women share the real details in their journeys of success, it is possible to create a better path for newcomers on their own journey to success. As mentors show younger women it is possible to be strong and have roles that were considered only for men, they are already breaking stereotypes and allowing women to see themselves as CEOs, leaders, and heads of businesses.
Are there any specific industries or fields where the presence of female mentors and role models is lacking? How can we address this issue and promote diversity in those areas?
While progress has been made, there are still industries and fields where the presence of female mentors and role models is about as scarce as a unicorn at a tea party. Take the tech and engineering sectors, for instance. It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack to find female leaders in those domains. So, how do we address this issue and sprinkle some diversity? We can start by showcasing the incredible women that already made waves in these fields. We highlight their achievements, make them famous with the help of PR, put them on a stage in universities, and organize conferences so that we can inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps. Also, mentorship programs specifically tailored to these industries can provide support, guidance, and networking opportunities for aspiring women. Diversity isn’t just a buzzword for me, it’s the main ingredient that fuels innovation and success with the beautiful mix of different points of view and perspectives.
How can we create a supportive network of sisterhood that transcends age, race, and background to empower women from all walks of life?
A supportive network for women requires intentional efforts and a commitment toward inclusivity in order to be done properly. For the communications field, for instance, an initiative can be executed by Communicate in partnership with the UAE Government that can then turn into a proper program with an online platform and yearly events around the topics of diversity and inclusivity. The program can then encourage open dialogue, provide professional development opportunities, build mentorship programs, help match younger talents with mentors, promote collaboration instead of competition - and embrace diversity and inclusion at all levels. It can become a safe space where individuals can be their authentic selves and be vulnerable enough to share and receive feedback from a professional and loving network. The platform can also inspire organizations to amplify female voices by making sure DE&I is part of their hiring principles. Of course, talent and credentials will always take precedence when making the final call, but the effort towards creating a diverse department needs to be intentional. On an individual level, we can also adopt a ‘pass the mic’ approach. As a part of a sisterhood, empowerment also means sometimes stepping back to offer the stage to another woman. If we’re in a position of privilege and receive more invites to speak, we can sometimes ‘pass the mic’ to a woman who may know more about the issue and isn’t being heard enough.
What are the principles that guide you as a mentor?
Words have power. Is the language we are using internally and externally empowering or disempowering? Everyone is naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. I trust in the natural ability of people to creatively problem-solve anything and empower them to move from a victim state to a victor state. Nothing is personal. When people react, it’s based on their own triggers. Filter and move on with your goals. There is a lesson in every pattern. Let’s look at repeating patterns in our life. Once the lesson is learned the pattern changes. Good communities are a sum of good individuals. When we work on ourselves to become the best version of ourselves, each one, regardless of gender, religion, or ideas. The community will evolve.
This piece was first published in Communicate's Women to Watch Issue 2023.