Communications Director, Red Havas Middle East, Corporate
Career overview: Mathilde Montel heads the corporate communications department at Red Havas Middle East. As Communications Director, she oversees a team of communications specialists and is in charge of developing and implementing strategies that boost clients’ corporate visibility, transparency, and credibility.
Mathilde has 15 years of experience in the PR industry in Europe and the UAE and has worked mainly in the real estate sector with the likes of Emaar Properties, Eagle Hills, Nakheel, Nshama, Core Savills, and Santiago Calatrava, as well as tech, entertainment, and events.
She graduated from France’s renowned school of Public Relations EFAP and holds a master’s degree in Communications.
Successful and Proud
My name is Mathilde and I head the corporate communications department at Red Havas Middle East in Dubai. I started my career in PR in 2004 when I landed an internship at Veolia’s headquarters in Paris while pursuing my master’s degree. My first experience in the workplace only lasted two months but to this day, I still remember many details. First, little did I know I was dipping my toes in a matter that fascinates me until today: sustainability. My main responsibility was to help raise awareness for [Veolia’s] upcoming event on renewable energy, which shed light on an existential issue before corporate social responsibility (CSR) became a global trend. But what struck me the most from that internship might surprise you: I met my first role model, Veolia’s CEO, who (to my surprise) was a woman – and I walked away two months later with her recommendation letter, feeling like I was holding the golden ticket to my career.
Fast forward seventeen years, I still look up to the strong women around me: Dana Tahir, our General Manager and the force behind Red Havas Middle East, who leads a team of nearly 50 PR professionals across three departments; my team of Gen Z and millennial superwomen who inspire me to become a better leader every single day; and last, but definitely not least, the interns who join the team temporarily, with that spark in their eyes when they secure their first interview or get their first press release published. They remind me of the reasons I got hooked on PR in my first internship and of the value of mentoring young talent, with the hope that I can inspire them to grow in this industry like I had the chance to.
Expo 2020 was the most recent enriching experience in my career, as a woman. Playing a role in the Women’s Pavilion, the France Pavilion, and L’Oréal’s, to name a few, was an eye-opener on a number of global goals. Through a number of events such as Cartier’s #BreaktheBias on International Women’s Day and L’Oréal’s For Women in Science, in partnership with UNESCO, (which rewards and recognizes female Arab scientists from the region), I had the opportunity to better understand gender equality and women’s emancipation.
I interacted and listened for hours on end to some of the world’s most powerful female leaders: the UAE’s Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura Al Kaabi; Alexandra Palt, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer and CEO of the Foundation L’Oréal; Jessica Prealpato, the World’s Best Pastry Chef; and Executive President of Havas Worldwide and unapologetically bold by nature, Mercedes Erra, who presented the latest Havas prosumer report “When Women Advance, We All Advance.”
Mercedes commanded the room as she spoke about the difficulty in combining professional life and parental life, corporate culture, gender stereotypes, and the glass ceiling – which are all obstacles that women encounter in their professional careers. 8,000 people were surveyed for the study from ten markets: UAE, KSA, Qatar, India, France, UK, Spain, USA, Brazil, and China. The study revealed a number of surprising facts from the Middle East, including that 65% of men and 74% of women in Saudi Arabia consider female managers to be more creative.
It was fascinating to hear how appreciative GCC respondents were of the steps taken by their government leaders to increase gender parity – in fact, more so than their counterparts in the West. Initiatives in favor of equality have multiplied in the region in recent years, causing one generation after another to feel continuous progress.
Prior to Expo 2020, I was already familiar with several inspiring female authors, including black feminist bell hooks, Turkish author and activist Elif Shafak, and research professor and author Brene Brown. In her book “Dare to Lead,” I understood the humbling power of vulnerability and decided that, moving forward, I would strive to become a better leader to empower my team (mostly female) and allow them to unleash their potential. A particular quote struck a chord with me: “If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts – so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people – we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.” I wholeheartedly agreed.
And then, I read this: “If you are not in the arena getting you're a** kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in or open to your feedback.” It made me pause for a minute and I would like you to join me and ask yourself this question: Has any of your biggest accomplishments in life felt comfortable, easy, and safe? If your answer is yes, please do share your secret. As for me, the achievements I am most proud of in life were either excruciatingly difficult, way out of my comfort zone, or exhausting (actually, all of these at once!). From every single one of the award-winning campaigns I’ve worked on, to getting several publishing deals for my first book, selling foreign rights, and becoming a certified Tea Master (yes, this probably sounds random in this context!), none of it felt good in the process. But I knew that one day, I would be proud of myself for not giving up and hung on to the belief that these experiences would become the most enriching ones and shape the future ‘me.’
I’d like to end on this note: the Havas study also revealed that the health crisis has made the issue of gender equality take a step backward, so much so that the timeline for equality has been delayed by a full generation: equality is now 135,6 years away whereas it was 100 years away before the pandemic. Questions then arise: How will each one of us compensate for this loss? How can we contribute to the evolution of women in the workplace today in the region?
As women in the marketing industry, we hold the keys to painting a better picture of tomorrow and we have the ability to reach thousands of people through our campaigns. As a tribute to feminist icon bell hooks, who recently passed, I’ll conclude with her words of wisdom: “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.”
This profile has been featured in Communicate's Q2 2022, "Women to Watch" issue.