When Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi stepped into a role as head of IT strategy for transport services company Dubai Ports World, she was an anomaly in many ways. She was an engineer working on a complex, technical initiative that required a great deal of interaction with the members of the C-suite; a local from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) working with a large number of expatriates; and a female executive in the male-dominated maritime industry. “I was the first senior woman coming on board, and it was a tough challenge,” she says. “I would have to explain to executives how I was going to deliver, and there was always a question: ‘How much can I rely on you?’”
Pictured above L to R: Muna AbuSulayman, Haifa Jamal AlLail, Sheikha Hanadi Al Thani
Photographer credits L to R: courtesy of Muna AbuSulayman; courtesy of Haifa Jamal AlLail; © Fadi Al-Assaad/REUTERS
To build the needed trust, she says, she learned the terminology of the maritime industry and learned how to present IT projects to senior executives in a way that showed the project’s value to the business. But ultimately, what really established her credibility was the delivery of an IT system that supported the day-to-day operation of the company’s ports. “For women to be accepted, they have to be trusted, and they have to be overachievers,” she says. “The bottom line is whether you can deliver dollars — or dirhams. You have to prove that it doesn’t matter, gender-wise, who sits there.”
Now the minister of foreign trade for the UAE and the most powerful woman in the Arab world, according to the Forbes 2010 list of the world’s 100 most powerful women, Al Qassimi is no longer an anomaly. She is one of a small but significant group of women who are defying expectations and making a difference in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.