Bahrain British Business Forum (BBBF) recently launched a Women in Business special interest group, Liz O’Reilly chatted to the ladies responsible to find out more.
Georgina Munnik, of law firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, and Emilia Mateva-Smith, Trade and Investment Officer at the British Embassy, are two women for whom life in the world of big business is second nature. However, they can appreciate that’s not the case for every woman starting out, or even those who have been in the workplace for some time, so they were keen to help set up the new group.
Paula Boast, also of Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, and BBBF deputy chair, proposed the initiative. She explains: “About two years ago a survey asked BBBF members what they would like to see and two areas where more effort was needed were young people and women. A special interest group for young professionals was set up in November 2016 and the women’s section started in March.
“This is about legacy and succession: people were saying ‘we don’t feel there is anything for us’. We were missing out on a catchment area of young Bahraini women and felt that for the BBBF to be effectively fulfilling its underlying objectives that this was an area that needed addressing. .”
However, far from being a group purely for women, Georgina points out: “It’s really not a gender specific group per se. Yes it’s there for supporting, mentoring and development of women but it’s also about people of both sexes discussing issues in business from a female point of view. There’ll be a lot of men running businesses and departments and they should be interested in listening to what women think, sharing their experiences and being part of that conversation.”
Paula adds: “It’s about giving both Bahraini and expat women, within the BBBF, a forum where they can discuss the genuine issues they encounter in business.”
Emilia says: “When we first sat down to talk about this group we had to look at how it would function when you take gender out of it. We knew we wanted men to come, we welcome them and we will have male speakers but it’s about how we, as women, deal in business differently – that’s something for both genders to be aware of.”
“We had 62 people at the first meeting and there have been requests for us to hold them monthly,” says Georgina. “But initially they will be quarterly as we want to ensure the quality of the events and the speakers and presentations we put forward. However, the group will be active between meetings if anyone needs support, advice or mentoring.”
Emilia adds: “We had great feedback from the first event, which was a panel Q and A. The panellists were asked about their experience and their route to the top – that’s not gender specific – It is aimed to guide and inspire. “In the future we would hope to have a CEO who has women in senior positions to speak on the processes and company way of thinking that has made that happen.
“Our aim is to have people from all levels of business, not just those at the top; we want women to have someone who’s on the next step of the ladder to relate to. We also want to make the meetings networking and knowledge sharing events, by engaging with industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and market specialists at all levels ”
When questioned about overall attitudes to the establishment of the SIG and its objectives Georgina is realistic : “I do believe we have some challenge ahead but I’m excited about it and, from the response we’ve had, this is an initiative that is needed and the vast majority of people are incredibly positive.”
The next meeting is due to take place after Ramadan and there will be another later in the year, towards the autumn.