Deputy General Manager, Publicis Middle East
Keeping the Flame Burning
After my first year of medical school, my sister, a pharmacist, said to me, “I don’t really see you as a dentist, you should be in communication or PR.” She was right. She knew that I would thrive in an environment with people and creativity. That’s how I switched faculties, and I am so glad I did.
Throughout my career, I have had the privilege to build iconic brands and take on tough challenges, even when I wasn’t ready for them. I had the chance to learn from marketing gurus, and discover new markets and strategies. I never stopped learning and evolving, and that kept me going and hungry for more. When people ask me, “Don’t you ever get bored, all this time with Publicis Groupe?” I tell them I’ve been busy walking the souks of Yemen, trying a local woman’s fig tagine in Morocco, filming celebrities, brainstorming with the best creatives from around the world, finding solutions to world hunger, helping women open food trucks in Saudi Arabia, and, above all, making friends and having fun. And then, I say to myself, “Thank God I listened to my sister.”
I have to say that I’m lucky to have worked all my life with men who empowered me, from my dad to my bosses and husband. Doors were open for me to grow. Throughout my career, I’ve been very ambitious and competitive. Gender bias was stronger in the past, in terms of pay gap, promotions, investment in training, and more, which used to frustrate me. I once fractured my wrist banging the elevator button hard after losing to a man a chance to go to a training. But now, I know that patience and persistence ultimately get you where you want to be. Things are not perfect yet, but they are constantly improving. At Publicis, the leadership team supports this change, which is partly why I’m still there (for people who continue to ask me).
However, there was a point in my career when I felt I lost my drive and questioned my growth and purpose. So, I resigned. The reaction of people around me made me hesitate; my team and my clients were doing everything they could to make me stay. But before leaving, I needed to kick off a big project for my Maggi clients, called ‘Maggi Diaries.’ Little did I know that this project would change my life forever. ‘Maggi Diaries’ was all about supporting ‘women of change’ in different countries, from Egypt to Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. We were shedding light on key issues in our region and making a real difference in communities. We built schools to fight illiteracy, helped refugees, supported working moms and gender equality. We fought against early marriage, domestic abuse, obesity, and more. But the biggest change actually happened to me. I was humbled and grateful, but most of all, I got my flame back. What I was doing was so meaningful, and I was able to do it because I was a woman. I withdrew my resignation.
We continued ‘Maggi Diaries’ for five consecutive years and won over 25 creativity and effectiveness awards. The key to this success was the authentic storytelling throughout the journey, with no scripting. I was able to get close to the women we featured, and I got to know them on a personal level – which I couldn’t have done as a man in our region. I uncovered their real needs and was updating the stories as we were filming. Everything was real: when people cried, we cried; when they celebrated, we celebrated. Rich in meaning and purpose, this five-year journey was invaluable to me. Big shoutout to Emile Douaihy and Jessy Abdulnour for making it possible.
The level of authenticity that we bring, as women in our industry, is what sets us apart. The way we portray women, outside the stereotypical gender roles, and the way we empower them, can contribute to shifting social norms.
In terms of personal growth, what I learned from my experience is that five key steps are crucial to every woman’s success:
Most importantly, make sure you enjoy what you do and don’t even think about your gender – it’s all about performance from now on. Have the curiosity and interest to dig deeper and find real solutions to problems. Be passionate, genuine, and just have fun. Work/life balance was never easy, and I used to always get, “She’s married to Publicis.” But I was still able to explore the world, pursue my hobbies, and spend quality time with my family – as much as I could, but definitely not every day. Recently, I was telling a friend, “I’m happy that I raised three children while building a career.” He said, “Raised?” insinuating that I didn’t do a good job raising my kids. It’s these harmful comments, meant as a joke, that you should disregard as a woman and seriously ignore. You will be proud of the way you raise your children to become independent, confident individuals and they will be proud of you, their role model.
Outside our industry, we still have a long way to go in our region, in terms of women’s rights and representation on the political scene and in key decision-making. However, governments are putting more focus on gender equality and incorporating it as a key part of their vision. We already have incredibly powerful women leaders who will become an inspiration for other women and help drive this change.
In my current role, I am doing my best to mentor and empower my highly talented team of women and men, so that they fulfill their ambitions in a performance-driven, learning environment where I hope they, too, will never lose their flame.
This profile has been featured in Communicate's Q2 2022, "Women to Watch" issue.