Networking and mentoring group to help women in Middle East challenge male-centred society

For the female construction professional in the Middle East, life can be tough. If you are in Saudi Arabia you may yearn to get behind the wheel of a car and put your foot to the floor. Or maybe you are in the UAE and are fed up with the only networking events being Dubai’s endless boozy brunches.

Either way, a change is coming. The great British institution that is the Association of Women in Property (WiP) is the latest industry body to head to the Gulf. WiP is to set up in the UAE and target women in construction and property throughout Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.

Cathy Stewart
There is a dominance of men at Dubai functions, which are like they were in the UK 20 years ago

Cathy Stewart, WiP

The Middle East branch of the networking and mentoring group is the brainchild of Cathy Stewart, director of international architect Woods Bagot.

She said: “I have lots of female friends in Dubai who were members of Women in Property back in the UK and one night over drinks we decided it would be worth opening a satellite branch in the Gulf.

“Dubai is more liberal than elsewhere but there is a dominance of men at functions, which are like they were in the UK 20 years ago. Women in Property will balance the situation.”

The status of women varies across the Middle East. Women are severely restricted in Saudi Arabia, where they are banned from driving and cannot travel without a male relative’s permission. However, in the UAE 65% of students and 15% of the workforce are female.

The Gulf operation will run many of the same type of events as it does in the UK, including seminars, receptions and building visits. Georgina Reynard, senior associate at Pinsent Masons, will be regional chairman.

The Gulf arm of WiP will also run mentoring schemes and school visits.

WiP has 1,600 members in the UK across 12 regional branches. Its goal is to see the number of women in construction and property equal the number of men. Currently they make up just 15% of the workforce in the two industries.