It’s that time of the year again! 8th March has long been the day when people around the world celebrate women, and acknowledge the extra hurdles they have to cross to get to their destinations. The Middle East is known as the melting pot of cultures, and is also a land where the construction and design are fast-paced. In such a scenario – what is it like to be a female designer in the region? From adjusting and understating the cultural differences to developing a skillset on-the-go to finding their place in a foreign land, these 9 women have done it all. So we thought, it would be insightful to ask them to share their experience and advices for the upcoming lot of designers….
Sneha Divias, Director & Architect, Sneha Divias Atelier
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “As a female architect and designer in the Middle East, I have found tremendous opportunities for growth – the highlight being having my own studio. I have been working on noteworthy commercial and residential projects with very interesting clients around the world whilst being able to balance my work life with being a mother. I have a hybrid workplace model and collaborate with team members and architects from different countries, which brings a lot of added value and flexibility to my career. As a trained architect in a male-dominated profession where more often than not you are the only woman at site meetings with 10 men, you have to be confident and self assured about the fact that you are there to bring your technical and creative expertise. There can be preconceived opinions that the female architect/designer has a seat at the table only to look after the embellishment layers of the project.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “To work hard, consistently focus on the output, and always remember that ideas are only great if they are well executed. My experience as an architect is that having 8 years of architectural education, followed by years of internships and work experience in other studios is a long haul but necessary. It takes years of hard work, perseverance, learning from others and from your own mistakes to have the know how that leads to success.”
Melden Francia-Batalla, Associate-Interior Design, RSP Architects
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “The opportunities for female designers have exponentially grown in the past years where there are now many women as project & design leads. Women are initiating collaboration with global organizers, local networks, and most of all raising awareness strengthening creativity and leadership roles. We are highly capable of influencing the trends and flow of design, whether it be in fashion, in architecture or in interior design. We create expressive experiential moments for our team members as leaders. I have had the honor to be personally part of a project that empowered women as project and design leads; from the leadership of the Client, to Design Directors of the Client Representatives, the Design Consultants, and as well as the Contractors. The Expo 2020 Rove Hotel Project is an exemplary model, designed by the RSP Interior Design Team, showcasing the women leadership movement of a Lead Designer and myself as Project Manager. This dynamic pushed through the boundaries of design challenges and delivery with quintessential motivation and power, and a graceful disposition. The UAE is an amazing place to nourish a woman’s profession, propelling the boundaries of creativity. I find that we are strongly supported here to experience growth and effectiveness as women leaders influencing future generations.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and to continuously expand your knowledge. Creativity is essential to success and empowerment and thereby powering your confidence. To me, it is our commitment and passion that will keep us striving to find our voice and our purpose to the life we are capable of living. Be bold, be brave, and creatively innovate.”
Grammatiki Zamani, Founder & Principal Architect, kiklos architects
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “It is a very enticing environment to work in given the diversity of the requirements deriving from all the different nationalities coexisting here. The marketplace presents many growth opportunities for female entrepreneurs. Consequently, as female entrepreneurs, we strive to create equitable and inclusive work environments for our colleagues.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “Be curious and observe your surroundings. Academic knowledge is important but construction and manufacturing details are all around you. Learn the importance of every line you draw on the paper. Patience is fundamental at every new beginning. The corporate world is significantly different from the academic environment, and it is important to build on your practical knowledge from the very beginning of your career. Do not forget the young and innovative spirit you have now, just learn how to tame it with the experience you will gain throughout your journey.”
Carina Lima, Design Director, Swiss Bureau Interior Design
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “The experience for female professionals in the working environment varies around the world. As a female interior designer working with a diverse and inclusive team at Swiss Bureau, I feel incredibly grateful to work for a firm that values all, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Here we value competence first; nothing else matters.
My time working in the region has been very positive, and I have felt the local community in the UAE is eager to embrace new ideas and concepts from all corners of the world – which makes my job all the more exciting! I have always felt valued for my contributions and expertise. However, I believe this is not always the case, as many women still face discrimination and disadvantages, not limited to The Middle East, but worldwide – progress is undeniable. The cultural mindset here is changing, which is amazing to witness. There is a concerted effort to empower women in the workforce, with more companies striving to level the playing field. It’s heartening to see the recognition and support women are receiving.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “To all the region’s young and upcoming designers, I advise you to be adventurous, curious, and open to new experiences. Take internships in different places, travel, and explore other cultures. Be empathetic, respectful, and understanding towards different backgrounds, not only towards clients but also colleagues. Don’t limit yourself to one way of thinking, as the region is a wonderful melting pot of different cultures, religions, and ways of living. The more you can understand and be open to these new perspectives, the more you can help to solve their problems while welcoming in more creativity!
The region is becoming an international hub with companies, people, and investments. Another important thing I find important is learning new languages. It can be a valuable asset in your career, opening doors to new opportunities and can allow for effective communication, creating a comfort zone between clients. I know three languages, and I want to learn more! Keep yourself informed, stay up to date with new technologies, and be part of the environment. Doing so will create a network of supporters that will help you grow your career.”
Mnuara Zubaidildayeva, Studio Manager & Interior Designer, Bishop Design
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “In my view, there should not be any segregation of benefits dependent on gender in any part of the world or in any profession, not only within the field of design. Hard work, dedication, enthusiasm, constant self- development, knowledge upgrade, and strong personal qualities can lead you to a successful career as a professional. As for my experience of being a female designer in the Middle East, luckily, I have not faced any gender stereotype challenges myself, and walking into a meeting where I could be the only female does not concern me. Therefore, rephrasing the question to ‘What is it like being a designer in the Middle East?’ without a gender prefix – makes sense. Working in a region where there is constant construction of new developments and a highly demanding market to excel the user’s experience to the highest standards provides an excellent opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects, ensuring that one never gets bored.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “My advice to young and upcoming designers in the region would be to focus on building a strong foundation of skills and knowledge, as well as developing a unique and distinctive style to stand out. It is important to stay up-to-date with industry trends and technologies while also being true to your own vision and creativity, even if you have to fight for it. I have always had a strong work ethic and a strong character, and believe it is important to be persistent in your craft. Success often comes from dedication and your ability to prove yourself as a valuable member of the industry.”
Karma Zahran, Director of Interior Design, Forsite Creative
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “Being from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia in particular, I have found that being a woman in this very competitive industry is challenging. First off contending with male designers and contractors is sometimes tricky as in this region people tend to look towards men with more confidence over women. Then there is the added layer of European industry peers who seem to have a leg up over Arab women, regardless of gender. I have found that being polite yet assertive and speaking with confidence is the best way in instilling trust with clients, other consultants, and contractors. By displaying good knowledge and know how with practical and timely solutions the relationships I have built among clients and industry colleagues have lasted years and the return business we get as a company has really proven that as well. Over the last 2 years it has become my goal to become a role-model for all business women in the GCC market and prove that we are all talented, smart and motivated to make it internationally and become the leaders in our respective fields not just in the design world.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “My advice would be, in particular to young women entering the field, don’t underestimate your ideas or make yourself smaller to accommodate for people with more experience. Fresh ideas, new perspectives, and new skills are always welcome in the design field so always make yourself heard. Have the confidence to speak up and be included in discussions and brainstorms. It’s the only way to learn and of course set yourself apart from the growing competition in our industry.”
Vera Dieckmann, Founder & Creative Director, XO Atelier
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “Looking back at the last 25 years of my career, working in nearly all regions of the world, as a graduated engineer of Architecture and Interior Designer – I would not be the same person and designer without having faced obstacles and difficulties along the way. We learn to grow through our limitations and the daily challenges, they let us rise above our comfort zone. Challenges are a part of the job as a designer, and the critics you will face are important for your self growth and performance. Standing still is the beginning of the end and the enemy of excellence.
No matter in which region of the world or industry, women still face rejection, unfair criticism and are discouraged from pursuing successful careers. Particularly in the male dominated world of design and architecture. As women it is our duty to support other females and young designer and architects entering the industry.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “First advise to the young and upcoming designer – never give up! Find someone to who you can look up. Watch, study and learn, travel and soak up information like a dry sponge as design is the summary of all the impressions you collect in life. Designing is a practice and a skill, which needs grit to be successful in the end. Believe in yourself and your skill set. The industry needs more great female designers!”
Regina Santos, Founder & Design Director, Light Fusion | Specialist Lighting
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “As a country the UAE is very welcoming to any professional who comes to add value through their work, and I am all for it. I have always felt welcomed and appreciated. Regarding being a female designer – most who might not know the region could think it’s a harsher environment for women, which is not necessarily true in the UAE. It could be true in other Middle Eastern countries, but my perspective is of someone who lives in Dubai.
In my point of view as a female designer, what stands out in the end is our work, in the Middle East or in any region. We are proving our value through hard work, professionalism, and dedication. The important to be conscious to not discriminate based on gender – in any part of the world.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “Follow your dreams! Understand that there will be ups and downs. Read, read, read (books), be curious and open to learning (from various disciplines). Also learn from mistakes, it’s part of the growth process. Know that dedication and resilience go a long way. Appreciate the opportunities and enjoy the journey!”
Ana Adriano, Lead Designer, Design Infinity
What is it like being a female designer in the Middle East: “I strongly believe that it’s innate of us women to create awesome things and what better world would we be in if not in the design world? The Middle East is a hub for innovation and sustainability and that gives us the source of pride to be one of the front-liners as visionaries and educators in this movement.”
Advice to young and upcoming designers in the region: “Do not shy away from things that are new to you as this will just limit your growth. Dive deeper than décor. You have the power to create, use it well. Learn about sustainability and bring awareness by starting a conversation. Incorporate sustainability in your life and in projects as we all need to embrace it completely to understand it completely.”
8 March, 2023