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Guest blog by Jo Thornell.

Jo Thornell is Director of Sales and Service Excellence at Shakespeare Martineau. The firm was a key sponsor of the Qatar-UK Business & Investment Forum, which took place at Birmingham’s ICC on 28th March 2017.

Yesterday a colleague and I had the privilege of meeting a group of women from the Qatari Businesswomen’s Association at the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum in Birmingham. 

Despite different experiences and cultural perspectives, we all agreed that empowering women to play an active role in economic development can only result in a positive outcome.   By getting involved in such activity, each of us is helping to create role models for our respective communities and support other women in grasping opportunities. We also agreed that the way we go about this is important – women should be encouraged to   believe in themselves and the contribution they can make. Rather than trying to emulate our male colleagues or peers, we should celebrate our differences – isn’t that the beauty of a diverse team?

The women we spent time with at the event were from a variety of backgrounds - professionals, creative industries, engineering and more.  The support and respect they had for each other was clear.  As they shared their business stories, the pride they took in each other’s success was palpable and their desire for the Association to grow in influence for the benefit of future generations was inspirational.   This wasn’t a discussion about rights or wrongs – it was a constructive conversation about how to make things better for women and encourage them to make a greater contribution to society for the benefit of everyone.

While our geographies and cultural identities separate us, some shared goals emerged during our conversations:

-          Mentors, role models and advisers are essential to help us share ideas and grow.  It’s often the simplest ideas that resonate the most and make the biggest difference to our lives. I was reminded once by a businesswoman in a similar role that tools such as Facetime/Skype mean that I can be sitting with my daughter helping with her homework even when physical miles are in the way.  Using this technology means that if she wants to ask something or just chat, I can be in the room for her.  Without these few words of advice, I may never have had the idea….or certainly not as quickly!

-          The power of collaborating is not to be underestimated.  Supporting each other and celebrating success is incredibly powerful and gives confidence to all those who see it.  Equally, having the network of support when things are perhaps not going to plan is extremely valuable.

-          Whatever your age, you can be a role model for the generations of women that follow so it is important to make time to play your part.  The Qatari Businesswomen’s Association now has students as members. They see this as key to the future and who would disagree? Businesswomen should seek out opportunities to mentor others in this way.

-          The idea of supporting women in developing a stronger role in society is not about increasing the numbers.  It’s about building working environments where everyone’s contribution is valued, regardless of gender, religion or background.  We all want to see successful economic development and associations such as the Qatari Businesswomen’s Association play a vital role.

I’m certain the Association will reflect on its visit to the UK as a positive experience, which celebrated our similarities and shared experiences. I’m also certain that if I ever find myself doing business in Qatar I will know exactly where to look for support and advice.