When American expat Christina Zini arrived in Qatar just over a year ago, she decided it was the perfect place and time to launch a project very close to her heart. A professional woman with a career in management consulting that has taken her around the world, she wanted to give something to her new community. Her idea was to launch a mentoring programme for budding professional women from all backgrounds and faiths, partnering them with established peers in Qatar. But, as she began her search to find suitable mentors, she discovered that there was no cross-industry network for her to tap into. ‘I probably could have set up the mentoring ring alone,’ she says. ‘But then I discovered there was a real gap in the local community for something more.’
So, with the help of a core planning team – a group of 15 female volunteers – she founded Qatar Professional Women’s Network, or QPWN for short. The group, run by volunteers, has three major aims. The first is to help professional women of all ages, backgrounds and religions to meet other like-minded women. The second is to help women develop themselves as leaders, and the third is to foster cross-cultural understanding, something Zini feels very passionate about. ‘Although we do have some Qatari women involved already, we would love to attract more,’ she says. ‘It’s been a bit more difficult to break into their social circles. I think this is because the group that started QPWN were all expat women, so most of our social networks were with other expats. So we’re looking for other ways to meet Qatari professional women. Aisha Alfardan, an amazing entrepreneur who is vice-chair of Qatari Businesswomen Forum, has been giving us ideas about how we can build membership. The positive thing is that there’s general interest by both sides to create collaboration.’
QPWN also holds workshops. ‘We recently paired up with a recruitment agency for a workshop about finding a job in Qatar,’ says Zini. ‘It had a huge waiting list and everyone really enjoyed it. It really helped women to understand the challenges there can be in finding a job here.’
She says that many job-seekers in Qatar often struggle to identify where the jobs are in the first place. ‘To start with, there are lots of companies with no web presence at all,’ she explains. ‘In other parts of the world we’re used to recruitment websites, but here it’s far more about relationships and word of mouth. You have to target the right organisations and physically visit them. You have to be very persistent and keep following up, and you can’t get disappointed if you don’t hear anything back. The standard response is no response! You have to be patient and persistent – and eventually it will pay off.’
Members also report that salaries are often lower in Qatar than in their home countries. But, Zini insists, gender inequality in the workplace is no worse here than it is anywhere else in the world. ‘The notion that I have is that men tend to find it easier to make contacts in Qatar because of the cultural separation of the sexes here,’ she says. ‘So they network naturally, and that means that they have an easier time finding a job.’
QPWN’s members are a diverse bunch, working, for example, in energy companies, finance, HR, construction and hospitality. Many more are self-employed. ‘There are many women who find they aren’t able to get a job outside the home, so they’ve started up their own companies,’ says Zini. ‘So it’s great for them to be able to network, and often they use the meetings to generate new business.’
Zini is hoping to launch her mentoring scheme this year. ‘My plan is to begin with about 15 female university students or new graduates. I want it to be a small and selective group, as it’s important that we choose very motivated mentors. I want to pair people cross-culturally. I hope that both parties will benefit from the relationship.’
She sees a great future for Qatar and the women in its workforce. ‘I really love it here. It’s a country that has such a vision for its future, going through such exciting growth, and it really aims high, as with the bid for the 2022 World Cup. I see it as a very tolerant and peaceful place with visionary leaders. And I think the community rallies behind you and shares your vision and makes it happen. There’s a great entrepreneurial community here.’
QPWN meets on the fourth Monday of every month for an informal networking event after work. The location changes every month. There is no charge: members simply pay for anything they order to eat or drink. Events are always alcohol-free.
Prospective members can either email email@example.com and ask to join, or ‘like’ the group on Facebook. Membership is open to women of any nationality and of any age, including women who aren’t currently working but who are hoping to return to work in the future.