International Women's Day in UAE: Meet the women changing their workplaces one day at a time

From an event management company to a restaurant, KT profiles three female business owners who have broken barriers and started difficult conversations


Nasreen Abdulla

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Photo: Sophie Simpson
Photo: Sophie Simpson

Published: Sun 5 Mar 2023, 3:27 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Mar 2023, 1:06 PM

With Women’s Day around the corner, Khaleej Times is introducing some women who are breaking barriers, starting difficult conversations and making a difference for thousands of other women. Today, KT profiles three women who are changing the work culture through their own business ventures.

For Sophie Simpson, her mantra is simple – every employee is valuable. When an employee who has been with her from the first day of Atteline had to leave the country back to Philippines due to her partner losing his job during the Covid pandemic, Sophie simply could not sit back and watch the loss of a trusted worker.

"It is said that no road is long when you have good company” she said. “Everything I have done since opening the doors of Atteline has been rooted in a culture of listening and responsiveness.”

So when there was an opportunity to open Atteline's second country office in Manila, Sophie immediately called the trusted long-term colleague. Atteline’s Manila office now employs eight people, who are an integral part of the agency, and earlier this year, Sophie flew her entire Dubai team to the Philippines so that the agency, of just under 30, could bond.

“Creating workplaces that invite and retain a team requires a holistic approach that addresses the unique challenges that many, especially women, face in the workplace,” she said. “We have entrenched diversity and inclusion policies at all stages of the employment cycle. We provide ongoing training and mentorship opportunities, set targets that offer fair assessments, and reinforce supportive workplace cultures.”

Sophie says her ambition is to build a happy and rewarding business environment. “I am passionate about focusing on making Atteline the best place to work, for everyone,” she said. “My team hear me say this over and over again: "surround yourself with people smarter than you, with different points of view and reward them for success."

Part of the family

For mechanical engineer Honey Ebra, it was a lack of restaurants with a soul that led her to being a co-owner of Belgrave restaurant. “I have been to some of the finest eateries in the Middle East, US, Africa and London, but I always felt like there was something missing,” she said.

The Briton of Iranian origin was in between jobs during her more than a decade long career in the oil and gas industry, when her younger brother Amin expressed his desire to become a chef. Grandchildren to the head chef of the Persian monarchy, Honey trusted her brother’s instinct. “I believed in him,” she said. “I knew he could do it. So, I decided to help him set up the business.”

Over the next few years, the brother-sister duo worked hard to create a restaurant that honoured their family’s legacy, but more importantly, one that treats its customers like family. “When I interview people for the restaurant, I tell them that Amin and I are welcoming them to be a part of our family,” she said. “We lead by example, and we make sure that our workers know that we are one single unit. That is probably why you will feel like you are being welcomed into our home when you come into our restaurant.”

While Honey takes care of the operational side of Belgrave that has branches in London, Abu Dhabi and Global Village in Dubai, Amin is the executive chef and founder. According to Honey, despite having occasional disagreements, the entrepreneurial venture has strengthened their sibling bond.

“Amin comes up with ideas and I give it structure,” said Honey. “We do argue about things. In fact, when we were younger, my parents used to call us Tom and Jerry because we were forever fighting. But opening Belgrave has really made us bond. I was worried that it would ruin our relationship, but he really appreciates what I am doing for him, and I love being able to support him.”

Chief Energy Officer

When 19-year-old Niousha Ehsan founded an events company in 2009, it was a single desk with nothing but her enthusiasm as its asset. Today, LINKVIVA has branches in London and Dubai, employs over 50 people, and has been listed as one of the top 50 events companies in the world.

However, Niousha admits that running her own company was probably one of the most challenging yet rewarding things she has ever done. “When we started, I had to do everything from A to Z – finance, sales, project management, creative, conceptualisation, delivery, you name it,” she said. “As we grew, I struggled to understand how to manage my team. My business coach challenged me to be ok with the concept of not knowing everything and being open about that with my team. I learned to be my authentic self – the nurturer [with an] honest personality.”

According to her, the relationship between her and her team changed with this. “From being boss and employee,, we became a true team and we saw amazing results,” she said. “From that point on company culture became a top priority for me. We made it very clear that it was okay to have weaknesses. We focus on your strengths and find someone else to do things you are weak at. By focusing on their strengths, [people] flourish, are happier, and perform better.”


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