International Women’s Day: Top tips from female leaders at BDD


On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2024, BDD wanted to shed light on the diversity and inspiration within its ecosystem. They asked the strong female founders, leaders and professionals from the community, to share insights, business advice and empowering words with others. Here is what they had to say…

Part I: Advice for the next generation of women leaders

Lea Hage, HR Business Partner: “As mothers, sisters, friends and relatives of women, Be The Change You Want To See, contribute to a more equitable and inclusive future, driving for gender parity and a world where women can enjoy their full rights and freedoms. Be active allies, sponsors, mentors, and exemplary stewards of encouraging every woman or girl you encounter to achieve their maximum potential. Yes, we ask men to support women, but women need to do the same.

Mayssa Dawi, Country Director, British Council, Lebanon: My advice for the next generation of women leaders is to embrace their unique strengths and talents openly. In a society that may still be rooted in gender biases and stereotypes, it’s crucial to cultivate confidence in your abilities and assert your worth. Seek out mentors who can offer guidance, support, and opportunities for growth. Additionally, don’t shy away from advocating for yourself and others in the workplace. Be bold in voicing your ideas and perspectives, as your contributions are valuable and deserve to be heard.”

Lara Safar, Chief Operating Officer Interesting Times: “Leadership is not about trying to fit into a mold of what a leader is expected to be. It is all about being true to oneself. So for the next generation of women leaders, to always remember that your leadership journey is uniquely yours. It is not about replicating what has been done in the past but about paving new paths that reflect our values, our vision, and our strengths. Because in doing so, we contribute to a more inclusive, dynamic, and effective leadership landscape. Progress often comes from those who dare to challenge the status quo. And along the way, always, always remember to practice self-care.”

Kim Mouawad, Growth Director at Beirut Digital District: “As women who are heavily invested in our careers, we navigate paths not always designed for us, often facing external pressures. It is essential not to allow others’ opinions or societal expectations to derail our aspirations or focus. Additionally, learn to be vocal about what you want, not just the benefit of the collective. Women tend to be shy or hesitant about personal gain. By advocating for ourselves, we empower not only ourselves but also future generations of women leaders. Also, instead of overcompensating or trying to prove your worth to others, focus on doing the work and achieving tangible results. Your actions will speak louder than any validation you seek.”

Part II: On the challenges faced when starting up to growing in their respective roles

Nadine Hachach, Founder and CEO of Proximie, BEM: “There have certainly been challenges. Amongst them, combining my role as a practicing surgeon while running a fast-growing business! When I founded Proximie I was regularly asked if the company’s goal of digitizing operating rooms and bringing surgery into the 21st Century was merely a pipedream. But we had to change how surgeons operate; to meet growing demand; respond to increasingly complex health conditions faced by patients; and reduce healthcare inequity – a long time personal passion. It is why I persevered, convinced the doubters, and put all the effort in to connect with people who could help me grow the business. They would encourage me to keep going and offered solutions to issues we faced.”

Maha Zouwayhed: Associate Director at the Talal and Madiha Zein AUB Innovation Park and Leader of the ABLE Initiative (Accessibility for a Bolder Learning Experience): “I would say it was when I made the leap into business development after navigating various roles in Supply Chain, Finance, and IT. It became clear to me that understanding my own strengths—my “superpower,” if you will—was key to success. This realization taught me the importance of self-awareness in crafting a fulfilling career. Moving from Finance to IT to business development marked a significant shift, as it allowed me to pursue my passions and take risks without being hindered by traditional barriers. I firmly believe that everyone has their own unique strengths, much like the superheroes we watch in kids’ shows. By recognizing and honing our strengths, and learning from others, we can continually grow and create great value.”

Stephanie Fouchaux, PMP, Head of Operations at Cedar Oxygen Lebanon SAL: “The biggest obstacle I faced when I was appointed as the first female head of a unit out of 3 units and in charge of a medium-sized team made up of all men in a large commercial company. I felt the competition coming from within and beyond the team. Within our immediate team, some were not at ease having a woman lead and outside of the team, the other head of units felt that this position is only reserved for men. It took me a couple of years to prove to them that I was fit to lead. I did it by narrowing down as much as possible my knowledge gaps by improving my understanding in the areas of finance, legal, compliance, risk by taking on new tasks that were requested by the company … I worked hard on my soft skills to become a good mentor and to empower people.”

 Mariam Daher, Executive Director, Forward Mena: “Looking back, I can see how the tough times in my career helped shape who I am today, both professionally and personally. If I had to pick out the biggest challenges, I would think of two main ones: finding a balance between my job and my life, and building up my confidence. We don’t always talk about the confidence gap, which I, and many other women feel at the start of their careers. I always underestimated my ability and sell myself short, especially that I worked in a male dominated environment. I would hold back in meetings, keep my ideas to myself, and never apply for promotions. It took a long time until I realized I needed to ‘sit at the table’. Learning to articulate my achievements and ambitions with confidence was not an easy quest—it demanded deliberate practice, steadfast persistence, and a firm belief in my own worth. And as I honed these skills, my presence at the table was easier, marked by a confidence that was assertive yet smooth.”

Part III: On one thing they know now, that they wished they knew back then

Nivine Hamdan, Manager, Servme: “To say no to something we don’t really agree with. In addition, it would be to stay up to date with the latest trends and technologies in the market. A key challenge was dealing with tight deadlines, so in order to ensure that all deadlines were met, I organized a workflow process to help me track each task and prioritize them based on importance. The advice I have for other women professionals, is to be confident in their abilities and not afraid to face challenges.”

Hind Skaf, Director of Finance at Atria Solutions SAL: “One thing I learned from my professional journey is the importance of networking and building relationships. While skills and knowledge are crucial, the connections you make along the way can open doors, provide valuable opportunities, and offer support. Building a strong network not only enhances your career prospects but also enriches your professional life by exposing you to diverse perspectives and experiences. Some experiences could be bad, but adapting in all situations is the key factor. Understanding that setbacks are a natural part of growth and that success often requires perseverance through difficult times. It’s crucial to stay determined and keep pushing forward, even when things don’t go as planned.”

There you have it… decades of combined experience, and insightful advice from women leaders in our community.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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