#DriveDefinesHer: In Conversation With Porsche Middle East's Head of Legal and Compliance, Shurooq Zainal

"I am extremely proud to represent a country that embraces gender equality and empowers women to thrive and succeed in their chosen path."

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To celebrate the launch of the latest edition of the Panamera, Porsche Middle East and Africa (MEA) has partnered with a handful of inspiring women from the Middle East to support and celebrate their drive and determination in becoming leaders within their industry on a campaign entitled "Drive Defines Her." One of the Arab women featured in this initiative is Porsche MEA's very own Shurooq Zainal, a UAE national who's the Head of Legal and Compliance at the enterprise. As one of the only female Emirati lawyers in the region working for an international company, Zainal's story is in line with the Panamera’s tag line of "Drive Defines Us"--here are excerpts from an interview with her: 

You are the Director of Legal Affairs and Compliance at Porsche Middle East and Africa. How does it feel to work with one of the biggest automotive brands in the world? 

My experience at Porsche Middle East and Africa has been incredible. Throughout my career, I’ve encountered many hurdles as a female lawyer, but I can honestly say that I am extremely proud to work for a company that is an active supporter of female leadership and development. Just recently, I was appointed the first female director and first Emirati in senior management.  

Furthermore, I was involved in our #DriveDefinesHer campaign, where we partnered with a select group of inspiring females from across the region to support and celebrate their drive and determination in becoming leaders within their industry. It was great to be featured alongside some of the most driven, daring and confident women in the Gulf. Hopefully, the campaign will inspire the next generation of young Arab women to enter into fields that they may perceive are not accessible. 

What was it about the legal industry that made you want to pursue a career in it? 

Growing up in the UAE, law was not a field that was commonly chosen by Emirati women. My ambition and interest in everything legal came from my desire to work with people and help them. In fact, the idea of the subject being dominated by men did not even cross my mind.

I was fortunate to receive a full scholarship from H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to study law in the UK, which was an unforgettable and inspiring experience. I formed lifelong professional and personal relationships and friendships, and I continue to interact with them even today.

After graduating, my knowledge of Sharia and Islamic law helped me build a bridge between the local and international legal systems. This allowed me to consult foreign clients on how businesses are run in the UAE compared to other countries. I am extremely proud to represent a country that embraces gender equality and empowers women to thrive and succeed in their chosen path. 

You are an Emirati woman challenging your own career in the private sector, unlike many others. Why did you choose this path, and was it challenging? 

It came down to my personal choice. Both the public and private sectors offer great job opportunities. It is important to keep your options open.

Personally, I was looking for an international experience that challenged me and gave me the opportunity to grow my skillset. That path evolved with time and my entire career thus far has been in the private sector.

Did I make sacrifices? Of course. Like in any other area of business, you have to expect the unexpected. I firmly believe that there are no shortcuts to success, and I would do it all over again if I had to. 

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Describe your childhood, and what influenced you when while growing up?

I was blessed to have supportive parents who always encouraged me to work hard and have faith in my own abilities. They were my pillars of inspiration.

As a teen, I was diagnosed with a severe case of dyslexia. A shock at first, I never let it hold me back. On the contrary, I decided to study law in a foreign language, which made me explore my strength, and focus on what I needed to accomplish in order to be successful in life.

I will always say that dyslexia is not a disability, it’s an ability. It made me work harder to prove to everyone to never underestimate me.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Do they reflect any of your professional ambitions?

One of my biggest passion is travelling. In my childhood, I used to travel a lot with my family, which exposed me to different cultures and backgrounds. It had a strong impact on my personality, and fostered my ability to adopt quickly to different societies. This has helped me to work in international teams and with international clients. 

Outside of work, I seek to test myself. It keeps me striving to achieve new goals and learn new skills. I enjoy hiking as a physical but also mental challenge, and so I put my mind on climbing Kilimanjaro. My first attempt to reach the summit was not successful. So, I tried it again… and again I failed. But, that didn’t matter to me. It only made me stronger. It also taught me many things such as patience, perseverance, and the importance of maintaining a positive outlook.

Will there be a third attempt? Anything is possible. So, why not?

What would be your advice to a woman who is considering entering the legal profession? 

My main advice would be to always believe in yourself, and what you can accomplish. One of the biggest obstacles that a woman can face at the beginning of her career is doubting her own abilities. There will always be challenges along the way. Accept that. Work hard and results will come. If you’re passionate about what you do, focus on your goals, and give your best; you can achieve anything you want. The path is exhilarating and rewarding, so stay on it.

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