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Big Goals, Bold Choices: H.E. Dr. Maryam Mohamed Fatma Matar, Founder And Chairperson, UAE Genetic Diseases Association "You need to understand how unique we are as females. We as women are empowered with biological strengths that men do not have. Look after your beauty, be feminine, don't raise your voice."

By Tamara Pupic

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

H.E. Dr. Maryam Matar

This article is from a special edition of Entrepreneur Middle East created for the 2024 edition of the Women's Empowerment Convention (WE Convention), staged by the WE Council. Check out the full publication here.

As a pioneer in epigenetics and regenerative therapies in the Arab region, whose efforts have been recognized with over 35 prestigious scientific and leadership awards,H.E. Dr. Maryam Mohamed Fatma Matar actively champions gender equality and women's leadership in science and technology in the UAE. That said, she is also quick to point out that women who build their careers in the UAE face fewer obstacles than in other parts of the world- note here that Dr. Matar was the first woman to hold a high-level senior position in a government institution when, in 2008, she was appointed as the Director General of the Community Development Authority in Dubai. "I've always been looked after, especially by our leaders," Dr. Matar says.

Dr. Matar admits that there was a time when not everyone in the UAE was ready to accept that women had started taking higher career positions; however, as soon as they saw the support that these women got from the country's leadership, they followed suit. Dr. Matar reconfirms this by sharing an interesting story about her meetings with H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. "Every Tuesday, all Director Generals would have lunch with His Highness, and I would be the only one in a black abaya," she says. "Once, I was late, because I had some prior commitments, and I had asked the protocol about it, but they insisted that I come, saying that my absence would be too obvious. Once I finally managed to come to that meeting, His Highness was already in the majilis, and I was so ashamed that I came after him. But when he saw me at the entrance of the majilis, he stood up, and other attendees of the meeting did the same. I started running those 15 meters from the entrance to him, apologizing, and requesting him to sit down. I told him that it was the first time that everyone stood up for me, and then he said, that from then on, they would all always stand up for me. From that moment, even when H.H. was not there, my colleagues would stand up for me. It shows how kind and supportive our male colleagues in the UAE are."

Today, Dr. Matar plays a pivotal role in developing innovative healthcare models for the MENA region, not only as the founder and Chairperson of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association, but also as the founder of the Sheikh Zayed Genetics Research Centre. She has been instrumental in driving scientific discussions and community engagement in the fields of epigenetics and regenerative therapies. Her "Reprogram Your Genes" awareness program, adopted by over 200 academic institutions and 150 organizations, engages a wide audience from students to professionals, encouraging them to embrace healthier lifestyles. Achieving this level of success in her career also required developing good leadership skills about which Dr. Matar has some unique insights. "Nobody told me that female leadership is different than male leadership," she says. "The only two decisions I regret are the two decisions that I took on the first day of my period. It was only then that I came to truly understand the importance of learning about my own psychology, physiology, and biology, and how women are different during those few days in a month. I did not know that it would affect my decision- making so much. Since then, I have come up with a different approach to managing my organization- whenever I have to make a decision during the days of my period, I make it through my team."

Before we part ways, Dr. Matar shares one more anecdote for her career that shows how she was able to thrive and succeed in a male-dominated environment- this story takes us back to 2006 when she was named an Undersecretary in the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention. "I was only 29 years old, and I remember that I had only male colleagues at the Ministry, who were all senior to me age- and experience-wise," she says. "My husband helped me a lot, because he advised me to treat them as I would treat my father. Would I be the first one or the last one to talk when discussing any issue with my father? I answered that, for sure, I'd be the last one to talk. So, he said, let them start too, show your respect. From that moment, instead of rivalry, they started waiting to hear my opinion in the end, and they would more often than not agree with it. So, all that it took was to show respect to the elderly, and to them as men."

Insider Insights: H.E. Dr. Maryam Matar shares her advice for women in the workplace

Be proud to be female "You need to understand how unique we are as females. We as women are empowered with biological strengths that men do not have. Look after your beauty, be feminine, don't raise your voice."

Look after the beauty of your brain "We know that females have two X chromosomes, which, according to clinical studies, contain the gene that is responsible for social intelligence, mathematics, decision-making smartness, and much more. So, if one is not working, we have the other X chromosome- but in any case, do invest in your education."

Related: Big Goals, Bold Choices: H.H. Sayyida Basma Al Said, Founder, Whispers Of Serenity

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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