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Final Call: Let's Take Men Out Of "Business Class" In The Arab World (Only From A Linguistic Perspective Though) This isn't merely a trivial annoyance- it's a symbol of the hurdles women continue to navigate, a linguistic relic of a bygone era that persists in our supposedly progressive times.

By Ruwaida Abela Northen

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In the grand, glittering dance floor of professional life, where confidence is the currency, and achievements are the dress code, there lurks an uninvited guest at every woman's party: the Impostor Syndrome. This unwelcome plus-one whispers doubts and insecurities, convincing many brilliant women they're merely wearing a costume of competence, about to be unmasked at any moment.

A linguistic quirk underscores the challenges women face in professional spheres, especially poignant for those of us who frequent the skies. In some of the GCC region's largest airports as well as aboard numerous regional airlines, "Business Class" is still translated into Arabic as "Business Men Class."

Each sighting of this phrase -ironically, every time I am traveling on a business trip- is a sharp reminder of the pervasive, albeit sometimes subtle, ways in which women are marginalized, even in supposedly universal spaces like airports.

And no, this isn't merely a trivial annoyance- it's a symbol of the hurdles women continue to navigate, a linguistic relic of a bygone era that persists in our supposedly progressive times.

File photo.


You've probably heard this statistic: men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women feel they should only apply only if they meet 100% of them. This discrepancy isn't just about confidence; it's about the societal blueprint we're given from a young age, particularly pronounced in my generation in the Middle East. Men are often encouraged to leap with abandon, while women are taught to approach opportunities with caution, meticulously evaluating their qualifications before making a move. This disparity in job application behavior underscores not just individual doubts, but systemic structures that shape our self-assessment.


Every woman, at some point, feels as though she's performing a high-wire act in stilettos, balancing between her actual achievements, and the fear of being called out as a fraud. Picture this: you're walking the tightrope, juggling your talents, successes, and occasionally, a glass of bubbly (because, why not?). Below you, the Impostor Syndrome waits with a net, convinced you'll fall into its embrace. Spoiler alert: you won't. You've walked in heels on cobblestones (another male invention)- you can handle this.


It's a cult many of us didn't sign up for, but find ourselves members of nonetheless- the "I've Just Been Lucky" society. Here, accomplished women attribute their successes to sheer luck, serendipity, or even a clerical error. Meetings are held in the minds of brilliant women everywhere, featuring keynote speakers like "Chance" and "Right Place, Right Time." But, it's time to walk away from such notions. Your achievements are not a lottery win; they're the result of your hard work, dedication, and that extra bit of sparkle you bring to everything you do.

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In the intricate dance of professional and personal life, many women have been choreographed to sidestep compliments, to stand a little less tall, as if their brilliance might cast too long a shadow over others. It's as though we've been programmed with a modesty reflex, a quick "Oh, it was nothing" or a diverting "Anyone could have done it" at the ready whenever praise comes our way. This dance is delicate, one where we're careful not to step on toes, to not shine too brightly. But then, a thought twirls onto the dance floor: if my achievements make anyone feel inadequate, that's not on me. This isn't about ego or vanity; it's about recognizing that diminishing our light does no favors to the world. We learn that we shouldn't feel guilty or shy away from our success. Instead, we embrace it, standing tall, not to overshadow but to illuminate paths for others.


These revelations -the disparity in job application confidence as well as the linguistic oversight of "Business Men Class"- serve as a backdrop to our dance. They remind us that the masquerade ball of professional life is set against a complex tapestry of societal expectations and cultural norms. But recognizing these challenges is the first step towards rewriting the rules of the dance, towards a world where women apply for roles with the boldness of their counterparts, and where "Business Class" unequivocally includes the brilliant women who are sat in it.


Imagine twirling across the dance floor with your doubts. At first, they step on your toes, and you stumble. But as the night goes on, you learn to lead. You realize that everyone has a shadow of doubt following them around, and that's okay. It's part of the dance. The trick is to keep moving to the rhythm of your achievements, letting the music drown out the whispers of the Impostor Syndrome.


We each have a green plot of land, a garden of our potential. While we do what we can to help others flourish, nurturing, encouraging, and even sharing our water when theirs runs dry, the ultimate responsibility to tend to one's garden lies within. Each of us must water our own, bask in our sunlight, and embrace the seasons of growth and renewal. The realization that it's not selfish to thrive, to accept compliments gracefully, and to own our achievements is liberating. It allows us to stand taller, not in competition but in solidarity, knowing that our gardens can coexist, each a testament to individual care, passion, and resilience.


In the quest to shield ourselves from the Impostor Syndrome's prying eyes, many don the disguise of perfection. This costume, though dazzling, is itchy, uncomfortable, and frankly, a bit last season. It's a garment made of late nights, self-doubt, and the pursuit of an unattainable standard. Let's hang it back in the closet. Instead, wear your "good enough" with pride- it's the new black, didn't you hear? It pairs well with everything, and it brings out the color of your real, authentic self.

Let's also not forget the power of our collective voice to challenge and change the narrative. The statistic that highlights our hesitation in job applications is a call to action- to mentor, to encourage, and to apply with the confidence of knowing we belong in every space we aspire to. And as for the outdated translation that greets us on every business trip? Let it serve not as a reminder of exclusion, but as a motivation to demand more inclusive language and recognition in every sphere, including the skies.

So, to every woman who's ever felt the sting of the Impostor Syndrome, know this: your achievements are not a matter of luck or serendipity. They are the result of your talent, hard work, and resilience. Your invisible tiara is very much real, and it's time the world recognizes the queens who wear them.

Together, let's adjust our tiaras, not to make them less visible, but to ensure they shine even brighter, reflecting the truth of our achievements, the depth of our capabilities, and the unwavering strength of our spirits.

Related: The Future Is Bright For Gender Equity In STEM In The MENA Region

Ruwaida Abela Northen

Founder and CEO, JRN Consultancy

Ruwaida Abela Northen is the founder and CEO of JRN Consultancy

Hailing from the sun-kissed shores of Tripoli, Libya, Ruwaida waltzed into the world of luxury hospitality with the poise of a debutante. At the tender age of 18, she embarked on a career that would carry her across the continents, from the bustling bazaars of Asia to the ancient ruins of Europe and the sandy dunes of the Middle East. With over two decades of experience tucked under her belt, Ruwaida has become a veritable virtuoso in the realms of consumer marketing, corporate communications, and high-impact campaigns, not to mention her finesse in public and media relations. A polyglot, she speaks English, Arabic, and Maltese fluently, and dabbles in Turkish as well.

Ruwaida's odyssey began with the Corinthia Group in Libya, then she hopped over to Malta with Starwood, and further jetted to Bahrain with the Ritz-Carlton. From there, it was off to Qatar, where she worked her magic with Shangri-La Group. Climbing the corporate ladder with agility and determination, Ruwaida ultimately ascended to the role of Vice President for PR and Corporate Communications overseeing the Middle East, India, Indian Ocean, Europe and the Americas, shattering glass ceilings as the first Arab woman to hold such a position in the company's history.  

In 2021, Ruwaida decided to chart her own course, establishing JRN Consultancy, a boutique agency specializing in luxury lifestyle, travel, and hospitality. With its headquarters nestled in the glitzy skyline of Dubai and representation in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, JRN embodies the spirit of a "journey." A fierce advocate for female empowerment, Ruwaida has built an all-women team, who, under her guidance, are conquering the world one luxury experience at a time. Collaborating with the crème de la crème of international brands, Ruwaida balances her professional life as a wife, mother of four, and author, frequently contributing her insights to business and lifestyle publications such as Hia, Sayidaty, Arabian Business and Entrepreneur, as well as by being a regular guest speaker at many conferences across the region. 

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