Middle East Embraces Latham’s Women Enriching Business Initiative

Latham leads an initiative to provide networking and educational opportunities to professional women in the Middle East.

January 14, 2013

Dipti Thakar, counsel in Latham & Watkins’ Dubai office, has worked in the United States, Europe and Asia. When she began working in the Middle East she noticed she was, for the first time, largely without a peer network of female professionals.

“When I first came to Dubai all the colleagues I had at my peer level were men,” she said. “I didn’t have women I could brainstorm with or network with in order to build connections and make introductions.”

Thakar reached out to Sharon Bowen, a New York-based partner who co-chairs the firm’s Women Enriching Business (WEB) Initiative, and suggested expanding WEB to the Middle East. WEB is designed to promote women in business by expanding networks and professional relationships and attracting and investing in the long-term success of women.

Bringing WEB to the Middle East

With Bowen’s support, Thakar joined forces with Kathryn Tschumper, the business development manager for the firm’s Middle East offices, to launch WEB in the Middle East. In the three years since then, the firm has hosted events in all four of its Middle East offices. “The WEB program has grown organically as a result of the considerable interest demonstrated by women across all industries, sectors and backgrounds,” said Thakar. “There is an immense appetite in this region for women to be able to meet and network with other professional women.”

“We face the same issues with having women in high levels of leadership as elsewhere in the world,” said Tschumper. “We are starting to see more women leaders, but it is still something that everyone is trying to pay more attention to.”

Enthusiastic Response Means Rapid Expansion

Interest has come from professional women in all business sectors, not just law, and partnerships with other local women’s organizations have aided WEB’s expansion. One such organization is 85 Broads, an international organization for professional women that has been a longtime partner of Latham. “We started to discuss further collaboration, WEB was mentioned and we didn't hesitate to jump in with both feet to work on seminars and events where we could work together,” said Lucy Chow, who heads 85 Broads Dubai chapter.

Addressing Challenges of Female Professionals

Though Thakar and Tschumper started with events with a more social tenor, a desire for happenings of more substantive nature have led them to shift their focus. WEB now hosts various panels, conferences and discussions on a wide range of topics including, green energy and climate change, the Arab Spring and female entrepreneurship.

Heather Henyon, the founder and managing partner of Balthazar Capital, a Dubai-based microfinance investment advisory firm, who has participated in several WEB events as a panelist says WEB’s success in the region is a result of high quality events and a dearth  of similar programs. “There is a shortage of support and resources for women working in the Middle East so there is pent-up demand for events like the ones offered by the WEB initiative,” she said. “There has been a lot of positive feedback about the high quality of speakers and content at the WEB seminars.”

An Internal Vehicle for Networking at Latham

WEB has also become a valuable internal resource for women working in Latham’s Middle East offices. Associate Noor Al-Fawzan was one of the first women to graduate from law school in Riyadh. Al-Fawzan expected to face challenges as one of the few females in the profession in Saudi Arabia, but was pleasantly surprised. “At Latham I haven’t encountered any challenges and, on the contrary, I received and am still receiving the support I need to develop myself as a legal professional,” she said. “That’s what’s great about Latham: they do invest in the long-term success of women.”

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