Glass ceiling cracks: Sharihan Al Mashary becomes first female GM in Dubai

Feminist or not, the glass ceiling may have not fully ceased to exist. Because if it were,  Emaar Hospitality Group’s newest appointee at Manzil Downtown, Sharihan Al Mashary, would not be Dubai’s first female Emirati general manager.

Olivier Harnisch, CEO of Emaar Hospitality Group, said: “We are delighted to appoint our first female Emirati general manager at Manzil Downtown, especially as the hotel focuses on highlighting the Arabian ethos and the Emirati heritage. With several years of experience in the hospitality industry, Sharihan will bring exceptional insights, as an Emirati, to drive the day-to-day operations of the hotel, which is popular among Arab guests. We are focused on building Emirati talent in the hospitality sector, and Sharihan will serve as an inspiration for young Emiratis to pursue rewarding careers in the industry.”

Set apart by its traditional architectural style, regional motifs, and above all, a focus on celebrating Arabian hospitality, Manzil Downtown, under the Vida Hotels and Resorts brand, is centrally located in Downtown Dubai. Overlooking the iconic Burj Khalifa and located within a short walking distance from all major tourist attractions such as The Dubai Mall and Dubai Opera, Manzil Downtown has 197 rooms and suites, a distinctive collection of restaurants and lounges, as well as meeting and lifestyle events facilities and a business hub.

Al Mashary is an MBA in International Management with specialisation in International Hospitality & Tourism and holds a BSc (Hons) in International Hospitality Management – both from the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai. Given the cultural context in the Middle East with respect to women, Mashary had to survive many men-only environments to get to this spot today.

Empowering moves

In an exclusive chat with TD, she spills the bean on being a hospitality professional and more.

“The hospitality industry is extremely dynamic and not for the faint-hearted”

TD: How has your journey been so far as a woman hospitality professional in the Middle East?

SM: The hospitality industry is extremely dynamic and not for the faint-hearted. It is a journey with twists and turns; it is long and rough road with crests and troughs; and it brings you to your breaking point, tests your limits and patience, questions your vulnerability and willpower. Despite all this, I would rather be in no other place.

Being the first female Emirati general manager came with years of hard work, unwavering commitment, intense dedication and an abiding respect for the industry. There is no disconnect between being in the hospitality industry and a woman professional in the Middle East. Women excel in all walks of life and bring gumption to the management style through feminine traits such as value and empathy. Women are gracefully and subtly spearheading the movement of transformation in the travel and hospitality industry.

“Unfortunately, this field is still predominated by men”

From serving as front office manager to business development to working in F&B at Armani Hotel Dubai to GM now, you have come a long way. How difficult is it for Emirati women professionals to break in the sector especially at top management?

Times have changed. In my time, to be a hotelier, one had to go to a hotel school and work their way up. Emirati women studying and working in the field were a minority and continues to be so; and it was a rarity if any would end up in an operational department. It is an industry based on merit and not nationality, gender inequality is prevalent because more men have chosen to work in this field than women. The initial step towards this sector is not exactly difficult, but it is not easy either; a lot of hard work, flexibility and determination are required to sustain one’s position, particularly to be considered for a top management role. Unfortunately, this field is still predominated by men, however, things are changing.

What were your greatest challenges?

I see challenges as experiences and bridges— and opportunities for development. One of my greatest challenges was starting all over again every time I took over a new department/division – I had to go back to its root and build it up to make it stronger, distinct, and robust.

You were also the first female student at the Abu Dhabi Men’s College pursuing Aeronautical Mechanics and Airline Management. How did your education and experience combat it?

Theory and practice are two unparalleled worlds in constant collision. Having the educational background and degree in the field helps with understanding the idea of it in the parameter of its external glory, however, it is field experience that teaches the operational dynamics, complexities, and the anatomy of this industry– books don’t teach you industry wisdom and strategic stance of the industry.

What inspired you to select this trade after having completed a different area earlier?

It happened by sheer accident quite honestly, though it has been my mother’s dream that at least one of her children would pursue hotel education and become an influencing hotelier. Twenty years ago, Hospitality and Tourism education was almost unheard of in this region. I explored my own paths and went from Aero & Astro Sciences to International Hospitality Management. In fact, my sister started her ‘Hospitality Management’ education; and I got curious; and switched paths. I had enrolled myself into a universe unknown to me and fell madly in love with the industry.

New shoes

Along with supporting the management team in driving the hotel operations, what are you looking forward to most in your new role?

I’m working at developing future leaders, particularly the young emerging talent in this industry. I’m excited about the opportunity to train and guide the UAE National team and Emirati youth to be a part of the hospitality sector and compete both – nationally and internationally in this field.

“Manzil, When Home is Arabic”

What do you plan to change at Manzil Downtown?

Introduce changes to the F&B outlets in terms of concept and menu; bridge culture and heritage into hospitality and truly reflect the hotel’s tagline: ‘Manzil, When Home is Arabic’. I’m working with the team to introduce exciting concepts and community involvement campaigns with strategies that involve talented youth.

“Encourage all women to be a part of this revolution:

What advice would you give aspiring woman hospitality professionals?

“Stay strong and focused, stay kind and generous”

Hospitality is a rapidly growing industry globally, and I want to encourage all women to be a part of this revolution. It can be demanding, intense, tough and overwhelming at times, but it is also exciting, vibrant and innovative within its concepts. As you grow in this sector, you learn so much about who you are, what you stand for and who you will become. One must be equipped with passion, creativity, energy and idealism, to bring about generational changes, and secure a more prosperous and peaceful future.

To all the young talent and dreamers, stay strong and focused, stay kind and generous, work hard and earn your stripes! Lead with courage and speak of truth and value; and always give back abundantly to your employer, community, country, family and don’t forget yourself.

Want to be the next big name in the hospitality profession? TD Jobs can help you find the right fit for you.

Emaar Hospitality GroupOlivier HarnischSharihan Al MasharyManzil Downtown