Not only is Nisreen Shocair President of Virgin Megastore Middle East and North Africa; she’s also a pioneer for female empowerment. She explains why she’s making sure that Virgin Megastore is leading the way across the Middle East…
Virgin Megastore is one of the few organisations run by a woman in the Middle East. My personal mission is to encourage more women to join the workforce – and retail in particular – and, more importantly, to stay in it, even when work and personal life become a challenge to balance.
I am very close to my team and I try to coach them throughout their different life stages, especially when they become new mothers or are facing a difficult period in their personal lives. Being able to offer flexible work, educational sponsorship and emotional support helps us keep more women in the workforce and gives them a consistent sense of identity, opportunities for personal growth, and financial and emotional security.
Attracting more women
As Virgin Megastore moved from a pure record store into a lifestyle store, it began to encompass fashion, beauty and lifestyle products alongside electronics and music. And so our female customers grew in presence and importance. It was essential that we reflected that change in our management, our buyers and, most importantly, the team on the sales floor. That, in turn, had a direct impact on the design of our stores, our style of communication, the music we played in stores, the merchandising and the overall energy of the stores. The result was a retail environment that became more inviting to everyone – not just women.
Tackling cultural awareness
In some of our markets in the Middle East, such as Egypt and Jordan, it can be difficult for women to work retail hours, because of family restrictions or cultural or safety concerns. Our solution has been to create a flexible environment that allows us to recruit female employees, thus benefiting from a female presence and perspective on the shop floor, while providing those women with hours that meet their needs. That way, we avoid compromising on financial security, training, career growth and cross-border opportunity. And I’m very proud of the fact that 35 per cent of Virgin Megastore MENA’s workforce is now female.
We also provide mentorship through REACH, an organisation that allows our employees to become both a mentor and a mentee. The purpose of the mentorship programme is to close the gap between the life path and the career path of our team members. Mentors span 11 different industries so it’s not just business, media or entertainment. If a team member is more interested in launching her own fashion line, she could potentially be teamed up with a fashion designer to help her take her vision to the next level.
We are the only organisation in the Middle East to offer returnships – these are opportunities to come back to the organisation for women who have taken sabbaticals in the past to raise their children or attend to personal matters. But, very importantly, they don’t have to take a cut in salary or experience a career setback.
It has been a great opportunity to tap into a larger talent pool of very qualified women who are eager to work and learn, and who will remain loyal to the organisation because of the positive integration experience we offer. We focus not just on hard skill retraining, but also on soft skill communication – together, these help to boost an employee’s self-confidence, and put them back into the workforce as productive members of a team and an industry.
Supporting women everywhere
Whenever possible, we ensure that we spend the company’s entertainment budget on supporting female-focused companies through our network of female employees and their friends, sisters and mothers. That could be female-owned bakeries or female event-planners, for example.
We also buy corporate gifts that are hand-made by female artisans – some are based as far away as the Philippines and India. We want to ensure that our giving starts at home; we know that the money will be well spent by female entrepreneurs on building a small business, sending their children to school, or making a safer and better life for their families.
No pay gap here!
Pay gaps and gender gaps don’t exist within Virgin Megastore MENA. We have a fair and transparent pay-scale, based on grade and scope of work, and there is very little room for subjectivity. A committee of five people feeds into decisions on salaries, grades and promotions to ensure that we always have very objective and fair compensation, regardless of gender.
So although we work very hard to ensure that women feel happy and encouraged to work within our organisation, I hope we’re generating an inclusive culture that makes both men and women feel they are part of our future, and that we are part of theirs. I also hope that by being a working mother myself, I can help future generations of women within Virgin Megastore MENA to realise their dreams, and to recognise that it’s entirely possible to build a happy family both at home and at work.