Kuwaiti architect Hend Almatrouk, the owner of urban design firm Studio Toggle, discusses being a woman of firsts and how women are underestimated in male-dominated fields.
You’re a woman of many firsts in your career. What is it like being a woman in this region to pave the way for others?
There is a general tendency to underestimate women working in traditionally male-dominated fields. As a woman entrepreneur in the construction industry, operating in the middle east can be extremely challenging. I have had to challenge the norms and overcome stereotypes to get Studio Toggle to where it is right now. I believe my biggest challenge in the early days was to convince potential clients that being a woman-led team does not make Studio Toggle any less capable of designing and executing projects of any scale and to prove that we can do it better than anybody else. I have learnt that confidence is the key and that the power of success is within us. I have learnt that it is okay to be scared but self-doubt should be banished at all costs. I believe women share similar challenges and obstacles throughout our life, regardless of what the journey is. Sometimes the societal norms may appear restrictive and harsh but I believe there is always room for growth. Barriers can be broken and new horizons can be explored if we want. If my journey became an example of women empowerment in my field then I will be the happiest. I want women to be strong, fearless and understand that their dreams can be true.
What are your hopes for women in the future in your country?
Out of the long list of hopes I have for Kuwaiti women, I want to highlight the need to encourage each other to fight for our rights, our freedom of choice and freedom of speech. I believe that we need to be unified, more connected and caring for each other. To ensure a better future for the women in Kuwait we need to step out of our comfort zone and be more vocal about what we want.
Can you talk us through the campaign with Porsche to inspire young females across the GCC?
I’ve had the pleasure to be involved in Porsche’s most recent campaign around the launch of the new Panamera, where Porsche has shone a spotlight on unique and inspiring stories of Arab women from across the region who are making significant strides within their line of work. I was extremely proud to work alongside the region’s most talented females from the world of business, film and beyond. It was a great experience and I hope that the campaign will inspire ambitious young women to challenge themselves in every aspect of their life.
To you, what does being a role model mean? How do you execute being a positive role model to others?
A role model to me means someone who sets an example, someone who inspires you to strive for excellence. I believe that you can have several role models because you relate to them differently. It could be someone’s career journey or a life experience or overcoming a tragedy. I do not know if I am a role model to someone, but I really hope I empowered or inspired someone and made that person realize that with hard work and determination, everything is possible.
What do you believe it takes to break down barriers in male-dominated professions to make positive strides for women in this region?
I believe that to break down barriers in this region we need affirmative action to ensure equal opportunities. More training should be offered to aspiring women to equip them for the rigours of careers in male-dominated professions. Leadership training, mentorship programmes and entrepreneurship guidance are vital to ensure quantifiable positive strides in this aspect in my opinion.
What advice would you give to young women in this region?
I would advise them to be true to their principles, to trust in their capabilities and to be grateful for any challenge they might face because it makes one grow as a person. I would tell them it is ok to be scared, to fail or to be doubtful. To keep it simple, we as women do not need anyone’s approval for us to move forward with our dreams. The only thing you need to do is to trust and love yourself.
What have been three hurdles you have experienced in your career?
One of the major hurdles that I have experienced in my career is a general lack of support for women entrepreneurs in the region. Second is an absence of any sort of mentorship which fosters much-needed guidance for female business owners making strides in male-dominated fields. Third and not the least are the restrictive social norms that disadvantage women in general.
What have been three major milestones in your career?
I believe the three major milestones that have shaped my career are the following – firstly, one of our very first built projects, Edges Apartments, which won the Residential Project of the Year (Mid Rise) at the Cityscape awards in 2017. Then winning the Young Architect of the Year award at the Middle East Architect awards in 2018 was a particular highlight and then winning the Architizer A+ Awards for our Project Khat (Al Ula) in 2020.
This is ‘The Positivity Issue’ – how do you plan to instil positivity in your life throughout 2021?
Positivity in life is the key to success, happiness, and a sense of fulfilment. It is difficult to have a positive attitude and maintain positive thoughts when we look back at how the world has been affected by the pandemic in 2020. But as much as there was pain and suffering, there were many silver linings and for that I am deeply grateful. I believe having a positive attitude towards the unknown gives a sense of stability and hope for those around me and helps me to stay focused on my passion in 2021.