SME Champions

Women stepping into leadership roles – Opaal Interiors

B2B Small Business of the Year 2021

Emirati Business of the Year 2021




Noor Al Muhaideb – CEO & Founding Partner

As a team, we’ve been thinking about how businesses and especially women in business have been affected during the pandemic and how we can support our team as we return to more normal operations. In many countries, the female labor force is at a 30year low, which some experts attribute to the quarantining. Achieving a work-life balance was challenging in “normal” circumstances but has been even harder during the months of remote working. Some women are responsible for additional hours of caregiving than ever before. If the woman shares a home with a spouse and children, space and internet bandwidth is at a premium. It is challenging to create any separation between life and work responsibilities. These factors have forced many women out of the workforce altogether. Although some economists predict a big comeback, growth in some industries may be slower than others. In order to accelerate the regrowth, companies should provide a clear path for staff, but especially women, to return to the workforce.

For us at Opaal Interiors, this global pandemic has taught us so much. We streamlined our virtual collaboration process to allow our whole team to continue working together. We were happily surprised with how much productivity is possible even during quarantine. The entire industry now realizes that virtual work is more possible than we had imagined, especially as teams adopt the use of technologies. But, as soon as we could safely allow people back into the office, Opaal Interiors did encourage the staff to return. We may continue to use hybrid methods of communication and project management now that we have integrated these technologies into our process. Other companies adopting these practices could also provide opportunities for women who live in more remote areas or who didn’t previously have access to higher-income positions. For women at any stage of their career, there’s good lessons to focus on as we look to grow professionally in a post-pandemic world.

For women at the beginning of their careers, the path to success is much the same as it has always been. It’s important to not let a slow economy scare you away from pursuing our dreams, learning new skills or stepping into new leadership roles. While it may seem counterintuitive, a study released by the Kaufman Foundation in 2009 found that over 50% of Fortune 500 companies started either in a slow economy or recession. You must build a plan for your professional growth. This may be the perfect time to learn new skills or get additional training and education for a new line of work. By following your passion and leveraging your natural abilities, you can discover opportunities to make a positive impact on the world around you. You may find yourself as CEO of your own company! As your confidence grows, you will be able to take on more responsibility and work your way up. After working for fifteen years at Emaar Properties, we had developed a good process and learned what was missing in the market. The choice to venture off to launch Opaal was not without its own challenges, but we felt confident that we could build a business to meet the needs of our future customers. Being a first-time business owner can be daunting, but you can lean on your family, friends and professional mentors, when possible. For Opaal Interiors, some of the most challenging times for us came in the early years. Without an established client list, we were pitching against well-established firms, and had to build our reputation on providing excellent customer service. I am happy to say that our patience and determination has paid off. I’m very proud of where we are today. If you are just beginning your own entrepreneurial endeavors, I encourage you to be focused, flexible, and persistent. It’s not easy to start something, but it’s not impossible.

For women who are in the middle of their careers or perhaps already responsible for bigger teams, this may be the time to focus on growing a specific area of the business, so that you don’t spread yourself too thin. You must understand what sets you apart in the market and lean into those differences. What sets Opaal apart is the strength of our client partnerships. Both strong creative leadership, and real client partnership exist side-by-side. This approach also informs our hiring strategy and we take great care in the hiring and training process. We make sure each team member understands the unique way we run our business because we want a sense of shared ownership across the company. We try to give young designers each a voice and opportunity to develop and use their skills. Our hope is that they are empowered here at Opaal to step bravely into the world of design if and when they choose to move on to other opportunities.

As women, we may feel pressure to blend in, but we should not be afraid to stand out in your work! As a professional, it’s helpful to understand our strengths and natural skills so that we can bring that authentically into our work. We must also know and harness the unique gifts that may be stereotypically ‘feminine’. If you have the skill of precise and insightful communication with others, accept it! This is a huge asset to any business. If you are naturally warm, empathetic, expressive, humble, let these serve your business and your clients. Client partnerships are a critical aspect of most businesses, and the ability to place ourselves in the shoes of the client will give us a real edge on the competition. It is also crucial to give ourselves space and quiet to nurture creativity. When the pace of life slowed down at the onset of the pandemic, our creative brainstorming capacity at Opaal Interiors shot up tremendously. We need to pay attention to that.

Innovation and creativity have been critical to our success in the interior design industry. Staying on top of trends, (or better yet, setting trends,) can seem daunting, but we have to make a little space for exploring new ideas every week. This sounds simple, but it is incredibly hard with all the other demands on the business. So, if innovation is important to your business, you must prioritize creative exploration every week. For us, innovation may be in the form of new ways of operating the business or a new creative use of a material that we’ve never explored before. Either way, it is a combination of response to the demands of our customers and the creative vision that we want to bring to life. One of most successful results of innovative thinking at Opaal Interiors in the last five years has been to open a sister company to manage furniture procurement. It has afforded us the opportunity to serve our clients better while also giving our team the path to building additional skills. Whatever form innovation may take in your business, don’t forget that good ideas can come from anywhere.

For women nearing the end of their careers, we hope that you will continue to mentor and inspire the next generation. We need your wisdom, and we want to learn from your experiences. As we share our stories with each other, we feel empowered to realize our dreams and take bold steps forward in our journeys. We love to see so many women stepping into leadership roles, and we’re thankful to magazines like this who shine a spotlight on female entrepreneurs.


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