The cultural environment and life journey of Louise Cutajar has constructed her beliefs on women in leadership positions. She shares her story as part of the gith woman series.
My parents left Malta, when I was nine years old due to the political situation at that time, and relocated to Khamis Mushayt, in the South of Saudi Arabia, to an American Airbase compound near the Yemen border. Little did I know that my life was about to change dramatically. From the security of my school and school friends, family, home, and country I was suddenly faced with a new reality, a new purpose, and a new life path. This dramatic move from everything I knew had a big influence on what was to come further down the line.
Everything was different. I was thrown in at the deep end of an American co-educational school where the syllabus was very different to Malta. I was advanced for my age group so soon left for boarding school in the UK and spent the rest of my school days at Woldingham flying to and fro to the Middle East and that is where my love for Culture, Art, and adventure began.
I have had a varied influential spectrum due to my many cultural environments; I’ve lived in several countries from Saudi Arabia to the Gulf countries, such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, the UK, Malta, Italy, and more recently the state of Qatar as well as extensive travels around the world where I organized meetings, exhibitions, and events. I have learned so much about cultural similarities and I prefer to focus on that, rather than the differences, which are important of course, but I honestly feel that, as women of different cultures we are much more similar than we are different and that it is the environment, education and sometimes community and family pressure that is the cause of misunderstandings.
I later went on to study for a BA in Humanities, in London, with a major in Art History, after a stint at the Museum of Archaeology in Malta, I was lucky to be selected to study for a Degree in Painting Conservation at the Istituto di Restauro in Florence, Italy, before returning to Malta in my mid-twenties.
From early days I realized that to be a woman and to lead was very unique. One had to be certain of one’s beliefs and attitude and to be strong in conviction. I learned how to be a team player and to listen to everyone’s opinion at boarding school, also to take the initiative and lead the team when called for. I learned it was about balance in one’s outlook and argument and this conviction has been with me throughout. My Grandfather always told me that ‘respect gains respect ‘and that is mantra.
When I returned from Florence to Malta I worked at the Museum of Archaeology but soon decided to start my own painting conservation business. Learning to be my own boss and how to deal with clients and organize my finances was a vital life skill. I soon branched out privately with my first business and I was proud of what I had achieved and learnt along the way. However, having had such an international childhood, I felt I wanted to do more with my life. My travels to date had exposed me to some amazing people and cultures but also some injustices when it came to women. I vowed early on that whatever I did in my life, I wanted to make sure that I would speak up and try and make a difference and also for women who potentially did not have a voice. To this day I feel very strongly about this.
My Career in Culture and leadership
A few years after I started my business, I was contacted by a local Destination Management Company to assist with their international clients and to put together interesting programmes for VIP groups and events. I had always enjoyed putting together programmes and felt this part-time work would complement my own business. I loved being creating tailormade cultural packages for esteemed clients and learned that creativity can be profitable and soon after, this became my full-time job with painting conservation as my part-time business. I organized conferences, location management shoots, and corporate incentive tourism programmes. I realised that my forte was combining cultural tourism within my programmes and I became more focused.
I was contacted by a company based in the Sultanate of Oman a while later, that wanted someone to help them put the Sultanate on the map focusing on sustainable and cultural tourism. I packed my bags and before long was heading towards the Sultanate of Oman, in the Arabian Gulf, very much looking forward to my next cultural adventure.
As a young woman working in such a diverse cultural environment I was soon exposed to several situations where I had to show my leadership skills in extraordinary cultural environments. Despite some tough scenarios, I stuck to my principles, was fair but firm, spoke politely but firmly when I had to and I feel won the respect of the locals. In a culture where women were not encouraged to take on leadership roles as often as their male counterparts., this was a breakthrough and a great nod to my beliefs as a woman in business. Despite the challenges, I felt proud of my achievements.
Following on from Oman, I worked at the World Trade Centre in Dubai, in the UAE as a Halls Leasing and Events Manager but after two years, however, I wanted to return to Malta and my family. I continued by work in cultural and VIP programmes and worked for Intertravel Mifsud Brothers setting up their MICE department. My experience and leadership roles I had experienced abroad, persuaded me to take the bull by the horns and open up my own Cultural Events company, Symposia and over the next two years, I organised an Opera on the Water called Madame Butterfly and was chosen as the project manager for the people’s Forum for CHOGM 2005. I was given free rein to contact the NGOs, work with the Maltese Government, the British Government, Her Majesty’s team, and of course all the Commonwealth representatives. CHOGM 2005 was a great experience. The Peoples forum gave all NGOs a voice including, women s groups, and the LGBTQ community. Some had never had a voice before. CHOGM gave me the platform I needed to move forward to my next life chapter and adventure.
Following the success of CHOGM I was contacted by the Doha Asian Games Committee to join the team and be part of the opening ceremony. I was in charge of all the Cultural projects and Exhibitions. This was an incredible opportunity. I was working with an international team and the Qatari organizing committee and in nine months we put together a full Cultural programme to support the Asian Games. Three of the exhibitions were under the Qatar Museums Authority, under the auspices of Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani Chairperson. Subsequently, I was asked to join the team as Head of Cultural Events and organise the opening of the incredible Museum of Islamic Art. I closed my company in Malta and decided to take the position and this lead to a fourteen-year journey in Doha, Qatar.
The Opening ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime unique event. The Museum, designed by IM PEI was opened in December 2008. It has worldwide coverage and was a spectacular show. I was one of the lead organisers of this Event with the International team. All my experiences came to fruition and it was a wonderful chapter of my life.
Due to the success of this event, I was asked to Head the Events team at Qatar Museum and over the next few years, we opened the Contemporary Art Museum ( MATHAF) the MIA Park. I was honoured to organise the UNESCO World Heritage Congress in Doha, I had the opportunity to speak at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, whilst bidding for Qatar to host the Event. We won and over 3,000 people attended the World Congress.
In 2015 I was promoted to Director of Events. One of a handful of non Qatari, female, non-Muslim, non-Arab to be elected to this position. I was judged on my ability and not my gender, religion nor nationality. I expanded my team and in 2017 was once again promoted to Director of Events and Partnership. We opened the Firestation project for artists in residence which allowed many local resident artists space for them to create and be mentored. We started the Years of Culture programme and finally, in 2019, I was one of the main leads working on the spectacular opening of the National Museum of Qatar. The design of this was based on the Desert Rose and the Museum was designed by Jean Nouvel .
Women in Leadership
The world is starting to recognize the benefits of women in leadership and commit to placing even more women in positions of power. I have experienced this in my own career and below are my reasons why we should continue to support this.
- Women are powerful agents of change, and the far-reaching benefits of diversity and gender balance in leadership and decision-making are increasingly recognized in all spheres. Still, women continue to be vastly under-represented in decision-making in politics, businesses, and communities.
- Women as leaders and decision-makers at all levels are critical to advancing gender justice and gender equality—and to furthering economic, social, and political progress for all.
- When women are meaningfully represented and engaged in leadership bodies—such as legislatures, courts, executive boards, community councils—laws, rulings, and decisions are more likely to be inclusive, representative, and take diverse views into account.
- Women’s leadership within households, including decision-making over land and household income, improves access to education and health care for their families.
- Countries with a greater proportion of women as top decision-makers in legislatures have lower levels of income inequality.
- Peace agreements are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years if women leaders are engaged in their creation and execution.
- When women hold more executive business leadership positions, their companies are more profitable. Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 21% more likely to outperform the national average.
Words Louise Cutajar. Editor GITH GITH Woman is sponsored by David's Bakery Gozo.