Confessions of a Middle Eastern creative in the American advertising world.

By Emantoinette Shaheen

My name is Eman, like ‘He-Man’ without the ‘H’ (so, ‘E-man!’) and minus the superpowers. In Arabic, my name means ‘faith and hope.’ As a senior art director from Egypt, I’d like to share a few intriguing facts about myself: I am neither a doctor nor an engineer, which might come as a surprise given my Egyptian roots. Also, I’m from Cairo and yet, astonishingly, I’ve never stepped foot near the pyramids!

My life’s journey has taken me to various countries and one thing I carry with me everywhere is the quintessential Egyptian humor. Egyptians, and North Africans in general, are renowned for their humor. It permeates our daily lives and is a staple in our movies, commercials and art. It acts as a resilient buffer against hardships, serving as a coping mechanism that I personally see as a win — kinda nailing the ‘laughing crying’ emoji on the daily.

Professionally, my ambitions stretch beyond being everyone’s favorite and funniest co-worker. I aim to blaze trails as the one of the first, though definitely not the last, North African/Middle Eastern (MENA) women to make a mark in the U.S. advertising world. I aim to create a lasting impact through my work, whether it’s sparking laughter, provoking thoughtful reflection, or offering sheer entertainment. Truly, the possibilities are boundless.

Despite the diversity often celebrated in modern advertising, MENA communities are frequently overlooked. This oversight has sparked a personal mission for me to raise awareness about our underrepresentation and to ensure we are seen and heard in the industry. After all, we are a major part of the American population and every brand audience. And I think we should be talked about and addressed as an audience because we are.

In every agency I’ve worked with, I’ve often been the sole representative from the MENA region. It’s my hope to see more of my community in the industry, not to show them off in the diversity chart but because our unique perspectives are vital for enriching and diversifying creative work.

To those looking to develop their workplaces or communities, here’s my advice: Hire more individuals from Arab and North African backgrounds and highlight these vibrant communities in your advertising.

And finally, to address those in charge pretty much everywhere: can we please add Middle Eastern and North African to the ethnicity options already?

An image of census questions asking about a person's ethnicity.

More Insights