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GCC boardroom figures reveal more needs to be done to promote female execs

The number of women directors in the boardrooms of UAE-based companies might have doubled since 2017 but they still number only one in 25 board members (4 percent), according to new figures.

The growth is in line with the UAE’s national gender target to become one of the world’s top 25 countries for gender equality by 2021, said Hala Halaseh, regional manager, growth (MENA) at Diligent Corporation, a governance software company that enables board members to share information for board meetings.

However, in an interview with Arabian Business, she added that there is still plenty of room for further progress as from a total 5,597 board seats on companies in the GCC, Lebanon and Egypt, only 139 seats, or 2.5 percent, are occupied by wome

These findings are part of a report Diligent recently launched, in partnership with corporate governance institute Hawkamah, which sheds light on the growth of female board of directors in the GCC and parts of the MENA region.

The study surveyed all GCC companies listed on Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX), Dubai Financial Market (DFM), Tadawul, Securities Market Muscat, Boursa Kuwait, Qatar Stock Exchange and Bahrain Bourse, said Halaseh. It also covered markets in Egypt and Lebanon.

Can you elaborate on the report findings regarding women on boards in the UAE?

The Dubai Financial Market and Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange specifically had figures showing that female representation as board directors has doubled in the last few years from 1.9 percent in 2017 to 4 percent in 2020.

How do these findings compare with the rest of the countries surveyed and with global figures?

Egypt had the highest number of female directors in the region, with women constituting 9.1 percent of directors in the Egyptian Exchange market. Lebanese companies occupy second place with a percentage of 7.7 percent. Compared to GCC, the percentages in Egypt and Lebanon are arguably high.

Across the globe, women have long been underrepresented at every level in the corporate sphere. That is slowly beginning to change, as recent studies indicate women directors take on corporate board and committee leadership roles up to two years faster than men, despite occupying only 7 percent of board chair and lead director roles.

There is still plenty of room for progress in gender diversity both on a regional scale as well as globally.

Hala Halaseh, regional manager, growth (MENA) at Diligent Corporation

What are the main challenges standing in the way of having more women on boards of directors in the GCC? 

One of the main reasons the number of female board members is low is due to barriers that occur at the first steps on the corporate ladder and that is the initial promotion to management. Men are more likely to be promoted from their entry-level jobs to managerial and senior-level positions than women.

It is essential to provide special leadership programmes and implement policies for equal opportunities to ensure women’s progression, as well as aid for transparency in the board nomination process.

These are crucial steps to increase the number of women on boards which can break down barriers that would stop women from being promoted to managerial positions.

What is the significance of gender diversity to the economy?

In order to achieve a favourable economy, mandating gender diversity in boards within firms is essential.

Gender diversity in companies can bring noteworthy performance benefits, increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.

According to a study in Harvard Business Review, including women on boards improves the quality of board deliberations and results in improving decision-making processes for the business.

What can be done to have more women in leadership positions and on boards across the GCC?

The first step of increasing gender diversity profiles is to identify the percentage of women who are working at every level of companies. With this data on hand, companies will be able to determine if there is gender disparity at any level and act accordingly by developing a plan to reach their desired goal.

One of the secondary outcomes of formulating this plan is that it will simultaneously increase other types of diversity as well, which will help create a well-rounded, diverse team. Companies should also tailor their brand to appeal to women, by making gender diversity part of the company’s branding strategy.

To facilitate a further higher percentage of women on regional boards, companies and regulators should play an active role in promoting gender diversity in the boardroom. They should push through and implement more gender diversity policies while making sure gender diversity is seen as a cycle that starts with promoting more women to manager levels.

What is Diligent ME’s role in supporting gender diversity and women on boards? 

Diligent launched the Modern Leadership Initiative, which not only builds a database of women and diverse board candidates but also provides visibility into open board positions. As part of the initiative, Diligent’s Director Network now features more than 500 individuals primed for board roles as nominated by sitting public company directors.

Increasing gender diversity is a top recruiting priority for boards now and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

We look forward to partnering with more organisations in the Middle East to make an impact. The goal is to provide companies with access to the most diverse network of talent by creating transparency into the executive and board recruitment processes.



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