DUBAI, UAE — Legal and social barriers that exist for women’s access to jobs is costing the MENA region $575 billion. According to a survey done by global accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), only 56 percent of women felt they were treated equally to men when it came to promotions (55 percent in KSA and Egypt and 66 percent in UAE).
Women entrepreneurs add $5 trillion to global wealth pool every year and currently control 32 percent of the global wealth, according to a latest research by Boston Consulting Group that reflects a growing influence of the women entrepreneurs in the corporate world.
“With a third of the world’s wealth under their control, women have become a sizable economic force. They are increasing their wealth faster than before — adding $5 trillion to the wealth pool globally every year — and outpacing the growth of the wealth market overall,” Boston Consulting Group (BCG) says.
Women influence 85 percent purchase decisions in the retail sector. However, only 12.5 percent of apparel and retail companies in the Fortune 1000 list are led by women, which needs to change, experts at the Images RetailME’s Virtual Roundtable 7.0, titled ‘She Means Business’, said.
Justina Eitzinger, chief operating officer of Images RetailME, said, “Women constitute 70 percent of the UAE’s university graduates and 44 percent of the total workforce. The socio-economic conditions create the perfect environment for women entrepreneurship and we have seen how a number of women have come up in the business and corporate world.
“Women are now actively participating in the start-up movement to change and disrupt various industries by developing innovative start-ups — some of which we are highlighting today.
“Women are key to the UAE’s economic future. With a surge in women entrepreneur support groups and increased funding for new businesses, there have never been better entrepreneurial opportunities for women to start businesses in the UAE than now.”
The UAE business environment is committed to driving equality in the business world. It recognizes greater gender equality than any other country in the MENA region.
The UAE government is driving initiatives to address gender equality in the workforce directly. It pledged $50 million to the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative fund in 2017, leading to the closure of 64 percent of the overall gender gap in the UAE workforce.
Gender equality is one of the UAE government’s declared sustainable development goals so that it becomes one of the top 25 countries in the world for gender equality by 2021.
Moderated by Shruthi Nair, executive editor of Retail ME, the Virtual Roundtable was addressed by Kalika Tripathi, head of marketing – MENA Region, Visa, Sara Al Madani, chief executive officer and co-founder of Halahi.com, Halima Jumani, director of Kibsons and Donna Benton, founder and chief executive officer of Caha Capo.
Despite the increasing power of their purse strings, however, women remain largely underserved by the wealth management community. Too many banks and firms rely on broad assumptions about what women are looking for, resulting in products, services, and messaging that can feel superficial at best and condescending at worst, it said.
“Women are amassing greater wealth than before, and that share is likely to grow significantly in the years ahead. From 2016 to 2019, women accumulated wealth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1 percent. Over the next four years, that rate will accelerate to 7.2 percent. BCG’s analysis finds that women are adding $5 trillion to the wealth pool globally every year — faster than in years past. With future growth expected to accelerate, that tally will get even larger,” it said.
Apart from addressing the pressing issue of gender gap in business, the health of the region’s retail sector and predictions for 2021 was also a key theme during the webinar. According to the panelists, this crisis added a significant number of ‘first-timers’ for various categories including shopping, entertainment, and services across the Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa markets.
Tripathi said, “As much as 90 percent of companies surveyed by Visa in the UAE expect that business will return to normalcy in 2021. Almost 60 percent of businesses in the UAE are adapting to a changing environment, our research shows.
“And that goes back to the fact that it’s not a one-time change. It’s a step change and it’s going to take time to really get to where the customer wants us to, and the moment we get there, they will want something more, so it’s a continuous investment.
“41 percent of businesses surveyed in the UAE said they plan to increase the investment in 2021, even though most of them don’t expect to get it back to pre-COVID levels. So it’s going to be a year of investment in new digital payment technologies. That’s one of the big trends.”
Al Madani said, “Whatever I do in business, I try to solve a problem in society. Getting investment wasn’t a problem — as there are investors who have been investing in businesses that solve a social or economic problem.
I had to shut down some of my businesses, transform some others and I created new businesses to diversify my portfolio. You need to be open to change businesses to fit to the new realities. You can’t be rigid and stay the same way.”
Speaking of gender barriers, she said, “We all know that it’s a man’s world. However, it is a mindset — girls have been raised with the notion that it’s a man’s world and that needs to change first,” she said.
According to Alpen Capital, the GCC retail sector is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.0 percent from $253.2 billion (Dh929.24 billion) in 2018 to $308 billion (Dh1.13 trillion) in 2023. Retail sales have been under pressure in the recent years but are estimated to recover and grow through 2023.
Jumani said, “We have suddenly found a huge amount of empathy within the team, during the pandemic. Most team members started to work extra hours — during the pandemic. Our structure, empathy and agility have been tested during the pandemic and we handled it well”.
In 2021 the bigger brick-and-mortar retailers made many changes to their business model having understood the potential of e-commerce, organic supplies, loyalty and innovation. Did that put added pressure of increased competition for Kibsons?
“We don’t see any of the brick-and-mortar supermarket retailers as our competition because we are very different. We have always been about healthy eating, great quality, and affordable value. We are helping our customers find things that you wouldn’t find in a normal supermarket to live a healthy life”, she said.
Benton, the co-founder and CEO of The Benton Group that recently sold The Entertainer app, has launched her swimwear brand Caha Capo. “With The Entertainer we had over 300 staff, 15 countries and we grew over 18 years into this multi-million dollar company.
“Caha Capo is a startup and we are facing the initial setting up challenges. However, what we need to understand is that there are still people with money. People pay for what they get, when they come to us and buy something.”
“I think 2022 is the year for results and 2021 is the year for investments and survival and the vision and the expansion and that’s what we need to focus on,” she concluded. — SG