Polling The Success Of Women In The UAE
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
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For the first time in history, when Emiratis cast their votes in the UAE’s Federal National Council (FNC) elections this month, half of the seats were awarded to women. They were also equally represented in the electoral college. These momentous elections are a time to celebrate the achievements and progress of women in the UAE, and reflect on the example the Emirates can set for the region and for the world.
My work in private banking takes me all over the world, but I have a particular affinity for the Gulf, where Dubai remains a leading hub. This sector is more than a few years away from gender parity, and the UAE is no exception on that front. Yet, as Chair of Hinduja Bank, and through its subsidiary, Hinduja Bank Middle East, I have seen first-hand the improvements that can be made when businesses give women a greater role. I have been inspired by the efforts made in the Emirates.
Better business, better world
This year, across the globe, we saw 29% of senior management roles held by women. Though at first glance a disappointing figure, this is a 5% leap from the previous year. Yet while numbers have risen, the top jobs are still held by men. Women continue to fight to be heard in the boardroom. 13% of all global businesses still do not have even one woman in senior management.
Women everywhere cite a lack of developmental work opportunities, access to networks, and care responsibility as the biggest factors in the imbalance between the genders. Governments and business need to work to solve these issues, not merely because of a commitment to equality but also because not doing so is throwing money away.
A recent survey of over 20,000 firms from 91 countries discovered that if a company had women at the C-suite level, they dramatically improved their net margins. There’s plenty of evidence that businesses with a sensible balance of men and women are 15% more likely to outperform their rivals.
These statistics tell us what we already know: refusing to hire women means leaving some of the brightest minds and hardest workers out in the cold. Refusing to promote women leaves female workers discouraged and liable to leave for your competitor.
When I began my career in banking, I was lucky that my father, S. P. Hinduja, gave me the opportunities unavailable to most women. If we are to see more women in roles like mine, then firms and government need to cut the mood music, and start proactively encouraging their female employees to pursue management positions.
This means firms making it clear to women how they can get to the top, challenging the old boys’ networks –making a few old girls’ networks along the way– and investing in the skills and talent of our younger female employees to show our commitment to them.
What the UAE can teach the world
The UAE is leading the way on this front, empowering its women in a way that can inspire the entire region. Women lead half of all Emirati small-to-medium-sized enterprises, and 33% of all business generating revenues greater than US$100,000, compared with just 13% in the US.
The government itself has been proactive in advancing gender equality. The introduction of quotas enabled the advances at October’s FNC elections. 20% of the government’s current diplomatic corps are female. And, through the establishment of the Dubai Women Establishment, and the Gender Balance Council, it has overseen a strategic plan that includes increasing women’s participation in the development of the economy, improving childcare and encouraging female leadership.
These types of initiatives have had a real effect across the Middle East. We’ve seen an annual 46% growth of new startups over the past three years– with a quarter of these new firms led by women. This is not only an impressive expansion of the economy, but also a sign that gender equality is directly linked to economic growth and diversification.
As women increasingly take on leadership positions, they become economically empowered, and begin to exert their positive influence in other parts of the economy. At Hinduja Bank, we have seen that the younger generation of private banking clients, in which the women are increasingly empowered, have brought new insights and new priorities to their families’ investment portfolios.
The influence of women has seen clients increasingly focus on impact investing, for example, and on taking an entrepreneurial rather than a passive role in managing family wealth. That means a more global and socially engaged investment strategy, as well as a more diverse set of investment targets. That, in turn, is good for society and a boon to the UAE’s economy.
There is much to do, and much to learn. A lot of powerful women are starting to fight, and we are making an impact. Only by investing time, confidence, and money will we see an improvement in global equality. The UAE is a success story, and the whole world can learn from it.
I have always hoped and believed this region could be a game changer on female empowerment. Today, that dream is coming true.