Inclusivity Matters: Speeding Up Gender Diversity (And Breaking Glass Ceilings) For Female Board Members In The GCC

"Companies should not think of it (gender diversity) as a simple ethical imperative, but rather as a business priority that is set within all their structures."

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By Hala Halaseh

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Over the past few decades, gender diversity in the workplace has been a constant topic, both globally and regionally. While companies have been working towards advancing the gender balance, especially at corporate decision-making levels, the actual implementation has proven to be slow and strenuous.

Increased gender diversity levels have proven, through ample evidence, to have a positive impact on a company's economic growth and performance. Gender diversity has also shown to correlate with a greater focus on sustainability, environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), and sustainable development goals.

A recent study released by Diligent in partnership with Hawkamah reveals that UAE listed companies show positive indicators with regards to the numbers of female directors in companies listed in the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) and Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX). The figures show to have doubled in the last few years from 1.9% in 2017 to 4% in 2020, demonstrating a 27% growth rate. This 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.

While there has been a significant increase in female board members in the UAE, they are still regionally a small minority on the boards of listed companies. Among the examined markets, there is a total of 5597 board seats, and women occupy only 2.5% of these. These percentages are lower than the international average, which stands at 16.91%.

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- the initial promotion to management. Men are way more likely to be promoted from their entry-level jobs to managerial and senior-level positions. So, how can companies break the glass ceiling and enhance gender diversity across the UAE and GCC?

Related: Leading The Way: Five Women Who Paved The Way For The Gender Equality Movement

Firstly, and most importantly, organizations should acknowledge the relevance of gender diversity, and become aware of the advantages that positively impact corporate performance and economic growth. Companies should not think of it as a simple ethical imperative, but rather as a business priority that is set within all their structures.

After organizations acknowledge the importance of gender diversity, they should implement a system that tracks progress on performance and promotions to prevent any barriers from the start. Additionally, it is essential to provide special leadership programs that train women to become more capable, 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.

For example, Diligent shares its Modern Leadership initiative with regional companies to provide senior leaders with the resources, insights, partnerships, and technology they need to further catalyze diversity in their organizations, and modernize governance which in turn increases the transparency within the board. The initiative also contains a database of women and diverse board candidates and provides visibility into open board positions.

Moreover, other suggestions include that companies hire and promote more diverse candidates and create a more inclusive culture. Not only is a culture of equality a multiplier of innovation and growth, but also allows women to feel more empowered and capable.

Finally, one of the final propositions includes that companies should also actively recruit qualified women to replace departing male board members. Goals and policies can be underpinned by strategies aimed at fostering gender balance throughout the company, and the career cycle of women achieve gender equality in board rooms require more than the simple implementation of a gender quota.

Achieving gender equality in board rooms thus requires a combination of the implementation of a gender quota, along with creating a more inclusive culture that creates gender equality.

Related: Embracing Gender Diversity In Entrepreneurship Across The Middle East

Hala Halaseh

Manager - Growth and Customer Success, Diligent Corporation (MENA)

Hala Halaseh is Manager - Growth and Customer Success for the MENA region at Diligent Corporation

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