LONDON: A group dedicated to promoting relations between the UAE and the UK recently hosted a seminar to examine the successes and challenges of female leadership in the Emirates.
The Emirates Society session on Wednesday was held against the backdrop of increased UAE government efforts to place gender equality at the forefront of the country’s growth plans.
Legislative reform has been at the center of the changes taking place, with initiatives including a 30 percent increase in maternity leave, and private-sector policies such as imposing a quota of one woman per listed company board.
Diana Wilde, one of the discussion panel experts, noted that a recent shift in attitudes toward women in the workforce had been driven as much by communities as by political will.
A co-founder of Aurora50, a UAE-based social enterprise supporting organizations to improve their internal management to better foster a culture of inclusion, Wilde said: “Whilst there is progress, we are working at the very largest most influential companies who have understood the value of diversity of thought quite early on and have been working at this for some time already.
“That is not a reflection of everybody within the UAE and this does need to trickle down into those smaller organizations as well.
“Even within these big companies, the reality is we need to have a much larger women pipeline for filling these C-suite roles,” she added.
Apart from overcoming systemic barriers such as unconscious bias training, Wilde called for support structures that addressed the social challenges faced by women, such as family pressures.
She said: “If people are falling out of the system, for reasons not to do with their capabilities or skills, then we do not have the very best talent to choose from.”
Fatema Al-Nuaimi, executive vice president of downstream business management at the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., told delegates that gender balance in the workplace was not a social responsibility but critical to maximizing the success of a business.
She said: “When you have more diversity within your team, this is when you get the best out of the talent that you have.”
In 2016, ADNOC implemented a gender balance strategy which began with placing key performance indicators. Although Al-Nuaimi was initially opposed to the idea, she pointed out that setting quantifiable targets was an important step toward driving change as it forced an organization to look harder for talent.
“These KPIs are no longer there but have become part of the norm,” she added, citing a doubling in the number of women in leadership positions throughout ADNOC.
Dr. Sara Chehab, a senior research fellow at the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy, said the path to achieving gender balance in the diplomatic arena had been a slow burner.
Author of the 2023 Women in Diplomacy Index, she noted that women continued to be under-represented in ambassadorship roles globally, with only 20.54 percent of all envoys representing the 193 UN member states being women.
However, she highlighted a recent rise of around 5 percent in female ambassadors in the UAE and Saudi Arabia as evidence of progress in the region.
Chehab also pointed out that 49.5 percent of employees at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation were women, indicating that measures were already in place and that it was only a matter of time before women began to ascend the country’s diplomatic ranks.