Encouraging women’s representation in leadership roles can be a thorny subject, particularly in a region where male-dominated industries, such as oil and gas, have ruled the economy.

That has begun to change in recent years, with the spread of proactive women empowerment programmes and more women serving in senior and managerial positions.

Data from the report “Women in Business 2020: Putting the Blueprint into Action”, published last month by global accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton, showed that 26 percent of senior management positions in UAE firms are occupied by women. The UAE was some way behind the Philippines, which scored the highest at 48 percent of such positions, but some way ahead of Japan, which scored the lowest at 15 percent.

The UAE is also behind key economies such as India, where the figure is 39 percent; Turkey, 35 percent; the United Kingdom, 34 percent; Singapore, 33 percent; and the United States, 32 percent.

In the run-up to International Women’s Day, Zawya approached some of the UAE’s largest companies and banks to ask about progress in placing women in board positions.

Video: Empowerment: Women board members at the UAE's listed companies

Affirmative action

In a move similar to that by London’s FTSE 350 of introducing a voluntary target that a third of the boards of its listed companies consist of women, the UAE’s Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) issued a decision in late 2019 that 20 percent of the board members of public joint stock companies listed on the UAE market should be women.

Each company board is required to set policies on gender diversity, and those who do not meet the 20 percent board target are required to explain why in their annual corporate governance report.

How this plays out can be seen in the 2020 Corporate Governance Report by RAK Properties, which had nine board members, all of whom were male. The company stated that membership to the board was made available for both sexes, but no women applied for the positions then.

Zawya approached some of the biggest companies and banks in the UAE to ask about the percentage of women on boards and what each company is doing to ensure gender diversity at leadership levels and in the company in general. 

ADNOC, Abu Dhabi-based, listed on Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX)

Women board members: 17 women board members across the oil giant’s 22 boards.

Women in leadership: Three women CEOs heading up subsidiaries ADNOC LNG, ADNOC Sour Gas and Fertil.

Women in the company: Last year, ADNOC increased its number of women engineers by 90 percent, to 1,148.

Targets: At least one woman on every board in the group by 2022; doubling female representation in technical positions to 25 percent by 2030.

What they say: “ADNOC is committed to empowering women and ensuring they have the same opportunities as men across our organization. To underpin this commitment, we have adopted a gender policy framework, set up a Gender Balance Committee, and put in place a dedicated Women’s Leadership Development Programme.”

Aramex, Dubai-based, listed on Dubai Financial Market (DFM)

Women board members: One, Fatma Hussain Ahmad, Non-executive Director, who also serves as Chief Human Capital Officer at Tecom Group.

Masdar, Abu Dhabi-based subsidiary of Mubadala

Women board members: One woman on its board of directors, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak

Other women in leadership: Dr Lamya Nawaf Fawwaz, Executive Director, Brand and Strategic Initiatives. Women hold 31 percent of managerial positions.

Women in the company: As of January 2021, women make up 36 percent of the workforce at Masdar, which the company said is above the industry average for the renewable energy sector. Women make up more than half of the participants in Masdar’s emerging leaders programme and 80 percent of its mentorship programme as of August 2020.

What they say: “Masdar is committed to supporting diversity, empowerment and professional growth for all our employees, as evidenced by our career development programmes, which have very strong participation by female staff.”

Emirates NBD and Emirates Islamic banks, Dubai-based, DFM-listed

Women board members: None at present

Women in leadership: Eman Abdulrazzaq, the group’s first female group chief human resources officer; Khatija Haque, the group’s first female chief economist as well as the head of group research and senior vice president. Maryam Bahlooq is CEO of subsidiary Tanfeeth. Meitha Al Hashemi is Chief Risk Officer, Emirates Islamic.

Women in the bank: Women account for 40 percent of the group workforce; 17 percent of those women are in managerial positions. 

What they say: “As we continue to grow our team, our focus is on attracting talent that adopts a growth mindset and fits in with the culture of our organisation. We continue to onboard employees regardless of their demographic characteristics, maintaining a gender-conscious mindset in our hiring practices and ensuring equal opportunities for both genders.”

Dubai Financial Market (DFM), Dubai-based, listed on DFM

Women board members: One out of seven board members: Moaza Al Marri, who is also Executive Director of the Director General’s Office at the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

Women in the company: At the end of 2019, 57 percent of the company’s workforce were women.

What they say: The company highlighted its efforts to increase women’s participation in all boards in the emirate by establishing an eBoard platform in collaboration with Dubai Women Establishment to increase awareness of board memberships available and to enable interested parties to submit and track applications online.

GFH Financial Group, Bahrain-based, DFM-listed 

Women board members: One out of the 10 board members, independent director Alia Al Falasi

Women in leadership: Women account for 5 percent of the company’s 23-strong leadership team.

What they say: “We make continuous efforts to support the career advancement of women within the group and to recruit talented individuals from diverse backgrounds.”

Dubai National Insurance and Reinsurance (DNIR), Dubai-based, listed on DFM

The DNIR announced its board nominations for its new board yesterday (Sunday) for seven potential members, including one woman, Fatema Ahmed Al Otaiba. According to the company website, the incumbent five-member board, headed by Khalaf Al Habtoor, is all male.

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Seban Scaria)


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© ZAWYA 2021