Higher education achievements aren’t translating to board seats for Gulf women

Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 24 Feb 2016

Expert from Oxford Strategic Consulting suggests it might be time for a quota system

Women from the GCC are attaining higher levels of education than ever before, but are still lagging behind in terms of their presence in the boardroom.
According to experts from Oxford Strategic Consulting, this points to a gap in understanding by organisations in sectors wanting to attract and engage female GCC nationals.
In the UAE, organisations such as the government-run Dubai Women's Establishment have been created to increase women’s participation, retention, and representation across key economic and social spheres, but there is still a way to go until women gain equal representation at the top tables.
“While it is commendable that Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, issued a law obliging all government departments and related organisations to have female representation on their boards, there is still room for improvement across all sectors,” says Najat Benchiba-Savenius, head of social and economic research at Oxford Strategic Consulting (OSC).
“It could be time to explore whether a quota system would work, but it is down to governments to set the standard and alter outmoded policies,” adds Benchiba-Savenius.
Women are not attracted equally to all sectors, which may explain their boardroom absence in some cases. For example, in the UAE, OSC's new ‘Emirati employment survey’ has revealed that Emirati women are at least three times more likely than men to aspire to a career in the medical profession. UAE women are also significantly more likely than men to want to work in banking and finance (29 per cent v 11 per cent), as well in as the education sector. Within the UAE, the top organisations that women want to work for include: Real Estate Bank, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Ministry of Education, Tamweel, and Emirates Islamic Bank.
Further surveys from OSC reveal that in Oman women are more likely than men to be working part time, and to prefer roles in HR. There is also a need for refresher courses and continued education for women looking to re-enter the labour force after marrying and starting a family. In Oman, it is men who are four times more likely than women to work in the medical industry.
Surprisingly, women in Saudi Arabia were found to be twice as likely as men to aspire to a job in aerospace – a statistically significant finding that could point to a trend for the future. Saudi women also appear to be shunning ‘traditional’ office roles in favour of other careers.
The GCC's governments and organisations should therefore tailor their employment programmes to more closely reflect the attitudes and motivations of female nationals in respective countries, recommends OSC.
“A critical impasse is the fact that women are not ‘made’ middle managers early enough and then are not ‘trained’ to become leaders in time,” says Benchiba-Savenius. “The fact remains that women are under-represented at most levels, and that is to the detriment to corporations and organisations alike. There is no mention of men not being ‘board-ready’ and so these emblematic phrases are gaining mythical status. The same can be said for the lack of female presence in the coveted C-suite roles, where there is a huge gulf of talent and a lack of diversity across ethnicity and gender.”