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Do regional corporate boardrooms have enough women representation?

Do regional corporate boardrooms have enough women representation?

More women in boardrooms and senior leadership roles can lead to better financial performance, enhanced client insights, and improved board effectiveness

Let us focus on solutions: gender diversity on boards is not about placing women for the sake of showcasing diversity in the boardroom, but rather availing opportunities for qualified and experienced individuals to serve in such capacities.

This solves a problem for our economies, raising the quality of expertise on boards. As part of the work we do as a voluntary business led initiative, the 30% Club strives to boost female representation on boards and are in favour of achieving diversity, with a much more balanced representation across corporate boards, however the reality is different.

With varying statistics in the MENA region, the percentage of women on boards remains very low compared to other parts of the world. According to Shareholder Rights (2016), “Women Representation on Boards of Directors on MENA Exchanges,” only 21 per cent of MENA listed companies had women on their boards.

The case for a more balanced board representation is not a new one; in fact, existing research indicates that more women on boards can lead to better financial performance, enhanced client insights, strong performance on non-financial indicators and improved board effectiveness. The case as we see it is gaining an advantage through allowing new dynamics and insights to become part of the board operations. Boards need a new focus, the “stakeholder” and not just the one dimensional “shareholder”; a more diverse perspective is required to ensure boards are now looking beyond the mission and vision of the corporate and highlighting the “purpose” of the firm.

Despite the existing appetite and sincere intent to increase female representation on boards, we are not seeing strong progress in the number across the region. This can be attributed to many factors, potentially the most common one is the question we face most of the time when asked “Where do we find women who are able and willing to serve on boards?”

The answer to this question is very simple – we have many women who are ready to join boards and many are actively searching for such opportunities. The missing element is linking the two together and enabling a much more systematic process to ensure supply and demand gaps are minimised.

Regional governments, such as the UAE and Saudi, have made long strides in ensuring women serve on boards; several regulations exist that stipulate and mandate female representation on boards of government and semi-government organisations. This has ensured consistent and sustainable progress.

Globally, companies are facing increased pressure from institutional investors to increase female representation on their boards, as well as in senior leadership roles. This is also part of a wider effort to underscore the greater awareness of the need to address environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and comply with the UN Sustainable goals.

Through the work we do at the 30% Club MENA, as part of the global 30% Club initiative, we identified key programmes to support both companies and women in achieving their goals for increased female representation on boards.

Recently we launched our mentoring programme for female leaders to achieve board status. Currently we are working with the US based organisation, theBoardlist, to identify, in year one, at least one hundred women for regional MENA based companies to consider when looking to add women to their boards.

Parity in the board room and at leadership levels does not seem to be a natural societal progression. We need to diligently address all potential opportunities to allow for a level playing field and encourage diverse talent to add value in leadership roles and the boardroom.

To achieve parity, companies and business leaders are in need of addressing traditional means of recruiting to the board by looking beyond traditional networks and unconscious biases adopting formal board polices, and yes, develop a talented and diverse pipeline.

Businesses need creative solutions now more than ever; a diverse leadership team and board representation may yield the desired result.

By Farah Foustok, CEO of Lazard Gulf Limited, founder of 30% Club MENA, and Raeda Al Sarayreh, director of communications, Nissan, Africa, Middle East and India and chair of the 30% Club MENA Steering Committee

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