Women's Voice: Time to spearhead change across all sectors in the region
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Women’s Voice: Time to spearhead change across all sectors in the region

Women’s Voice: Time to spearhead change across all sectors in the region

If organisations want their diversity and inclusion initiatives to be sustainable, they need to start with “the tone from the top”

Saeeda Jaafar

Historically, certain industry segments have witnessed better female representation than others.

For example, sectors such as healthcare, academia, telecoms, and consumer goods have experienced – on the whole – a more balanced male to female ratio compared to technology, construction, and financial services. Misconceptions around those industries have often acted as a deterrent to women. To combat this, organisations must actively work to overturn negative perceptions by generating greater awareness about the prospects available to women across all levels.

Business case for women in leadership roles

There is a strong business case for employing women in leadership roles. Diversity at senior levels has been proven to have a positive effect on business metrics such as profitability, productivity, and employee commitment and retention.

The financial consulting space will benefit from having a more balanced and diversified cohort for these same reasons. Diverse companies are more creative and those which bring a wider range of voices to the table will inevitably be able to establish new approaches and new thought leadership for businesses. Until companies and the industry as a whole start doing more to educate women about the myriad of options out there, representation will continue to be a problem.

For women who are already working, there are many more opportunities now for lateral moves within the consulting space. We have people joining us from various industry backgrounds and they have all found space to grow within the consulting sphere. For younger professionals starting their careers, the industry is already changing – we are seeing the incoming cohorts are increasingly more balanced.

Challenges and opportunities

A great way to enter any industry is to start early. If someone is exposed to relevant courses or internships at an early age through universities, or even through their high school, they have a greater sense of awareness about the options available to them.

Companies can encourage younger generations by welcoming them into their networks. By leveraging these networks, students can connect with employees who can act as mentors. These connections can create opportunities to help younger women establish relationships with professionals from whom they can learn and seek career advice.

Opportunities are also arising from the strong support for female empowerment across the region. The UAE government has launched various initiatives and programmes to diversify the workforce and promote inclusivity. The UAE Gender Balance Council recently released legislation designed to enhance the role of women within the UAE job market and has been vocal about their importance in building the nation’s future. These initiatives will enable women to grow professionally while also improving the environment for working women.

Making diversity and inclusion sustainable

If organisations want their diversity and inclusion initiatives to be sustainable, they need to start with “the tone from the top”.

The most impactful method we have seen so far comes from organisations that have a C-suite and board that are not only seen and heard to advocate diversity and inclusion, but that also act as positive role models, reflecting the strategy and values of the company.

These initiatives then trickle down throughout the organisation – they become engrained into employee KPIs, performance metrics, and the overall structure. This overhaul is what will bring a sustainable change.

The UAE as a nation has been a role model of best practice in the region when it comes to increasing awareness about D&I. In 2018, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan called for Emirati women to occupy 50 per cent of the country’s Federal National Council.

In 2019, the UAE Central Bank issued a notice stating that banks and other financial institutions are required to provide services to both genders equally, and to develop policies and procedures that promote gender equality in all banking and financial transactions, including loans and credit facilities.

Last year, the “20 for 2020” initiative, introduced by Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, offered 20 women the opportunity to take part in a year-long professional development course that provides them with board-level experience.

To have a significant impact in creating a truly sustainable and inclusive culture, gender equality and the empowerment of women must not only be a focus for organisations and governments, but also be shown through example.

Dr Saeeda Jaffar is the managing director and head of Middle East at consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal

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