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THE LAST WORD with Saeed Al Muntafiq

Saeed-Last Word

Increasing the presence and inclusion of women in business has long been a talking point across the globe.

October 1, 2013 10:39 by

Former executive chairman of Dubai-based Tatweer and current chairman of Rise UAE, talks about fostering self-belief, educational reform and finding the equilibrium between empowerment and the cultural sensitivities and nuances of the region.

Why aren’t women (as a percentage) in the Arab World holding a higher number of affluent leadership positions as they might do around the rest of the world? It is worth stating that even across the globe today there are fights at all levels in terms of ensuring that women and men are getting paid equally.

The first major point to note, is that we collectively, (we being the system composed mostly of men), still secretly maintain that women are less capable of performing the work-related duties and leading teams. This belief can be sourced from a number of origins; chauvinism, culture, tradition and so on, but is not a notion that is unique to this region alone.

The abundance of males at executive level has undoubtedly, whether intended in good faith or not, created a work environment that treats women differently to men – in order for women to progress there needs to be a fair and unbiased system of recruitment, training, and performance management, whereby women will receive the same treatment from management level, whether that is in providing feedback or issuing advice on how better to achieve goals. Companies should think about designating a specific member of the HR team to ensure this is achieved.

To treat female employees ‘nicer’ than their male counterparts often does more harm than good to the overriding notion of developing female leaders; whether it is congratulating or expressing discontent at achievement and work quality, everyone needs the same honesty and feedback in order to progress. To ignore this, is to present women with a scenario whereby they are left with no option but to believe that they can’t break through the glass ceiling.

Whether it is tradition, culture, religious, or even a family pressure, there is every indication, because of cultural barriers, that women regularly demonstrate restraint of self-belief in business and scenarios often play-out, whereby women may reach a certain level in their career, but the system doesn’t accommodate their ability to effectively progress with both family and work.

Nor does the existing business model allow for the preferred work-life balance that women tend to place more emphasis on; companies tend to put too much value on the face-time of their employees, which, deliberately or not, punishes women choosing to spend time outside the office.

The business world must realign itself to incorporate female morality; women are impacted by more than just the bottom line and often the female psyche will engage in more responsible behavior and respond to situations with more emotion and maternal instinct. To dismiss these traits as illogical and unwanted in the business world is negligent.

Change on the horizon?

Undoubtedly constituting the bulk of the Arab economies, continuation of the name in business is an integral part of the culture. Therefore, regardless if the first-born is a male or female, the successor to lead the helm of the business will fall with a son. This is something that will be difficult to amend or reverse, but it is but one obstacle that can be overcome.

A first step can be to continue to encourage more female entrepreneurship, whether through female oriented specific structure, or opportunities for specific niches to be developed, where women are the only suitable candidates.

The female economy is one of the largest in the world and it is women who can be the driving force in growing and nurturing this market. Look at the graduation numbers; the UAE has a ratio of six females graduating from university versus one male, so there is no shortage in skills.

In order to help foster this drive by the women in business, the system needs to be amended at the grassroots level; a trickle up affect, rather than a trickle down. Re-shaping the education curriculum to encourage women to consider vocations and careers in areas traditionally dominated by men is a fair starting point.

The region also needs to identify and celebrate female role models. Even within more developed markets, women are too often berated or dismissed as ‘too aggressive’ if they reach the business heights of men; a culture shift that appreciates and encourages female role models in all areas of business can only achieve better results.

Measured change

Self-belief is one of the single most important driving factors for change. Barriers will always exist, but through continued perseverance and determination, the system will begin to unravel itself to women.

Governments across the region will begin to introduce the change that this self-belief and determination insist upon, but there should also be an understanding that to introduce too much culture change too fast, will be counter-productive.

Change has to be managed; first we accept the environment, the framework, and then the complexity. For those detractors that are watching from outside and who make statements about the slowness of change in this region, what they must understand is that the pace of change has to be measured and fixed in accordance with appropriate levels, while simultaneously allowing for and fostering sustained self-belief in women.

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