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Top CEO 2017: Diverse boards are need of the hour in ME

Businesses in the Middle East apparently have not made significant progress in terms of diversity of workforce despite experts calling for it for many years.

Even today, women are entrusted to only a few high-level positions at public and private companies, and their representation in C-level positions is far from where it should be in the Middle East region.

Thought leaders and analysts say that diverse workforce featuring women in leadership leads to better outcomes for companies. And certainly, more and more c companies in the region are becoming aware of the need for diversifying boardrooms. But what is slowing down the process at the implementation level?

Internal challenges

Finding the right female talent and retaining them to create a balanced and diverse workplace are two of the biggest challenges companies face today, a new report by Pearl Initiative has revealed.

While top executives of several regional firms have expressed their commitment to diversifying the workplace by including and promoting women to managerial positions, there seems to be a glitch in the journey to the top.

“Middle management has a very big impact on the development and promotion of women and the environment in which women are working… I think it still needs to have the direction from the top. I think having that direction… Middle management needs to be clear about what is expected of them; they also need to be supported,” Carla Koffel, Executive Director of The Pearl Initiative, told AMEinfo.

“This is not just about engaging with women; this is about engaging with both men and women in middle management, so there is a cohesion and an understanding about what’s expected, and acknowledgment that this is not always easy, and that both men and women in those middle management positions then need that support to be able to make decisions which provide opportunities for women,” Koffel added.

Building a pipeline

According to the experts, one of the things that would help in solving this problem of women disparity in corporate sector would be to properly build talent into the pipeline.

“We need to not just look at what happens in the boardroom, but to also look at what is going on at the different levels, throughout the talent pipeline of an organisation,” said Aniela Unguresan, Co-Founder of EDGE Certified Foundation.

Top CEO 2017: Leading business in a changing world

“There is still not a very accepted understanding of the business case for gender parity. We keep talking, we keep reading reports, but do we really believe that gender diverse teams or boards function better? Those who believe take action, the others probably need to better understand, in their specific cases, whether it makes sense economically to have gender diverse pipelines and boards,” added Unguresan.

Suitable work environment

One can see that things have begun to change but more need to be done in terms of changing mindset across the levels and creating suitable work environment for women.

While speaking  about positive changes in Saudi Arabia, Tal Hisham Nazer, CEO, BUPA Arabia, says that “there has been a lot of reforms in KSA in the past few years and there needs to be a lot more. For example, you would not have seen women working in supermarkets or retail stores in KSA couple of years ago and I believe laws have been changed and created to allow that and it has created more than half a billion jobs for females. So we need to consider the initiatives or activities that need to be done, as well as the incentives that need to be created, for the private sector to hire more Saudi women. So I think we are on the right track, but a lot more has to happen in relation to that.”

“With the changing times and where both partners in a household need to earn incomes and find good jobs, we need to make sure that the work environment is suitable for women as well,” Nazer adds.

In focus

The Women and Leadership will be one the main topics of discussion at the Top CEO Conference & Awards, scheduled on April 10 and 11 at King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.

The conference will include both on- and off-record sessions that will tackle numerous topics, including New Technologies, The Broken Job Machine, Private-Public Partnerships, Leadership 2.0, Vision 2030, New Alliances, the Arab Image in the West, Antitrust Laws, Women and Leadership, and The Image War.