International Women's Day: 12 businesswomen who have made their mark in the UAE

From retail to finance, technology to media, these women are playing a key role in supporting the country's growth

Women business owners account for 10 per cent of the total private sector in the country. Photo: Chris Whiteoak and Pawan Singh / The National / Citi UAE / Multiply Group

The UAE has a stellar record when it comes to promoting the role of women in the workplace.

Women business owners account for 10 per cent of the total private sector in the country, while 23,000 Emirati women run projects worth more than Dh50 billion ($13.6bn), and occupy 15 per cent of the positions on the boards of chambers of commerce and industry nationwide, according to data from the UAE embassy in the US.

In 2021, the UAE Security and Commodities Authority issued a mandate that listed companies must have at least one woman on their board of directors.

This International Women's Day, we look at some of the women who play a leading role in driving the UAE's economic growth, both through leadership roles in corporate organisations and as entrepreneurs.

Raja Al Gurg

Raja Al Gurg. Courtesy Raja Al Gurg

Raja Al Gurg leads UAE family-run business conglomerate Easa Al Saleh Al Gurg Group. Aside from her position as the group’s vice chairwoman and managing director, she is also an active advocate of gender diversity in Dubai through her positions as the president of the Dubai Business Women Council and as a board member of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Dubai Women’s Association. Ms Al Gurg’s other roles include serving as the deputy chairwoman of the National Bank of Fujairah and as an advisory board member of Coutts Bank, the wealth division of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group.

Hana Al Rostamani

Hana Al Rostamani. Victor Besa / The National

Hana Al Rostamani was named group chief executive of First Abu Dhabi Bank in 2021, becoming the first woman to lead the bank. A seasoned banker, she has more than 22 years of local and international experience in the banking and financial services industry. She has also served as an independent director at Emirates Integrated Telecommunication Company, better known as du, and as a vice-chairwoman of the Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Services. Currently, she is also the chairwoman of FAB Private Bank Suisse. Under her leadership, the UAE’s largest lender by assets achieved strong growth in 2021.

Rola Abu Manneh

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Rola Abu Manneh, Chief Executive Officer Standard Chartered Bank, UAE, at the Bloomberg Invest, Four Seasons Hotel.  Leslie Pableo for The National

In 2018, Rola Abu Manneh became the first Emirati woman to head a bank when she was appointed as chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank UAE. She has helped to transform the UAE operations of Standard Chartered into one of the biggest five markets for the group. A banking industry veteran, Ms Abu Manneh was previously the head of corporate and investment banking for Abu Dhabi at First Abu Dhabi Bank and also led the lender’s wholesale banking group as its general manager.

Renuka Jagtiani

Renuka Jagtiani. Courtesy Landmark

Renuka Jagtiani has served as the chairwoman and chief executive of the Landmark Group, a Dubai-based retail conglomerate founded by her husband Micky Jagtiani, for more than two decades. She has played a pivotal role in expanding the group, particularly its fashion and hospitality businesses. Ms Jagtiani has also led the company’s expansion into new markets and set up its e-commerce business, introducing another revenue channel for the group. She oversees more than 50,000 employees working across the company's various brands, including Centrepoint, Babyshop, Splash, Lifestyle, Home Centre, Shoemart and Emax, among others.

Maryam Al Suwaidi

Maryam Buti Al Suwaidi. Photo: SCA

Maryam Al Suwaidi achieved a first when she was appointed as chief executive of the UAE Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), making her the first woman ever to lead the markets regulator. Before her current role, she served as the acting chief executive of the SCA and held several positions at the Ministry of Education and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. While Ms Al Suwaidi was the acting chief executive of the SCA, the organisation issued a decree requiring all UAE-listed companies to have at least one female director on their boards in a bid to boost gender diversity.

Samia Bouzza

Samia Bouazza. Photo: Multiply Group

As chief executive of Abu Dhabi-listed Multiply Group, Samia Bouzza has been leading the company to diversify and acquire various high-profile targets over the past few months following its market debut. Under her leadership, Multiply Group has overseen acquisitions worth Dh5.5 billion in companies such as Yieldmo, Firefly, Viola Communications, Emirates Driving Company, Pal Cooling Holding, Getty Images and Savage X Fenty. Ms Bouzza became an entrepreneur at the age of 22 when she founded Multiply Marketing Consultancy, a local boutique agency.

Elissar Farah Antonios

DUBAI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 14JULY2016 - Elissar Farah Antonios, Chief Executive Officer, Citi Bank UAE during an interview at Citi Bank headquarters yesterday in Dubai. Ravindranath K / The National (to of with Frank story for Buisness)  ID: 78578 *** Local Caption ***  RK1407-FRANKcitibank14.jpg

In December 2020, Elissar Farah Antonios became the first woman to be appointed as head of Citigroup's Mena operations. A seasoned international banker, Ms Antonios joined Citi in 2005 as head of private banking in Abu Dhabi and in 2015, was appointed chief executive for Citi UAE, a role she retains. Ms Antonios, who began her banking career in 1990, previously worked with Credit Agricole Indosuez, ABN AMRO Private Bank and the Republic National Bank of New York. She is currently overseeing Citi's rapid growth in the region. Last year, Citi UAE said it plans to expand its assets under management threefold to $15bn by 2025 and quadruple its wealth client base during the period.

Najla Al-Midfa

Najla Al Midfa. Victor Besa / The National

As the chief executive of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre, better known as Sheraa, Ms Al Midfa is responsible for developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the emirate. Since its launch in 2016, the government-backed incubator has supported 114 start-ups, which have collectively raised $87 million, generated revenue of $130m and created 1,300 jobs, according to its website. Ms Al Midfa, who previously worked with the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, McKinsey, PwC and Shell, also serves as a board member of United Arab Bank, the Emirates Development Bank and the Emirates Schools Establishment. She is also a co-chairwoman of the Fourth Industrial Revolution Working Group in the UK-UAE Business Council.

Mona Ataya

Mona Ataya, CEO of online business Mumzworld. TECOM, Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

The Palestinian entrepreneur co-founded e-commerce platform Mumzworld in 2011 in the UAE, which has since become one of the leading players within the mother, baby and child segment. Mumzworld, which claims to be the Middle East’s largest female-led e-commerce business, features 250,000 products from more than 5,500 global brands. The platform has raised $50 million in total funding and was acquired by Saudi Arabia-based Tamer Group for an undisclosed sum last year. Speaking at the time, Ms Ataya said the company will “accelerate growth, drive wider geographic expansion and continue to build a tech footprint”. Passionate about empowering mothers, Ms Ataya is also part of the region’s mentorship community and an advocate of Unctad’s eTrade for Women initiative.

Ambareen Musa

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - June 26th, 2018: Moderator Ambareen Musa, Founder and CEO of at Manage Your Money, Build Your Future event. Tuesday, June 26th, 2018 in Emirates Towers, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Ambareen Musa founded financial comparison website Souqalmal in 2012 in the UAE to help users to compare personal finance products in the market. The platform, which has since expanded to Saudi Arabia, offers comparisons for products and services including personal, home and car loans, credit cards, bank accounts, car and home insurance, broadband plans and schools, among others. Last year, Ms Musa also led the company to set up its first financial education programme for employees, called MoneyDoctor. The programme, which is backed by insurance companies Watania and Rak Insurance and offers training on budgeting and investing, has been used by Careem and Emirates Catering. In 2018, Ms Musa was also selected to be a member of the UN-led global “Task Force on Digital Financing of Sustainable Development Goals".

Nayla Al Khaja

Nayla Al Khaja. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

The first female film director/producer in the UAE, Nayla Al Khaja serves as the chief executive of the eponymous company she founded, Nayla Al Khaja Films, previously known as D-Seven Motion Pictures. She also founded The Scene Club, Dubai’s first film club, in 2007, which now counts more than 22,000 registered members. Ms Al Khaja has written and directed several films, including Once, Malal, The Neighbour and Haywan (Animal), which have been screened at international film festivals. She has also directed various television commercials. A speaker at events such as UN forums and TEDx Talks, she often discusses topics related to gender empowerment, especially in the Arab world.

Elissa Freiha

Elissa Freiha. Pawan Singh / The National

Elissa Freiha is the founder of female-focused company Womena, which launched as an angel investor in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and has since moved into media and content production focused on women. The company, which has more than 13,000 members from across 25 countries, creates documentaries, articles, podcasts and photography. It has also collaborated with Standard Chartered Bank for the “Womentum” accelerator programme that supports female entrepreneurs across sectors, including technology, retail and pharmaceuticals. In 2021, Ms Freiha was appointed as a board member of the newly created Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, which aims to attract up to 300 digital start-ups to the emirate in two years and proposes regulatory changes to support the digital economy.

Updated: March 08, 2022, 8:03 AM