Global leaders should focus on gender equality as they seek effective methods to achieve economic growth, the UAE’s minister of economy said.
“We believe gender equality is a key part of the UAE’s global competitiveness,” Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri said in opening remarks at the Aurora50 Board Summit on Tuesday.
In 2018, the United Nations Human Development Report found the UAE to have the highest level of gender equality in the GCC, with a significant number of women in the workforce and more women continuing into higher education than men. In 1975, just over 2 per cent of the Emirati workforce was women – in 2018, it was 28 per cent, according to PwC.
Mr Al Marri added that the UAE’s Vision 2021 envisages full participation of women in decision-making positions and highlighted progress on achieving that aim: more than half of university graduates in the UAE are women, as are two-thirds of government workers. There is room for improvement, though. At the public company board level only 3.5 per cent of women hold directorship roles, he said.
"Among a total of 823 board members of listed companies in the UAE today, 29 are women, which means their representation in the boards is currently at 3.52 per cent."
He added that corporate governance guidelines in the UAE stipulate that women must make up no less than 20 per cent of a board of directors should not be less than 20 per cent.
“Gender-balanced boards are integral to the society we are building and to the vision of our founders,” said Aurora50 co-founder Sheikha Shamma Al Nahyan at the virtual summit.
Founded last year, Aurora50 is a social enterprise that brings together different stakeholders in the search for solutions to global problems. Its Board Summit, being held on August 25 and 26, is focusing on board-level gender diversity.
In March, Aurora50 launched the "20 for 2020 initiative" to offer 20 women a year-long placement on a company board to prepare them for future board membership opportunities. The programme also offers executive coaching, media and finance training and networking opportunities.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has become the "anchor partner" for the scheme, selecting the first two of the 20 participants. Five leading financial institutions – Abu Dhabi Global Market, the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, the Dubai International Financial Centre, the Dubai Financial Market and Nasdaq Dubai – have also joined.
“I often hear the words, ‘I struggle to find female talent’, when I engage with companies,” Sheikha Shamma said. “And while I hear this, I can often easily think of three or four women who would be perfect for the role.”
She said that long held “cultural barriers” have “been a challenge” where “meetings of only men” were the norm in the UAE. But she said today, with education and workforce participation levels on the rise, women must be an equal and critical part in the nation’s economic growth.
“On the eve of our Golden Jubilee, we have the opportunity to achieve so much more and make an impact where it most matters,” she said.
“Now it is up to everyone to realise this untapped potential and for women to take on positions that will help them make a difference.”