UAE launches initiative to boost number of women on boards

'20 for 2020' will see women mentored and coached through year-long placements in senior posts

A photo of multi-ethnic businesswomen discussing. Arab Emirati women are in traditional abaya clothes and Caucasian female is in western dress. Professionals are at conference table, in brightly lit modern office discussing business cooperation. Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

A new programme launched on International Women's Day on Sunday aims to improve female representation at board level in the UAE.

The 20 for 2020 initiative, launched by Sheikha Shamma Al Nahyan, will offer 20 women the opportunity to take part in a year-long professional development course that provides them with board-level experience, according to state news agency Wam.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has become the "anchor partner" for the scheme, selecting the first two of the 20 participants. The remaining 18 places on the programme will be reserved for future partners, who will select their own participants, the statement said.

"This initiative is about creating a pathway which enables inclusiveness and creates opportunities," Sheikha Shamma said. "By placing more women into board positions we’re enriching the perspective of boardrooms across the UAE, and thus creating a work environment where business operations have an opportunity to perform optimally," she added.

"By championing equality and ensuring balanced representation on boards, we can create a culture of diversity that is essential in combating 'groupthink' and driving competitiveness."

There have been several long-running campaigns to increase female board representation over the past decade. In the UK, the 30% Club was launched by Dame Helena Morrissey to increase the representation of women on FTSE 100 company boards in 2010. Its target of having 30 per cent of women board members was reached in 2018, but chapters have subsequently been launched in other parts of the world, including the Gulf in 2015, in a bid to replicate its success. A December 2018 study by asset management firm State Street Global Advisors found that of 170 listed companies in the Gulf, 147 (85.6 per cent) did not have a single female representative on their boards.

The 20 for 2020 initiative also named a number of founding knowledge partners who will support the initiative. These include the Abu Dhabi Global Market, Nasdaq Dubai, Insead Corporate Governance Centre and the Hawkamah Institute for Corporate Governance, among others.

The programme will include a year-long placement on a company board for female executives, "multiple days of board training", executive coaching and mentoring, workshops providing media and finance training, and networking opportunities.

"We have seen great commitment from our anchor partner, Adnoc, and knowledge partners towards furthering gender equality in boardrooms across the country, which is not only representative of them as organisations but of the UAE as a whole," Sheikha Shamma said.

"As our nation prepares to celebrate its Golden Jubilee and sets the blueprint for the next 50 years, my hope is that other organisations will follow suit in supporting the growth and development of female talent for decades to come."