Female employment in top Mena companies low but improving, JP Morgan says

Women form only 4% of total board members in the top 50 Mena companies compared to about 35% in an index of European listed companies

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The number of women in executive positions in the top 50 companies by market cap across the Middle East and North Africa is low compared to those in developed markets but is improving, according to JP Morgan.

Women make up just four per cent of board members of Mena companies, compared to 35 per cent in Europe, according to a report by the investment bank. They comprise 7 per cent of executive management teams in 50 biggest Mena companies, compared to an average of 15 per cent in Europe and 26 per cent in the US.

"While diversity at employee level is low compared to developing markets, metrics look even worse at the executive management and the board level," the report said. "Banks look better than non-banks on diversity."

The report on gender diversity in Mena companies comes amid a greater emphasis on environment, social and governance (ESG) metrics, which include gender diversity, for regional investors. On Tuesday, the World Economic Forum and top financial firms released a set of universal key metrics for companies to use when reporting on their ESG impact – regardless of their industry or location. The metrics address a gap in unified reporting on non-financial issues.

While gender diversity remains lower at executive, board and employee levels in Mena corporates, the region is improving the rate at which it employs women, according to JP Morgan.

Saudi Arabia recorded the fastest gains, with Saudi women forming just over 36 per cent of employed citizens in 2019. This is an increase of 4 percentage points in the past five years and  15 percentage points over the past decade.

In Kuwait, which showed the highest levels of gender diversity, the number of Kuwaiti women employed is higher than in many developed markets.

Kuwaiti women outnumber their male counterparts in both the public and private – forming 57 per cent of the total workforce. This is up by two percentage points in the last five years.

The overall number of women working in the top 50 Mena companies averaged 17 per cent. This is less than half of the 38 per cent average for listed European companies.

Saudi Arabia's retailer Fawaz Alhokair topped the list of Mena corporates with the highest female employment mix at 64 per cent. Others in the top 10 are all banks, including National Bank of Kuwait with 45 per cent female employees, Emirates NBD, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and First Abu Dhabi Bank.

Overall, companies in Saudi Arabia scored lower than their peers on female employment ratios. Top non-bank corporates like oil giant Aramco, dairy company Almarai and Saudi Telecom Company (STC) had 5 per cent or fewer females employees, compared to UAE non-banks like Emaar, Aldar and Etisalat that range between 20 to 30 per cent.

In terms of executive level employment, 29 of the 50 companies in JP Morgan's sample have no women in top executive management and another 12 companies have just one female there. Egypt's Commercial International Bank tops the ranking with 33 per cent female senior executives. Samba is the only large entity in the Mena top 50 companies list to have a female group chief executive, Rania Nashar.

Only 12 of the 50 Mena companies, or 24 per cent, have women on the board of directors and only four companies have more than one female board member.

Saudi British Bank is the only Mena corporate in the sample to have a board chaired by a female, Lubna Olayan. Aldar is also the only corporate in the ranking with a female vice-chair, Mariam Saeed Ghobash.

Lubna Olayan of Saudi British Bank is the only female chair of a board of directors among the Mena region's top 50 companies, according to JP Morgan. 
Lubna Olayan of Saudi British Bank is the only female chair of a board of directors among the Mena region's top 50 companies, according to JP Morgan. 

The diversity metrics are becoming even more important during the current global health crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a “disproportionate” effect on women and threatens to set back their economic empowerment and widen the gender gaps that persist, the International Monetary Fund said in July.