Women are the next family business leaders in GCC

Qatar tops the list of working women with 50.8 per cent. The UAE is next with 46.6 per cent.

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Family businesses in the GCC will have more women on their boards over the next five to 10 years as they transition to the third generation of control, claimed a new study.

The report by the AlSayedah Khadijah Bint Khawilid Business Centre and the consultants Strategy& said that women’s participation in the labour force across the GCC still lags behind developed countries at about 30 per cent, compared to 70 to 80 per cent for most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

There are major discrepancies across the GCC in the proportion of women working, according to the International Labour Organisation. Qatar tops the list of working women with 50.8 per cent. The UAE is next with 46.6 per cent, then Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. Saudi Arabia is at the bottom of the list with only 18.2 per cent of its women working.

“This is a propitious time for family businesses, as all of the GCC countries have made female economic inclusion a top priority,” said Dr Basmah Omair, the chief executive of the centre. “The value of diverse perspectives from all members of the family is gaining more widespread recognition as most family businesses in the GCC are facing transition from the second to the third generation of ownership. GCC family businesses are also looking at global best practices and finding that female family members are increasingly becoming a vital force within their foreign counterparts.”

The study reveals the major obstacles to women’s participation in family businesses, including a patriarchal society and the failure of women’s education and training for the requirements of business. It also highlights the fierce competition within large families for a limited number of senior roles for which women are lacking a comparable skill set.

However, there are a number of growing trends contributing to the inclusion of women on family boards. These include smaller family sizes, a higher average age of marriage, an increasingly educated female workforce and a growing social acceptance that encourages women to be more involved in the family business.

“Women have always been a part of the family business because they have been raising children to join it, but now they are a far more visible presence,” said Farida El Agamy, the general manager of the non-profit think tank Tharawat Family Business Forum. “It is now expected for daughters to become part of the family business, with a view to them becoming executives or sitting on the board. There is a huge push across the GCC for women to develop their workplace skills.”

The research highlights that change is exacted at a government level. Women across the GCC have succeeded in levelling the playing field for education. In the UAE, where education is free to all citizens, the gender gap in enrolment in secondary schools is insignificant. In higher education, women outnumber men in the percentage of graduates across the GCC and are increasingly pursuing degrees in the sciences, business, law and engineering.

“Governments’ support of women’s employment is critical and has had a positive impact on promoting a more active role for women in their family businesses,” said Ramy Sfeir, a partner at Strategy&. “When national economic trends become more supportive of women’s employment, this reflects positively in the family business. Previously, there was no foresight to include or develop female members of the family.”


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