The world needs more women in leadership roles, and International Women’s Day should amplify that message. This is not simply about closing a gender gap, it is about shaping a better tomorrow.
Studies by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have outlined that companies with greater gender diversity, not just within their workforce but directly among senior leaders, are significantly more successful. Gender diversity positively affects quality of work, and women’s participation in economic and public life strengthens economic growth, equitable governance and public trust, from the community level to top policymaking circles.
When the people who set public policy are more representative of the societies they serve, they enjoy greater public trust, and focus more on issues such as human development and public service delivery. Yet, the OECD notes that only a few countries exceed 40 per cent representation in the top echelons of civil service, and women leaders are often connected to social portfolios. In the private sector, a study by McKinsey shows that for every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity in executive management, earnings before interest and taxes rose by 3.5 per cent.
In 2019, the proportion of women in senior management roles, both public and private, globally grew to 29 per cent, the highest number ever recorded. This is great progress, but there is much to be done.
In public life, women’s access to public leadership positions remains elusive across the world. Women comprise only one in five parliamentarians and just 27 per cent of judges worldwide. According to global data by UN Women in 2021, only 21 per cent of government ministers were women, with only 14 countries having achieved 50 per cent or more women in cabinets.
In our region, we are also making great progress. Not a month passes by without another announcement enabling women. This is especially true today in the UAE. In 2021, the Women, Peace and Security Index ranked the UAE first in the Mena on women’s inclusion, justice and security. The UAE was also ranked as a leading country in gender equality in the region, according to the World Economic Forum's 2021 Global Gender Gap report. In fact, UAE is number one globally where women reported feeling safest. These achievements come from the fundamental belief that women and men are equal partners in society.
In the business world, the UAE had the highest number of women on the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen list in 2020, with 23 Emirati women featured. In the public sector, women’s participation is particularly strong as women hold two thirds of public sector jobs in the UAE, and 30 per cent of diplomatic roles. Today, women in the UAE also represent 50 per cent of the Federal National Council, and 27.5 per cent of Cabinet ministerial roles, leading strategic portfolios like climate change, food security, youth, the future, international affairs, advanced technology and space.
If you go to any government agency in the UAE today, you are sure to encounter young Emirati women who reflect the future of our country: young, professional and full of energy.
This is driven by advances in education of women. Today, 77 per cent of Emirati women enrol in higher education and, more importantly, they represent 56 per cent of UAE public university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem). These numbers are impressive, but the biggest “hidden” potential is yet to come.
Today, the UAE has a gender gap that does not get sufficient coverage and debate. This gap favours women. While girls slightly outperformed boys in science (by two points) on average across OECD countries in 2018’s Programme for International Student Assessment, in the UAE girls outperform boys in science by 26 points. This will likely have a profound impact on future generations. The same gap is clear in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study in 2015, when the average science score for women was 31 points more than men – one of the largest gaps worldwide. In comparison, the difference was one point in Singapore, three in South Korea and five in the US.
In 2021, the Government Development and the Future Office of the UAE Government launched 2 initiatives targeting “future skills for women” in partnership with EY and LinkedIn. The initiatives aimed to equip young Emirati women with the skills for future jobs and increase their contribution to the UAE economy. Applications exceeded our expectations. As I look forward to the future skills and the future world of work, which are both tech-enabled and Stem-driven, it is clear that the future that is being shaped by the UAE’s vision, as well as global trends, will be increasingly in the hands of Emirati women
When women become leaders, they provide a different set of skills, imaginative perspectives, and, importantly, structural, and cultural differences that drive effective solutions. The evidence shows that female leaders typically have more compassion and empathy, and a more open and inclusive negotiation style. Today, the term “feminine leadership” is a style of management that is being adopted by leaders of all genders. It is used as a shorthand for an approach that places an emphasis on empathy, humility, and relationship dynamics in an organisation. The result can deliver a more considered decision-making process and subsequent action.
Women leaders can also provide better mentorship, especially for the younger generation. Regardless of a person’s gender, all people need someone who will guide them to progress in their careers. Specifically, for mentoring and coaching young talent, women leaders are better mentors than men.
For all these reasons, the future is female. It is not one overtaken by women, but one that has gender balance and builds a bridge to equality. In 2022, to close the gender gap at the highest levels of leadership in the public sector around the world, the UAE will organise the eighth World Government Summit and will start convening the Women in Public Leadership Forum, inviting aspiring female public leaders from around the world to engage with role models and ignite their ambition. The public sector is essentially about solving problems for the whole society. For a better tomorrow, we need more women in public leadership.
Women bring the skills, different perspectives, and structural and cultural difference to drive effective solutions. In short, female leaders can change the way global solutions are forged for a more sustainable and prosperous tomorrow.