UAE women take a seat at the boardroom table

New regulations require all listed companies in the country to have at least one female board member

A photo of mature businessman looking at colleague. He is wearing traditional clothes. Professional is sitting and smiling at coworkers. Office workers are in a meeting, at brightly lit workplace.

Two thirds of public sector jobs in the UAE are carried out by women. Female representatives also comprise half of the seats in the Federal National Council, and the country boasts nine female cabinet members, including Shamma Al Mazrui, who, at the time of her appointment, was the youngest government minister in the world. While other countries struggle with patriarchy, the Emirates embraces women in power.

That embrace, however, has not extended fully to the country's private sector. Last August, Aurora50, a UAE-based social enterprise that seeks to "tackle the world's most pressings challenges", held The Board Summit, a forum to discuss the ongoing issue of gender diversity and inclusion at the board level. In the UAE, only 3.5 per cent of board seats at publicly traded firms are occupied by women. That is a far lower share than the number of women who are ready and willing to lead. According to a poll conducted at the summit, 55 per cent of women in attendance said they would take on these senior roles, if only they were offered the chance.

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Full gender parity in the GCC could contribute as much as $830 billion to the region's economy

On Sunday, their prospects received a boost. A statement released by the UAE Securities and Commodities Authority mandates that all listed companies in the Emirates now require at least one female director in their boardrooms. The requirement will see the UAE join an all-too-small club of nations that use the law to address gender inequality at the director level.

Having one woman, of course, ought to be a mere starting point. Other countries can provide insight on what is possible once the momentum builds. In 2005, Norway, a country often held up for its world-leading levels of parity, passed a law mandating boards to comprise at least 40 per cent women. After a few years the results were clear. Between 2001 to 2008, the share of female directors in the country jumped by 35 per cent.

And yet, in all but a few countries – Egypt being another in the Middle East – laws mandating women's participation at the highest levels of business remain rare. Sceptics often site concerns that they detrimentally rush a process that develops over time, leading to inexperienced management, a downturn in profitability and even morale-destroying resentment among male colleagues.

In fact, the opposite is true. A lack of progress on this front ignores opportunities for economic growth. According to State Street Global Advisors' report on the issue, full gender parity in the GCC could contribute as much as $830 billion to the region's economy. If boards comprising a few people cannot reflect parity, demonstrating it across an entire workforce becomes more challenging.

This is about more than just profits. Boards reflect a company's culture. They impart confidence among female workers – and customers – that they and their unique contributions belong. Hopefully, in time it will never occur to anyone to wonder otherwise.