When Maya Khelladi first joined CaixaBank's international branch, there were four women in managerial positions. Now they hold more than 40 per cent of the bank's managerial posts.
“We have a new head of department who is a woman. And she also pushed for it. It was not a specific goal, but she said as long as it’s doable, let’s go there,” says Ms Khelladi, the manager of CaixaBank’s UAE office, who joined the bank in 2009.
Things have also changed markedly in the wider UAE, where there was previously not a single woman working in a leadership position, to her knowledge, in the investment banking industry.
“We now have a lot of people accepting that women can be leaders,” says Ms Khelladi, who recently chaired a breakfast discussion held by the bank in Dubai to discuss diversity in business.
“There is a real push coming from the Government here. We see it and feel it.”
The struggle is far from over. This week, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, caused controversy when he suggested that women are unable to do his job.
Met with gasps and groans, Mr Al Baker made the remark at a press conference in response to a question about how the International Air Transport Association is to tackle the matter of gender inequality in key management positions.
“Of course, it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position," he said.
His comments were widely condemned, including by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark.
The UAE was recently ranked the highest for gender equality in the GCC, with a growing female workforce and more women continuing higher education than men, according to the Human Development Report 2018.
The UAE has introduced initiatives in recent months to improve the status of women, including a new wage equality law to ensure women are paid the same as men.
And CaixaBank is not the only private sector company in the UAE promoting women in leadership. Many others are putting initiatives in place, too.
Aster DM Healthcare is one. Females make up 58 per cent of the workforce. Yet just 16 per cent of them work in middle or senior management positions.
The healthcare provider is, however, working hard to change that. It launched a leadership programme last year and has picked potential female candidates for it.
“Our aspiration is to have more capable and better-suited women leaders holding these operations, business and enterprise leadership positions within the Aster Group,” says Alisha Moopen, executive director and chief executive of hospitals and clinics for the GCC region at Aster DM Healthcare.
“We at Aster are constantly trying to work towards enabling talented and capable women employees.”
Neethu Thampi, assistant manager of clinical quality for nursing, joined the programme at its inception around seven months ago.
The first thing the programme did was a multi-layer assessment. So I had to do an assessment of myself and my assessment was done by others as well,” says Ms Thampi, from India.
"After, I got a report about what I am good at and what I may have to improve on. So that actually helped me in understanding what exactly I am supposed to work on. So a detailed report was given to me, which helped me learn where I am exactly and what can I do to improve myself."
Asma Agha, who works as a head nurse at Medcare Women & Children Hospital, was selected to join after undergoing a series of interviews. She receives training from people both inside and outside the organisation on a monthly basis.
She says she has found it useful for learning how to manage her team better.
“It opens your eyes and widens your perceptions towards the people around you who work with you. It gave me as a leader the power to think more from their perspective, get closer to them and maybe manage better,” said the 40 year-old Lebanese-Jordanian, who has been in the UAE for 11 years.
Ciba Sunil Raphael, from Kerala, who works as head nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Medcare Women & Children Hospital said she has also learned to lead with more empathy.
“It has helped me to dream and aspire more and to lead with more empowerment and empathy, and to motivate others to reach their goals and potential, personally and professionally.
“So this is how this programme has helped me challenge my own competencies and have more confidence and to cultivate a sense of belonging that is a part of our group.”