Woman brings balance to board of Dubai Women Establishment

Shamsa Saleh is the chief executive of the Dubai Women Establishment, an organisation that influences policy as it tries to address the gender gap.

Shamsa Saleh, chief executive of Dubai Women Establishment, works to empower women at work and home. Reem Mohammed / The National
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DUBAI // Women in the UAE are empowered and a vital part of a successful economy, says Shamsa Saleh, the chief executive of the Dubai Women Establishment.

“If women step back, our economy will be affected,” said Ms Saleh, who through her position strives to increase female participation and representation across economic and social spheres.

“Women are already empowered, whether in terms of grades or graduates, and the country needs them.

“We need to think deeper of women’s development and help to increase women’s participation in the economy.”

The Dubai Women Establishment, presided over by Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, was founded in 2006.

“There are five pillars: work-life balance, leadership development, the policy, research and statistics, and international representation,” said Ms Saleh.

But she said that the backbone of the establishment remained the ability to affect policies.

“When we are able to improve women policies, by default, women’s lives change for the better,” she said.

“We work closely with the Federal National Council and consult with its members.”

The establishment held a conference in 2012 about including women in boardrooms. A couple of weeks later, the Cabinet made it compulsory for corporations and government agencies to include women on their boards of directors.

The historic decision was announced on Twitter by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

“I was on maternity leave when Sheikh Mohammed announced it, and I remember being so happy to read that the policy had been approved,” said Ms Saleh.

“It meant that we had succeeded in our efforts to improve women’s participation in the economy.”

Being a mother of three and having a high-profile job means that Ms Saleh has faced the issues many women face when they have a family and are striving to also have a successful career.

She said setting priorities to achieve a good work-life balance was important.

“On the work level, delegation of authority is important to make sure you have set up a second line from which others can make decisions,” she said.

“I now have three successors in my organisation.

“So, if I am not available for any reason, my successor, my backbone, will support me.

“Also, if I know I have a conference coming up and that I will have to leave the kids for three or four days, I will make sure my husband is on leave to stay with them or find other alternatives.”

And when the Zayed University graduate has to stay late at work, she brings the children to the nursery at the establishment.

“Planning, finding alternatives and the delegation of authority are key to maintaining balance,” she said.

To get to where she is now, Ms Saleh has made a steady progression after graduating in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in information systems and a minor in communications.

She completed the development general management potential programme from the Cranfield School of Management in 2005, and the director development programme at the Hawkamah, the Institute for Corporate Governance in 2007.

Ms Saleh then served as vice-president of corporate strategy at Nasdaq Dubai from 2006 until 2008, before joining the Dubai Women Establishment in 2008 as director of strategic planning and corporate development.

She was promoted to chief executive in 2010 and is now in charge of implementing plans.

She also works directly on strengthening and enhancing the relationship of the establishment with other government departments and institutions.

This year, the establishment achieved a goal when it was announced that a gender balance council would be set up.

“The Government is now working on the decree, and there will be a federal umbrella to serve the whole UAE,” said Ms Saleh.

“This is one of the biggest achievements in the country, and a direct result of efforts in past years.”

She also said that she was honoured to have had a hand in Dubai hosting the Women’s Forum next year.

Ms Saleh said matters of importance to women were brought to her attention after she became a mother.

“The project to establish childcare centres was very close to my heart. I must have gone to at least 10 government departments. None were convinced to have a childcare centre,” she said.

“There was a fear there, and the main issue was the know-how. They didn’t know the first thing about child care.

“So, we developed a manual that spoon-fed departments on how to start a childcare centre and how to operate it.”

Now, Dubai Customs and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority are among the government departments that have nursery facilities for working mothers.

But she had a word of caution for enterprising women: “Women sometimes feel like they have to do everything, but it’s all about balance.

“After I had my second child, I realised I cannot do everything.

“It’s important to divide the house responsibilities. I have a responsibility and my husband does, too.”