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6 failsafe ways to empower women leaders in the GCC

Gender diversity is more than a social issue; it's crucial to long-term success and economic prosperity. In this research-led article, we outline six ways to empower the next generation of women leaders in the GCC.

There was a time when diversity at work was mostly about equal pay and equal opportunities for everyone in the workforce. While these factors are still crucial to workplace diversity, many companies now realize that it’s more than that: having a diverse management team makes good business sense. Diverse teams are more productive than teams with similar members, and according to a study of the world’s top 100 companies, diverse companies deliver better return on equity, better profit margins, higher dividend yields and lower beta.

Diverse companies consistently perform better. Characteristics shown by the top 100 companies around the world underscores the business case, but there’s more to it than that.

A new study by BCG of the female pipeline in the GCC reveals that the Middle East has the biggest loss of overall income because the untapped potential of the highly skilled female talent pool. To develop and empower the women who will be leaders of tomorrow, the report reveals six key actions for businesses.

“Retention, advancement, and leadership-building are the key areas on which organizations should focus,” Dr Leila Hoteit, Partner and Managing Director at BCG Middle East, says.

“Applying best practices in retaining talent, ensuring fairness and equal opportunities, removing any conscious or unconscious bias, and promoting role models are the key tools.”

Include gender diversity as a strategic objective

Gender diversity can only become a core part of a company’s strategic objectives if it is embedded in the ethos and agenda. Explicitly mentioning gender diversity as a strategic objective, with clear, achievable key performance indicators. These markers should be monitored regularly by those in leadership so they can be accountable for the organization’s progress in achieving these goals. Organizations can also take a stand by adding diversity objectives in their annual report, and by adding the development of female talent to the company’s training and leadership objectives.

Get senior leadership and middle management buy-in

The success of diversity initiatives relies on support and engagement from the top. Senior and middle management leaders need to actively challenge unconscious biases and strive to meet diversity objectives. Right now, in the GCC alone, only a handful of leaders are open about their engagement with gender diversity. Leaders who publicly announce their commitment towards promoting and enhancing female talent are the ones who actively communicate internally on gender diversity. According to the BCG report, middle management is generally not well informed, creating disconnect between the intentions of senior leadership and actual operations.

Hold on to high-potential women

In order to significantly and sustainably foster high-potential women pursuing longer-term careers with current employers, organizations should adopt best practices. Businesses should actively work towards being perceived as an attractive place for women to work, according to BCG. It is also critical to encourage flexible working arrangements by removing the stigma associated with them and making them available to both female and male employees. It is also important to promote an inclusive culture and policies, leveraging both formal and informal channels.

Promote career development

Providing training dedicated to women, to help them to build on their strengths and overcome potential challenging areas in the current male-dominated work environment. This includes workshops on ‘mental toughness,’ ‘how to speak up,’ and ‘build your personal brand’, all of which have proven successful. Development programs aimed at women, such as leadership programs and networking events tailored to women have also proven beneficial in furthering female leadership across the world.

Positively promote female role models

The limited number of female role models in certain positions was also mentioned as a major obstacle by the businesses interviewed by BCG in its report. Women themselves are often held responsible for the lack of role models. Listening to and being inspired by other women is an effective way to gain confidence and increase success and further development. The focus on role models with the promotion of female CEOs and the inclusion of women in governments has achieved impressive results in the GCC.

In October 2008, the UAE’s first female judge was sworn in. According to Dubai Women Establishment, this appointment encouraged many more applications from Emirati women interested in pursuing this path immediately after.

The same thing happened following the appointment of the first UAE female jet fighter in 2007, also the first woman in the UAE Air Force to lead a mission abroad in 2014.

Challenge and address biases

Another critical element to ensure fairness in getting talented women into senior roles is the  removal of conscious and unconscious biases. The BGC study reveals that businesses often neglect addressing the potential unconscious gender bias among decision-makers and managers.

Managers in charge of evaluation and performance management processes may limit the growth of female employees based on fundamental biases.

What can be done to challenge these biases? BCG suggests widespread communication of the gender diversity agenda from the top down. Once managers understand that gender parity is a corporate priority supported by senior management, cultural change will slowly trickle down. Additionally, businesses can organize training for male employees to open their eyes to the potential harm of unconscious biases, specifically those holding women back.

Does your organization prioritize gender diversity? Share your story with us.

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