In Dubai’s highly-competitive corporate world, women face the challenge of breaking a glass ceiling – or, as others may describe it, something that can be more like a concrete roof.
As Emirates Business reported recently, only a tiny minority of directors of Dubai Financial Market companies are women. There are just three women sitting in the boardrooms of the 53 listed companies, which roughly equates to one woman director per 124 men.
Like in many countries worldwide, the male-dominated business community has made it difficult for women to take the lead and make their presence felt at executive level. There could be various factors influencing this trend – culture, lack of qualified female professionals, legislation, or industry demand.
Yet there are signs that change is afoot, with women’s groups reporting large increases in membership, and some positive role models in the emirate, not least that of Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi, the UAE Minister of Economy.
However, in addressing this problem, the UAE does not need such prescriptive regulations as those enforced in Norway at the beginning of the year.
The Scandinavian country’s gender equality policy dictates that companies give at least 40 per cent of their board seats to female directors. The private sector did, admittedly, respond to the new law in a proactive fashion, as they had to in what could only be described as a highly drastic move by the government.
Norway’s argument is, however, fundamentally flawed.
It’s a fact that certain industries happen to attract people of different sexes in different proportions. The more people that are attracted to a job, the larger the talent pool that exists for employers to choose from.
It follows that, in some industries, the most qualified candidates will be made up of a disproportionate number of men; for other industries, a disproportionate number of women will be found in the list of best potential employees.
Put simply: some companies may want a boardroom made up of 80 per cent female executives, and others may want just 20 per cent. The reasons for this could be no more complex or sinister than that those are the people who are best-qualified to do the job.
The UAE need not take such a drastic measure in bringing down the ‘glass ceiling’. But while it does not need legislation imposing a strict quota of women in company boardrooms, the Emirates Business research does show that there needs to be a full study to gauge the need for more female top executives.
Women in the UAE still have a long and steep climb to go to reach the peak of the corporate ladder. But the individual determination is there among women who really want to excel in their chosen fields. That, in itself, is a good first step.
Norway: no way to plug a gender gap