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24 February 2024

Tide slowly turning for women leaders

By Wam

Women leaders at the Global Women’s Forum Dubai said that the ‘tide is turning’ in favour of more women leaders gaining key leadership roles in the global arena. While it requires more determined and consistent efforts to accelerate the process, in many political spheres, the role of women leaders is growing.

Speaking at the first panel of the Global Women’s Forum Dubai titled ‘The Turning Point’, Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of International Cooperation and Director-General of Expo 2020 said: “I think it’s coming and it has started in many ways in many countries. In many political landscapes, the role of women is becoming more prominent.”

The opening session, moderated by Becky Anderson, Managing Director and Anchor, CNN, also featured Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of the Republic of Mauritius; Emma Bonino, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italy; and Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, European Union.

Al Hashimy said women leaders need to persevere to overcome the challenges they face:  “I think that the tide is slowly turning. I think that it will not turn easily. It will need constant and consistent perseverance and reaching out. You can inspire people that it is not impossible. Women will realise that others have done it too and it can open up for them.”

With more women sharing their experiences at events like the Global Women’s Forum Dubai about how women leaders have managed their professional and personal lives and achieved success, women will realise that opportunities can open up for them too, Al Hashimy said.

She, however, reminded the audience that “it’s not a women’s club, it is a group of people who believe in particular ideas. Without men as our partners, we’re not going to push the needle on this. It’s about collectively working together for the betterment of our community, our country and our region.”

The panellists spoke about ‘turning points’ that changed the course of their life and career. Gurib-Fakim spoke about how she left her comfort zone of a steady job to start her own business. Learning to tackle risks represented a turning point in her life. “No business school will teach you how to tackle risks,” she said. Noting that in many developing countries, there is often a lack of an enabling environment for entrepreneurs, she said that in Africa, young entrepreneurs need to have an enabling environment to tackle risk.

Speaking further about the importance of role models, Gurib Fakim said that it is important for women to have credible role models. Good role models, she said, need to have an authentic vision.

Bonino said that she had two role models – her mother and the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her mother was her role model because she taught her to negotiate successfully often without challenging authority. He recalled how her mother convinced her father to send her to university by gently and persistently persuading him. Bonino said her other role model is the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, because of the way she fought for democracy and human rights in a non-violent way.

Vestager said that finding a leader is often a tricky exercise since often one does not want a real human being but a profile or a caricature. She said that she has enjoyed working with people of her age and she has been inspired by how people of different talents come together. However, she said there are certain behaviours that she admires in people. She gave the example of Madeleine Albright, the first woman to be US Secretary of State, who took a personal initiative to engage with different parties to help resolve the Balkan conflict.

Effectiveness of boardrooms

The opening session at the ‘Women on Boards’ hub in The Discovery at Global Women’s Forum Dubai today explored new approaches to achieving better-balanced representation on corporate boards and enhancing how women influence today’s corporate governance agenda.

The panel discussion moderated by Mette Laursen, Founder, LinKS from Denmark featured key speakers from a number of organisations; Ayesha Sultan, Board Member of Tecom Group, Independent Non-Executive Director and Chairman of Audit and Risk Committee and Vice Chairman of Executive Human Capital Committee, UAE,  Dr. Ashraf Gamal El Din, Chief Executive Officer, Hawkamah, UAE and Laura Hwang, Representative to the Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), Singapore.

Driven by their experience, the panellists discussed how boardroom success not only depends on the understanding of board obligations but self-knowledge coupled with the flexibility to change.

Ayesha Sultan, Board Member of Tecom Group, Independent Non-Executive Director and Chairman of Audit and Risk Committee and Vice Chairman of Executive Human Capital Committee, UAE discussed two ways to maximise efficiency on boards.

She said: "The first is your role as an individual, about what you bring to the board and your role as part of a collective on a board. As an individual, there are notable characteristics of Board members - being passionate, involved with your subject and the community you are in and not afraid to take risks and challenges. Taking risks, being rigorous and learning and educating have helped me with my role as a Board member."

Laura Hwang, Representative to the Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), Singapore, discussed the importance of keeping up to date in a constantly changing world, with new rules and regulations. Upon reflecting the role of women on Boards, she said: "Many studies have shown, Women on Boards are the most diligent directors and will ask the best questions as they are the most prepared. Keeping current is very important and the responsibility of the Board is to know where the world is moving."

Dr. Ashraf Gamal El Din, Chief Executive Officer, Hawkamah, UAE, spoke about decision making on an Executive Board.

He said, "You have to build a foundation to make decisions on a Board and you have a duty of care. This comes from reading information and staying up to date as well as asking advice from other experts.  You need to have enough information to make a decision with the Board – it is part of your responsibilities".

Commenting on Global Women’s Forum Dubai, Moderator of the opening session, Mette Laursen, Founder, LinKS, Denmark, said: "Being here at Global Women’s Forum Dubai really opens my eyes on the diversity and invitation of what the UAE represents. This is a quantum leap for women – the women we have met here at Global Women’s Forum Dubai have an extremely high level of education and courage. They are on Boards, similar to what we are seeing in Scandinavia. This event displays what is very promising for women in the future."

Dubai Holding leads the ‘Women on Boards’ hub at the Global Women’s Forum Dubai in The Discovery - the signature creativity space at the heart of Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society meetings, starting with a panel discussion about achieving maximum effectiveness in the boardroom, followed by a session hosted by global strategy, competitiveness and global talent expert, Professor Yoko Ishikura, in the Agora area of the Forum. The final session will explore how participants can build a personal roadmap and action plan for effective board service.

Dubai Women Establishment has played a vital role in driving various policies and initiatives that have provided Emirati women with the opportunities and skills required to enhance their contribution to the UAE’s socio-economic development. Some of these include The Arab Women Leadership Forum, Emirates Leaders Gathering, Professional Development (PD) Sessions, Women Leadership Exchange Programme, Arab Women Leadership Outlook, Women on Boards Initiative, National Corporate Child Care Project (NCCP) and the DWE Majlis.