Enhancing UAE women's leadership in banking, financial services
2015 graduates of the EIBFS leadership development programme with chairman of Noor Bank Hussain Al Qemzi and general manager of EIBFS Jamal Al Jassmi. - Supplied photo
The success of women can be attributed to the UAE government's strong support for women empowerment across the region.
Today some 30 per cent of the UAE's women hold senior management positions and run their own enterprises in the country. No longer solely working within the hospital and government institution space, Emirati women are increasingly pursuing technical and managerial occupations across all sectors of the service industry.
Earlier considered a conventionally male dominated industry, the banking and the finance sector in the UAE is registering significant intake of Emirati women professionals as well. Currently, some 8,000 women account for almost 72 per cent of the UAE nationals in the banking workforce, and approximately 43 per cent of the total workforce overall.
This is further evidenced by the Oxford Strategic Consulting's 2015 Emirati Employment Report which states that women are significantly more likely (21 per cent) than their male counterparts (four per cent) to work in banking and finance.
The success of women can be attributed to the UAE government's strong support for women empowerment across the region. The government has launched various initiatives and programmes to diversify the workforce. The recent constitution of the UAE Gender Balance Council designed to enhance the role of women in the UAE job market and affirm their importance in building the nation's future is a case in point.
Reiterating the importance of the banking sector as a key player in diversifying the economy, the UAE continues to address gaps in the nation's financial and banking literacy and skills domains. The UAE Banks Federation aims to strengthen the support for women in the sector and increase female leadership by at least 10 per cent.
To increase Emirati participation and leadership in this sector, local and regional bank training initiatives such as Noor Bank's Coaching and Mentoring Development Programme provide both men and women nationals with training in leadership development and growth.
In addition to preparing nationals for senior management positions within the bank, such programmes allow women personnel to receive the same rigorous and valuable leadership training as their male colleagues.
However, despite these efforts, female leadership in the banking and financial services sector remains dismal in comparison to the high graduation rates and participation of women as employees in the sector. Only 12 per cent of women in the UAE hold senior management roles in banking.
Women are often hesitant to apply to higher level positions due to concerns with the flexible and remote working options available to senior managers and the negative attitudes associated with working shorter hours and work weeks. Many women see this as a distraction from fulfilling family obligations. Others lament the compensation and career development gaps that still favour men.
In order to eliminate these barriers, mentoring and training programmes such as those provided by Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies (EIBFS) can help women and men excel in their financial careers by honing highly effective and visionary leadership skills.
For example, in 2015, EIBFS in collaboration with Darden School of Business, University of Virginia selected the UAE's best and brightest senior managers to participate in its Leadership Development Programme. Selected on merit, senior female executives along with their male counterparts attended rigorous courses in Virginia to develop and build effective networks, lead strategic change, cultivate business acumen and enterprise thinking, negotiate excellence, manage conflict and grow through peer, faculty and executive coaching.
Furthermore, by prioritising female leadership development, the UAE's central bank can serve as a key facilitation mechanism to encourage cooperation across banks in the UAE. Successfully promoting high Emiratisation rates in banking, the central bank can exert the same focus towards supporting and developing Emirati female talent.
Banking institutions can also establish women's networks that provide targeted training, coaching and mentoring to female employees. Such networks should provide adequate professional development and training to female staff and explore the dynamics of power and influence as important leadership competencies for women. Firms should focus less on 'fixing the women' and instead look to fix institutional culture and business norms.
Lastly, banking institutions should offer flexible working options with part-time or reduced hour alternatives and lead a business culture shift where rewards are offered based on results rather than attendance in the office. For banks to operate successfully in talent-driven economies, they need to implement clear and output-focused performance management processes that encourage a culture of meritocracy.
Once this commitment to encouraging talent development is in place, the UAE's financial community and training institutions can play a more effective role in ensuring Emirati women take up their rightful positions in the nation's value chain. The presence of a greater number of women in leadership roles may also eventually encourage the country's banks to foster an inclusive and flexible business environment.
The writer is general manager of Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.