Bridging the gender gap in investment industry

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Bridging the gender gap in investment industry
Photo used for illustrative purpose only

dubai - Women represent only 18 per cent of the senior leadership and investment teams in Mena

By Ghada Abdelkader

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Published: Sat 23 Jul 2016, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 23 Jul 2016, 10:04 PM

I started working in the finance and investment space in the Mena region over 12 years ago. I have had tremendous experiences and exciting opportunities and have been fortunate to work in diverse, inclusive environments. However, today, women like myself are still in the minority, representing only 18 per cent of the senior leadership and investment teams in the Mena region's investment industry, according to the Mena Private Equity Association.

So, why is it that the finance industry has not attracted and retained more female talent? As studies have shown, it is not for a lack of qualifications on the part of women, who make up over 50 per cent of university graduates in the Mena. Instead, what is likely deterring women from joining the sector is that even today, it is largely male-dominated - a 'boys club' so to speak.

What this realistically means for women who try to forge a career within the industry is that the corporate culture is most often skewed to accommodate men's needs and interests, rather than women's. As a result, women often receive less guidance and mentorship than their male counterparts - making them miss out on a crucial step in developing their careers.

Another aspect of this challenge is that women sometimes create their own glass ceilings, sometimes by not applying to jobs at all because they feel under qualified, often despite having all the same qualifications as men at their levels. Those who do enter the workforce tend to either leave the workforce early or not maximise their potential because the work environment does not instill confidence in them or necessarily expect them to succeed.

To me, this gender gap is troubling for several reasons. First, women provide unique perspectives that are important in a corporate landscape - just as important as the perspectives of their male counterparts. Leading organisations today are realising that making diversity of all kinds - gender, nationality, background, age - a major priority, which, in turn, promotes better and more strategic decision making that reflects the needs and concerns of all stakeholders.

Gaining confidence
I have found working in the finance and investment space incredibly rewarding, not just to me as a woman, but to my development and growth as an individual. I have been valued by the organisations I have worked with for the quality of my work and the results I have been able to achieve, rather than based on my gender, which have given me tremendous confidence and conviction in my capabilities and decisions.

For instance, in one of my previous jobs, we were looking at acquiring cement plants and developing greenfield projects across the Mena. I was often requested to travel to carry out on-site due diligence on the plants, some of which were in remote areas. Despite the fact that I was the only female team member, I felt no hesitation that I would not be able to make the right decisions for the organisation.

Yet, for an organisation to ensure that its male and female employees are respected as individuals and appreciated for their achievements regardless of gender, a concerted effort to change current attitudes and stereotypes is needed. Companies must make genuine, tangible commitments towards gender diversity and inclusion as part of their strategies.

Crescent Enterprises, for example, is a signatory of the UN's Women Empowerment Principles under the theme 'Equality Means Business'. In line with this agreement, we join more than 1,000 global organisations to work towards implementing seven women's empowerment principles to advance and enhance women's roles in the workplace, marketplace and community at large.

It is equally important that companies make efforts to retain female employees by providing flexible working conditions and change the organisational mindset that this translates to working less. In my own experience as a full-time mother and a full-time employee, I know that this often means working more - just at different times or remotely from home.

Guidance, mentorship
Both female and male executives must also take time to reach out to their junior female colleagues and provide guidance and mentorship. These young women need role models to look up to or simply to give them a much-needed confidence boost. We have implemented the same at Crescent Enterprises, by partnering with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to provide mentorship and support to female entrepreneurs across the Middle East. As part of this synergy, both male and female employees at Crescent Enterprises serve as mentors on the 'Mentoring Women in Business' programme.

My hope is that with a transformation in mindsets, more women will be encouraged to enter the investment industry, not simply to increase the number, but more so to gain access to many of the same positive experiences and opportunities that I have had and to make their own mark on the sector.

The writer is the manager of corporate development and investments at Crescent Enterprises. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper's policies.

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