Women leaders help catalyse gender equality

Amruda Nair/dubai
Filed on February 18, 2017
Women leaders help catalyse gender equality
The act of seeing women lead increased women's self confidence and their willingness to compete in male-dominated domains.

(Photo used for illustrative purpose only)

Inclusion of women's talent requires deliberate policies and commitment from leadership

2017 will mark a clear shift in power with as many as 21 countries that could be led by a woman as president or prime minster.

According to Politico Magazine, it would be a record, topping the 19 female heads of state currently in power. It seems to me that women may indeed be running the world! The question it raises, however, is how large a part role models play in influencing gender equality.

In her book "What works: Gender Equality by Design", Iris Bohnet, professor of public policy at Harvard University, states "the act of seeing women lead increased women's self confidence and their willingness to compete in male-dominated domains, and it changed men's and women's beliefs about what an effective leader looked like".

Rather than attack the problem of bias on an individual basis, Bohnet offers behavioural design as a solution to de-bias organisations. Interestingly, she uses research done in India since the Panchayat Raj Act was implemented which stipulated that village councils needed to reserve one-third of their seats and one-third of their council leader positions for women. The result was the share of posts held by women in local governments rose from five per cent in 1993 to 40 per cent by 2005. Research revealed that the rise of female leaders in village resulted in increased participation in meetings by 25 per cent.

Remarkably, women in developing countries are joining the ranks of top management at the same pace as those in Western countries. According to Saadia Zahidi, head of gender and employment initiatives at the World Economic Forum, China's proportion of senior company positions held by women is higher than that of the US which is at 20 per cent.

170 years for workplace gender parity
While the number of women in leadership positions have increased in the past decade, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016, it is estimated to take 170 years to achieve global gender parity in the workplace. So, while we are indeed making progress, we still have a long way to go.

Public reforms are enhancing empowerment and advancement of women, and the UAE is a great example of a country actively seeking to support gender balance by ensuring that women are given leading roles in the country's development. In fact, research conducted by McKinsey & Company shows that 90 per cent of professional women in the GCC are not only in top positions but are also the first to have been hired to these positions. Empowering women to participate fully in economic life is essential to building stronger economies.

Gender equality is not only a moral cause but also a business imperative. Research by Mckinsey demonstrated very clearly that gender-diverse companies are more likely to outperform their less diverse counterparts by as much as 15 percent. However, ensuring the inclusion of women's talents, skills and energies requires intentional actions, deliberate policies and commitment from leadership.

It is important to build a pipeline of talent to ensure that women are progressing through the company at an equal pace to the men. Flexible working is something that needs to be perceived positively by the management and culturally acceptable. Pay parity is being fought for on multiple fronts, including the international sports arena. In India, technology companies are leading the way with unique health and child care facilities helping women support their family's needs. Businesses need to do more to convince women to not only join in larger numbers but also stay.

Many governments have been working towards accelerating the rate of women joining the labour force, particularly when it comes to board representation. Norway leads the pack with a 40 per cent gender quota for female corporate board members and India too has been working towards achieving parity by requiring public companies to have a minimum of one female board member.

At Aiana Hotels & Resorts, based in Doha, we benefit from a female board representation that comprises 33 per cent. As a member of several boards of listed companies, I am always conscious of my role as board member to not only meet the criteria of female representation but also add value. Angel Gurria, secretary-general, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, very aptly said: "Women are the most under-utilised economic asset in the world's economy". It's time to make a change.

The writer is joint managing director and chief executive of AIANA Hotels and Resorts. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.

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