Time to bust myths against women leaders

Rola Seifeddine
Filed on April 7, 2018
Time to bust myths against women leaders
Studies have shown that only 2 per cent of the female labour force leave their careers for family reasons.

(File photo)

The first common prejudice is that women prioritise family and tend to forgo their professional duties

For many years, women have been conditioned to accept that certain activities are reserved solely for men, as they are believed to require some masculine superpowers. To justify this, many societies have mechanically resorted to studies that point out biological differences, which are thought to restrict women's ability to participate in such "masculine" activities. Efforts were doubled to convince women to stay away from these fields, to the extent that film-makers started drawing satirical portraits of the subjects. Despite having the merits to assume any given role, women have long faced institutional limitations that hindered their rise to power.

However, in recent years, governments have extended their support towards the liberation of women through different political and legal measures to ensure a fairer representation in the workplace. The UAE is no exception. In fact, the country's government has always been keen to enable women and support them to reach high-ranking positions based on their merits alone.

One of the fields that has a considerable representation of women is the financial sector. In fact, women have shown greater interest to work in the banking and finance industry (21 per cent), compared to their male counterparts (4 per cent). This can be further supported by the factual number of jobs held by women.

Despite securing a high representation as employees and benefiting from a strong government support to diversify the workforce, female leadership remains minimal in comparison to their high graduation rates and participation as executives. In effect, only 12 per cent of women in the UAE hold high-ranking positions in the banking field.

Many misconceptions surround women employment, and consequently, prevent them from taking on senior roles. The first common prejudice is that women prioritise family and tend to forgo their professional duties. In fact, many believe that when put in a position to choose between attending family needs and maintaining professional obligations, women will by default choose their family. In reality, women have to face unrealistic expectations, where they have to take on important and equally compelling obligations, with little to no assistance. What's more, studies have shown that only 2 per cent of the female labour force leave their careers for family reasons.

The second common misunderstanding is that women are emotionally motivated, which can in turn affect their decision-making abilities. This social belief not only undermines women's intellectual capabilities, but also omits their merits. But according to Dr Ahmad bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi, UAE Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, "women perform better academically, and right now are far more employable than men because they are more focused."

The third preconception is that women are not actively seeking promotions. This widely-accepted thought mutes women's personal aspirations and ambitions. In addition, it defies the very essence of female participation in the workplace and their ability to take on initiatives.

Despite these myths, increased representation of women in senior positions has proven to benefit businesses on various levels. According to a study conducted by Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), women in top management can improve a firm's performance by assuring increased skill diversity, which guarantees greater effectiveness in monitoring staff performance.
Additionally, as leaders, women encourage the development of other employees. In actuality, women outperformed men in inspiring, motivating and developing others as stated in a study by Zenger Folkman. This result is indicative of women's exceptional willingness to support and nurture their peers through one-on-one on the job or outside coaching and mentoring. This, in turn, leads to a heightened sense of satisfaction and fulfillment among employees, which concurrently ensures employee loyalty and retention. Similarly, it will encourage high-caliber talent as the firm will be perceived as an enabling entity.

Furthermore, fostering female representation in senior positions will increase the company's overall productivity and profitability. The study by PIIE also found that "going from having no women in corporate leadership [the CEO, the board and other C-suite positions] to a 30 per cent female share is associated with a one-percentage-point increase in net margin - which translates to a 15 per cent increase in profitability for a typical firm."

When it comes to innovation and change, women are keen to find new operational methods. They champion efficiency and effectiveness, which is why they tend to encourage the adoption and implementation of new ways to perform given tasks.
Because wasted potential is wasted opportunities, I believe that allowing women to have a bigger share in decision-making is imperative for development and innovation.

As His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, pointed out, in an enabling environment, "women will perform nothing short of miracles."

The writer is head of DIFC branch at The Access Bank UK Limited. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.

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