Female representation on corporate boards vital for growth of organisations, say experts

Forum in Dubai discusses role of humour in corporate leadership


Lamya Tawfik

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Terry Kane, Candice D Cruz, Baris Karakullukcu, Diana Wilde and Victoria Ivanova at a panel discussion in the Middle East Women Board of Directors Forum powered by Khaleej Times in Dubai. — Photo by Shihab
Terry Kane, Candice D Cruz, Baris Karakullukcu, Diana Wilde and Victoria Ivanova at a panel discussion in the Middle East Women Board of Directors Forum powered by Khaleej Times in Dubai. — Photo by Shihab

Published: Tue 13 Dec 2022, 11:21 PM

There’s a business case for more female representation on corporate boards, panellists said at the Middle East Women Board of Directors Forum.

In a session on gender balance in boardrooms, Candice D’Cruz, vice-president, brand marketing & management for Marriott International Luxury Brands across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said that their role has been to create awareness at the different levels of the organisation.

Diana Wilde, co-founder, Aurora50, said research shows that companies with greater diversity have higher revenue and are 60 per cent better at getting into new markets. “There’s a business case for it then why isn’t it happening and what do we need to do about it?” she said.

Wilde added that perceptions about females on the boards of companies are not a reality. “If we can tackle those and help connect people who believe in diversity, we can really make a change,” she said.

Bariş Karakullukçu, president of the New Generation Entrepreneurship Business Line of Türkiye İn Bankası Group, said that in Turkey in 2011, females constituted only 11 per cent of board members. The number increased to 17 per cent in 2020. “If a company has a female CEO or female board member, they publish it as a marketing material,” she said.


Victoria Ivanova, senior advisor, Business Finland, said that she has worked in tech all her life and that even though she’s from Finland, she has been asked several times if she plans to have kids. “It happens in our part of the world as well,” she said.

In a panel titled ‘Getting on board and empowering women in leadership’, speakers discussed the importance of having women on boards. Duncan McCulloch, general manager - Middle East and Africa, Mars, said: “The world of tomorrow starts today. One of our corporate values is mutuality and gender diversity helps us,” he said.

“It helps the business for sure but it’s more than that. It’s an opportunity to make a real change, change lives and the culture in the region and to have an impact,” he said adding that breaking the stereotypes and challenging unconscious biases are important. “We all have unconscious biases, and we have a mandatory training on unconscious bias in our company to raise awareness” he said.

Per Johansson, general manager at Robert Bosch Middle East, said that if 50 per cent of the world is female then they should also be represented in the leadership. “We have challenges to attract females in the industry, but we are getting more,” he said. He recommended that companies include mentorship programs for female leaders and said that diversity should be a natural part of the hiring process.

Alexis Lecanuet, Senior Managing Director, Middle East Market, Accenture, said: “It’s not just diversity, it’s strategically paying off. If you want to be relevant you must be the most innovative and collaborative and to be that you need to be the most diverse. And if you want to be the most diverse then gender diversity is the beginning,. The culture of diversity, he stressed, is the end game."

Nader Haffar, chairman & CEO, KPMG Middle East, said it’s not just about having women on board but to have them being heard and creating the right environment. He said that in a recent survey they conducted in the UAE among 900 women, 87 per cent said that their company is performing well and that they could improve it, while more than 74 per cent said they are pursuing aggressive mergers and acquisitions. “Not having women on boards, will set you back,” he added.

Meanwhile, panellists at another forum said that humour can be a secret weapon for corporate leaders.

Speaking virtually during the forum, Dr Jennifer Aaker, behavioural scientist and general Atlantic professor, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and her colleague Naomi Bagdonas, corporate strategist and executive advisor, lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Business, said they teach courses emphasising the power of humour in leadership.

“The courses are rooted in behavioural science, have a 50/50 male/female enrolment and have the same credit as financial accounting,” said Dr Jennifer, adding that leaders with a sense of humour are more motivating and admired by employees. “Their teams are 15 per cent engaged and more creative, and individuals who use any sense of humour are 30 per cent more respected,” she said, adding that they are perceived to be more confident and competent.

Laughter, Dr Jennifer said, releases hormones like endorphins and lowers cortisol which is similar to 10 minutes of meditation. “When relaxation happens, you’re playing at the top of the game and performance increases,” she said.

Naomi said that working professionals seem to have fallen off a humour cliff. To climb up the cliff and use humour as a superpower, she said we need to be ‘human’. “It should be easy because we are human, but in reality, at work, it’s harder than we think. We become transactional and we are conditioned to get better results. As we rise in status, we need to realise that humour is a superpower,” she said.

She explained that small moments of levity can have an impact on self-disclosure. “You can have more candid conversations. Start with humanity and your sense of humour will follow,” she said.

“You can also tell the truth with levity. There’s a misperception that having lightness is about being funny. You don’t have to tell jokes. Humour comes from truth;, tell the truth with a bit of levity,” she said.

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