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Sun 25 Sep 2016 02:14 PM

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Economic slowdown has cost women parity - Sheikha Hanadi

One of Qatar’s most successful businesswomen, Sheikha Hanadi bint Nasser Al Thani, argues GCC companies only prioritised female equality in the workforce during the “good times”.

Economic slowdown has cost women parity - Sheikha Hanadi
Qatari businesswoman Sheikha Hanadi bint Nasser Al Thani.

The oil price-induced economic downturn has caused female equality in the workplace to be pushed aside, as companies re-prioritise, one of Qatar’s most successful businesswomen, Sheikha Hanadi bint Nasser Al Thani, has said.

Sheikha Hanadi, who founded asset management company Amwal in 1997, said business leaders had become less interested in ensuring gender parity since the oil price collapse.

“It seems as if that was the priority of the agenda of the good times; when everything is good we can start promoting [gender parity]. It’s seen as a complimentary issue, it’s not seen as if it’s a cost efficiency or the long-term perspective,” Sheikha Hanadi told Arabian Business.

“Our region is very reactive to short-term signs. We react very quickly to things that are happening now; sometimes we forget to look at the medium and long-term.

“What I’m scared of is that we’ve been speaking about it in the good times, now other items on the agenda have taken its place. It’s a priority now. We have to make cost cuttings, savings, efficiency, [but businesses are forgetting] that this is an item of efficiency, this is better governance, it is how you get on track again.”

Sheikha Hanadi, who spoke to Arabian Business after participating in a panel discussion on gender parity hosted by the 30% Club GCC chapter (a collective of companies that support having at least 30 percent of women on boards) and Bloomberg in Dubai on Sunday, said the message probably had not been clearly explained during the “good times”, making the battle more difficult now.

“Maybe we did not present it as it should have been in the beginning. Now we should present it as it should be,” she said.

“I don’t know if it was understood in the first place, its actual meaning, what [gender parity] brings with it, how diversity of ideas are actually complimentary, how it brings a different perspective from 50 percent of society and how you’re going to cater for them.

“This is where we are now trying to make sure it’s not only a gender issue, this is an efficiency issue, it makes business sense, and this is a governance issue as well.”

Sheikha Hanadi said retention of women was “very important”, particularly in the GCC where women tended to marry and have children much younger.

“They leave the workforce [to have children] and it’s very difficult to come back. Our organisations aren’t flexible to help them come back,” she said.

However, she said much progress had been made since she started her business. Then, women in the workplace, let alone in leadership roles, was not even a topic of discussion.

“You should remember that what has been done in this region has happened in a very short timeframe and we achieved a start,” she said.

Yet, the pace of change was far too slow.

A study by Deloitte and the 30% Club GCC Chapter found that for the majority of the GCC executives interviewed, a greater number of women at board level was presently not a priority.

“Notably, more pressing concerns, such as oil prices and their economic impact, as well as the geopolitical situation, were seen as taking precedence, resulting in the issue of increasing the presence of women on boards being neglected,” the report said.

Sheikha Hanadi said while the pace had slowed, she remained confident that women were making progress.

“Absolutely. You can see women in every sector and you can see them as bright, shining lights,” she said.

“There are a lot of challenges, there is still the question of work-life fit and how it’s going to go, but there are a lot of opportunities and a lot of ambition. They are able and willing, you can see it.”

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