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Fri 17 Jul 2015 09:33 AM

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Middle East still seen lagging behind in putting women in top jobs

Deloitte report sees strong business case for having more women in leadership positions as UAE looks to close gender gap

Middle East still seen lagging behind in putting women in top jobs

The Gulf region continues to lag behind on the representation of women on corporate boards despite recent efforts to narrow the gender gap in business, according to Deloitte.

Its Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective report said that while the number of women in top jobs is increasing, the number of women leading boards still remains low globally.

Overall, women now hold 12 percent of seats worldwide with only 4 percent chairing boards, according to Deloitte.

European countries continue to lead on gender diversity in the boardroom, with Norway, France, Sweden and Italy all ranking high.

Rana Ghandour Salhab, talent and communications partner at Deloitte Middle East, said: "The Middle East region in general lags behind most developed nations. So, it's clear that more can be done. We actively encourage increased collaborative effort from organisations, governments and policy-makers; it is the only way we will begin to see results worldwide and in our region."

Cynthia Corby, Audit partner, Deloitte UAE, added: "Research shows that women are a key driving force for the GCC economic engine. There is a strong business case for having more women on such leadership platforms as diverse and balanced teams improve an organisation's bottom line. In fact, companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals."

Earlier this month, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum pledged that the UAE will "spare no effort" in encouraging women to play a key part in shaping the country's future.

Sheikh Mohammed, also Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, promised to create a supportive environment for women to "fulfill their roles".

"Emirati women have proved their competence in all fields and we are proud of every achievement they made, and thus, we are committed to support them till they achieve the highest degrees of excellence and accomplish further achievements in line with our ambitious development vision," he said in comments published by news agency WAM.

His statement came while attending part of the first meeting of the UAE Gender Balance Council, chaired by Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, wife of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.

At 6 percent, gender diversity in some of Asia's leading economies is the lowest compared to other parts of the world. Only a few countries in the region have quotas or other approaches to address the issue.

Many Indian companies have started to introduce women directors to their boards. Currently 8 percent of board seats are held by women and 3 percent of boards chairs are women.

In Hong Kong, only about 10 percent of the board members of listed companies are women, even though women account for almost half of the total workforce.

"We've seen a welcome increase in women on boards globally; however the number of women securing the top spot remains elusive even in the most progressive countries. Of course, in many countries, the chair is an executive position, but this absence of women among chairs is revealing," said Salhab.

"There needs to be more focus on changing perceptions, tackling stereotyping through awareness, learning and role modeling, in addition to the adoption of laws that support gender diversity and introduction of policies that allow women to advance their careers while managing their demanding family roles," she added.