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Sun 19 Dec 2010 08:28 AM

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Quotas to boost women in Gulf boardrooms won’t work, says Saidi

Forcing Gulf firms to fill top jobs with women treats symptoms not causes, says chief economist

Quotas to boost women in Gulf boardrooms won’t work, says Saidi
HELD BACK: Women occupy just 1.5 percent of the Gulf’s 4,254 board seats (Getty Images)

Using
quotas to force Gulf companies to fill a percentage of their board seats with
women will not solve the region’s gender imbalance, Dr Nasser Saidi said.

Despite
women occupying only 1.5 percent of the Gulf’s 4,254 board seats, using quota
policies similar to those seen under Emiratisation to push up numbers would
fail, Saidi said.

“Quotas
should not be thought of as major instruments. They deal with the symptoms, but
they do not deal with the causes. I think it’s more important that we deal with
the causes, rather than the symptoms,” Saidi, chief economist Dubai
International Financial Authority, told Arabian Business.

“Quotas are
not the right way to go about promoting diversification.”

According
to Amer Halawi, head of research for Shuaa Capital, only 63 of board seats across
582 Gulf companies are filled by women, a ratio surpassed only by Japan and
Italy.

This is
despite women outperforming men in the classroom – according to the World
Economic Forum, more Arab women are securing degrees than ever before.

In Saudi
Arabia, the Gulf’s wealthiest economy, just one percent of board seats are held
by women, marking the worst ratio in the region.

In the UAE,
women hold 1.5 percent of the top jobs. In Oman and Kuwait, the best-performing
Gulf states, the figure is 2.3 percent and 2.7 percent respectively.

The figures
reflect a wasted economic resource, Saidi said, and a business culture that
favours sharing top jobs among a small group of participants.

“We need to
remove barriers to the participation of women in the labour force. It’s part of
the role of the government to create awareness of these issues. Just like in
good corporate governance, the tone is set at the top,” he said.

Had boards in the region improved their diversification
ahead of the recent financial crisis, many could have fared better, he added.

 “For good governance, boards need to have a
large proportion of independent, non executive directors. The last thing you
want, as we found out during the crisis, is for the executives themselves to
decide what the compensation would be. That leads to disaster.” 

Women in most countries account for less than 15 percent of
company directors.

In 2002, Norway introduced a 40 percent quota for women in
its boardrooms, a target it has now exceeded.