Ludovic Pouille, the new French Ambassador to UAE is seen during an exclusive interview with Gulf News at their Embassy in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Photo: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News (story: Binsal) Image Credit:

Dubai: Twenty-two big French companies and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) marked International Woman’s Day by joining a UN initiative dedicated to gender equality and empowering women in separate events held in Dubai on Wednesday.

Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, a free zone for commodities trade and enterprise in Dubai, on Wednesday morning signed the CEO Statement of Support, in which it announced its commitment to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) — Equality Means Business network.

A few hours later, the CEOs and senior officials of 22 French multinationals in the UAE, including Air France and Societe Generale, joined the signatories.

Those companies have already signed the initiative in France, and it was important to have their signature in the UAE, as “a first step of a process,” said Ludovic Pouille, French Ambassador to the UAE.

“My hope is that the 600 French companies established here in UAE will sign the WEPs and of course all the foreign and UAE companies will follow this example,” the ambassador told Gulf News.

The WEPs are a result of a partnership between the UN Global Compact, UN Women and businesses aimed at empowering women in the workplace, marketplace and community, according to the UN.

The seven principles include the establishment of high level corporate leadership for gender equality; treating all women and men fairly at work; respecting and supporting human rights and non-discrimination; and ensuring the health, safety and well-being of all workers, men and women.

Simple steps

They also include promoting education, training and professional development for women, implementing enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women, promoting equality through community initiative and advocacy, and measuring and publicly reporting on progress to achieve gender equality.

They are “simple steps that companies can adopt to implement the empowerment of women” at work and in society, Alice Laugher, Chair of the UAE WEPs Taskforce, told Gulf News.

By signing the UN initiative, a company makes a public commitment to its principles, said Laugher, whose work at the WEPs is voluntary. She chairs an NGO titled “Committed to Good”, which is mainly concerned with implementing humanitarian projects in conflict-affected countries. “I have always been around men who think I shouldn’t sit in a war zone. For me, everything has been always a bit of a challenge,” she said.

Challenges facing women in the workplace could be more obvious in developed countries, said Marina Hashim, MD and CEO of EDF in the Middle East.

“If you see France, in the stock exchange market … among the 40 biggest companies in the stock exchange you have only one company that is led by a woman CEO. One out of 40. So we are very far from parity, it is not even 20 per cent,” she told Gulf News on the sidelines of an event held in Dubai on Wednesday’s evening to announce signing the UN initiative.

Allowing women to compete for the CEO position would offer more candidates and end up with the best person for the job, she said.

A few years ago, France decided to split the number of ministers equally between men and women. Today, half of its 30 government ministers are women.

“In the parliament in France, we have over 40 per cent women, which is revolutionary for France and also for Europe. This is completely new. But the problem is with the private sector. If you look at the big French companies, only one” has a woman CEO, the French Ambassador said.

Resistance

Commenting on the reasons, he said “it is the burden of history”, that men dominated over the past 2,000 years, and it “will take some time for women to get some power positions in the private sector, because you have habits and resistance in a way by the men also. You have to be realistic and not naive — many men are resisting this, they don’t like women taking their jobs and posts.”

Apart from confidence building measures, education and educating women in sciences, such as engineering and mathematics would also help change the social perspective, he said.

“We still have a lot of work to do, and that is why the President [Emmanuel Macron] has decided [this is] one of his priorities for his government in the next 5 years,” said Estelle Pagnon-Pouille, President of the Women Empowerment Committee of the French Business Council in Abu Dhabi

Violence against women and the disparity in wages are among the problems facing French women, she told Gulf News.

Nearly half of the board of the Societe Generale bank are women, said Richad Soundardjee, Chief executive officer, Societe Generale Middle East.

The bank was among the first international company to sign the initiative late last year and the sixth after a mix of five smaller Emirati and foreign companies.

Soundardjee told Gulf News the reasons to join the initiatives were a combination of several factors.

“We are an international organisation, and as an international organisation, we also want to have an impact within the environment and the context in which we are involved, hence to push in the CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility].”