Panelists during the discussion held by NAMA at Women's Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Workplaces should set gender equality goals to boost women’s economic participation, a panel discussion held by NAMA Women Advancement Establishment (NAMA) heard at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The discussion on ‘Promoting Business Sustainability Through Women in Leadership’ was held in partnership with the Pearl Initiative at the Women’s Pavilion.

With over 30 CEOs and business leaders in the Gulf in attendance, panellists emphasised the need for developing competencies, allocating resources, strengthening accountability, and setting gender equality objectives.

Members on the panel included Patrick Chalhoub, Group President, Chalhoub Group; Muna Al Gurg, Director of Retail, Al Gurg group; Dr Patrick Allman-Ward, CEO of Dana Gas; and Huda Al Lawati, Founder and CEO, Aliph Capital.

Gender equality at the workplace

During the 90-minute discussion, moderated by Ranya Saadawi, Executive Director at the Pearl Initiative, NAMA urged leaders in the private sector to drive value for business and society by boosting gender parity in leadership and decision-making.

UAE commited to gender equality

In a keynote address, NAMA Director Reem BinKaram commended the UAE for its strong commitment to gender equality and dedicating an entire pavilion to women for the first time in the history of a World Expo. She said: “Investments in women have a multiplier effect, as women are more likely to reinvest in education, health, and economic activities at the community level.”

Impact of diversity

Dr Allman-Ward said: “A diversity of perspectives is key to decision making, and the qualities that women have enriches the debate and discussion, particularly of risk management... The perception of the oil and gas industry as being primarily tech-driven and STEM-oriented is a significant barrier impacting women’s entry into this sector.”

He added said that women must be encouraged to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.

More role models needed

Al Lawati cited the lack of role models as a prominent barrier in women’s advancement in the upper levels of financial services companies. “Women and men begin their careers at parity, but along the way, we find a drop in the number of women advancing to the next level. In private equity, for instance, only nine per cent of women are in senior leadership positions globally while in venture funding, it is less than five per cent,” she said.

Strong inclusion policies

Chalhoub said: “The Chalhoub Group was founded 65 years ago by my mother Widad Chalhoub in partnership with my father Michel Chalhoub, therefore women in decision making have always been part of our Group’s DNA.”

He added: “I am a firm believer in the incredible value that diversity brings to the table. We are building a servant leadership culture to nurture women and men alike and gender parity is one of our three focus areas.”

Level playing field

Al Gurg described her organisation’s experience of using a toolkit by the 30 per cent Club – a global campaign that advocates for women to advance to C-level management. She said: “Our goal now is to double the number of women in our organisation, and to get more men invested in the idea of improving gender diversity.”