A new index will track the number of women on the boards of publicly listed companies across the region.
The Arabian Gulf chapter of Women Corporate Directors, which was inaugurated in Abu Dhabi yesterday, will partner with the Dubai-based Hawkamah Institute for Corporate Governance to produce the measure.
The index will help to identify organisations committed to promoting women to top executive and boardroom positions as well as gaps in corporate representation.
The issue has become a hot topic after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced in December that it would become compulsory for every government company in the UAE to have a female board member.
Currently, only 1.5 per cent of board seats in the GCC are held by women, according to Hawkamah statistics. In the UAE, that drops to 1.2 per cent of the board seats of companies listed on the Dubai Financial Market and 0.8 per cent of seats of companies listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.
"Gender diversity has a positive effect on performance [but] it is all too common for boards not to include female representation," said Fatima Al Jaber, the chief operating officer of the Al Jaber Group and the driving force behind the new group.
"Women must be prepared, developed and have the technical skills to take over these director positions. We see this as an integral role of the GCC chapter of Women Corporate Directors."
The organisation is considered one of the most powerful female business groups. Its 1,800 members worldwide sit on 3,000 boards. In the 12 years since it was founded, it has helped place 250 women on boards and advisory boards.
The Gulf chapter, which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi, has 12 founding members who will steer the group through its first year, setting the agenda, building a trusted community of female executives and raising awareness across the Gulf region about what the organisation can do.
As well as Ms Jaber, Clare Woodcraft, the chief executive of the Emirates Foundation, Najla Al Midfa, senior manager of entrepreneurship development at the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, and Raja Al Gurg, the managing director of the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, were present as founding members from the UAE.
Founding members from Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia also attended the inauguration at the Shangri-La Hotel. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, who was yesterday named Minister of Development and International Cooperation, attended in her role as patron. The global WCD founder Susan Schiffer Stautberg was also present.
The group will immediately start recruiting other women executives as members and women who aspire to corporate leadership positions as affiliate members.
"There is a positive trend in the GCC and particularly in the UAE and we need to do more," said Nick Nadal, Hawkamah's director.
"The endorsement by Sheikh Mohammed of women board members is very positive but that is a vision. How to get it - that's our mission."