The first meeting of the Arabian Gulf chapter of Women Corporate Directors (WCD) will be held in Abu Dhabi today. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the UAE Minister for Foreign Trade, will attend the event as a guest of honour.
WCD aims to promote best practice in corporate governance and the value of gender diversity on company boards in the Arabian Gulf. The nine founding members include female board executives from the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
Fatima Al Jaber, the chief operating officer at Al Jaber Group, is the driving force behind the group's formation.
"As a woman in corporate life, I always find myself alone," Ms Jaber said. "I would love to see more women on boards as CEOs, COOs and CFOs and in the next five years we should have that because the base is there."
Ms Jaber said that while there were many senior women in corporate life in the Gulf region, barriers remain to them reaching board level. The UAE has become a regional trailblazer for women on boards 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 to have a female board member. Kuwait is considered to have the most female board members in the region, although this is difficult to verify because of a lack of statistics.
WCD aims to hold about four meetings a year in various Gulf cities. The first year will be about setting the group's path and showing women the benefits it offers.
Women who aspire to board positions will be able to join WCD as affiliate members and benefit from training, mentorship and networking opportunities. Clare Woodcraft, the chief executive of the Emirates Foundation, is another founding member.
"We were very selective about inviting and we might have missed some good women," Ms Jaber says. "But we can't reach everyone and some women may decide they like what they see and after some time join in. We started with the most passionate women who really believe in this. Others can come as [affiliate] members and when the time is [right] they will be on our list for board members or high level positions."
Susan Stautberg, the founder of WCD and the chief executive of PartnerCom Corporation, which creates and manages Advisory Boards globally, will also attend today's event at the Shangri-La Hotel.