DUBAI // Women need more accommodating work environments to rise to the top, a conference heard.
Flexible hours, the ability to work from home, access to reliable childcare and better maternity leave would help women to more easily reach leadership positions, said Khuloud Al Nowais, chief sustainability officer at the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development.
“Women are inherently productive beings that are expert multitaskers, but we need enabling environments to support our success,” Ms Al Nowais said.
“We are often responsible for our families, our kids, our husbands and many other commitments.”
She was speaking at the Global Women Leaders Conference, held on Wednesday and yesterday at the Ritz Carlton at Dubai International Financial Centre.
The event addressed the challenges and achievements of female leaders in the government and private sectors.
”The biggest challenge I see for women is how to [strike a] balance between her family life and her commitments as a leader,” said Muhra Al Muhairi, who works in the leadership programmes department of the General Secretariat of the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi.
The issue is a question of priorities, said Salama Al Amimi, executive director of the organisational development and excellence office at the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
“Most of the challenges are not because we don’t have opportunities,” said Ms Al Amimi. “It is because our priorities are different.”
“I had a senior lady I was literally begging to accept a [higher] position. She said, please, please don’t mention my name because I am happy today. I am happy with the balance between my home and my job.”
Workplaces could ease the struggle by shifting the focus from office hours to productivity, Ms Al Nowais said.
“Women want to be professionally successful, there is no doubt,” she said. “We just don’t want to sacrifice our families and children to make that happen.”
Rosanna Chopra, a lawyer, was pleased to find that when she married, her firm expected her to work fewer nights and weekends but did not discount her from leadership.
“The cutback in hours has not meant that my role has been marginalised – in fact, quite the opposite,” said Ms Chopra, who works for Galadari Advocates and Legal Consultants. About the time she became a mother, she was offered a partnership.
Good mentoring is another way to nurture female leaders, Ms Al Nowais said.
“I mentor a number of young individuals both in the office and externally,” she said. “Not only is this very rewarding, but [it is also] a way to transfer knowledge that cannot be obtained through textbooks.
“Another vital piece to the empowerment puzzle is training. Not just any training, but executive training. We are aiming to breed a cadre of female executives.”
The Centre of Excellence, for which Ms Al Muhairi works, offers professional development to women and men. It provides assessments and tailored programmes to employees in Abu Dhabi government agencies. “The Government wants to take care of their leaders,” Ms Al Muhairi said.
Since it opened in 2007, the centre has served more than 850 women. Fifteen of those held jobs at the executive level.
“They’re very, very dedicated,” Ms Al Muhairi said. “In general, the women are very dedicated to develop.”
The programmes might involve leadership training, strategic-thinking courses or even a workshop on public speaking. The support continues throughout their career.
“There is no graduation, we just develop them to be ready for the next level,” Ms Al Muhairi said.
Ms Al Nowais enrolled with the centre about a year and a half ago.
“It starts with a number of assessments and then they offer leadership courses,” she said. “One of the courses I took last year is a coaching course with the Henley [Business] School to become a certified coach.”
She was interested in the qualification because she works with many young people and is often asked for career advice. “Rather than training, I would call this capacity-building of the leadership talent that exists,” Ms Al Nowais said.