ABU DHABI // Research shows investing in female talent for managerial posts can have a major impact on a company's bottom line, while empowering women in the home creates better harmony, experts said yesterday during the second half of the Women in Leadership forum.
Amanda Nimon Peters, the managing director at Sara Black International, a talent development agency focused on women, presented research results from global studies that showed a positive influence in the home and at work when women are placed in decision-making positions.
"Women are more giving to outsiders," Ms Peters said. "They are also more likely to pursue an egalitarian distribution of resources.
"If the mother is the decision maker in the home, research shows a higher child survival rate and reduced domestic violence. It also indicates greater financial savings and higher pension funds."
In a study of Fortune 500 companies, including firms in the IT and engineering industries, research indicated up to a 42 per cent increase in return on sales and a 66 per cent higher return on capital when a higher number of women were present on a company's board of directors, Ms Peters said.
In the UAE, there are three times as many women as men enrolled in tertiary education, but only nine per cent of women have management roles. This indicated a need for awareness and greater efforts to develop female leaders, she said.
Najla al Awadhi, a member of the Federal National Council (FNC), said that despite the statistical evidence, the region still had a long way to go towards changing perceptions. Ms al Awadhi, also the chief executive of her own consulting firm and the youngest parliamentarian, referred to an incident in 2006, when the UAE made significant achievements. It was the first time that FNC elections had taken place and women were enrolled as parliamentary members. Nine women out of 40 members overall were elected into the FNC.
"A well respected regional newspaper documented the event by publishing a caricature in which the male members of the parliament were sitting around the roundtable doing business, and the female members were in the background preparing food," she said. "This depicts the regional concept that society still doesn't respect women as natural leaders."
Experts asserted that these perceptions were purely cultural, and there was no link between the stigma of working women and religion. New values must be ingrained from grass roots efforts, said Afif Barhoumi, the deputy head and investment promotion expert at the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).
"Islam supports the working woman. We need to focus on educating young children. While government support is important, the change must come from within."
Experts said that initiatives must be created to challenge old perceptions, not only by providing women with role models but also by giving them the necessary channels they need to successfully pursue their ambitions. One such initiative is being pursued by the Abu Dhabi International Centre for Organisational Excellence (Adicoe), which is setting up a mentoring programme that allows "big sisters" - high-profile businesswomen - to guide young aspirational women, or "little sisters".
"So far we've recruited 50 women leaders from different industries and we're on the lookout for 'little sisters'," said Annette Burke, the director of executive education at Adicoe.
Mr Barhoumi said that one of the aims of the Arab Gulf Programme for UNIDO was to help channel the abilities of aspiring women. To help with this, the programme is developing microfinance across the Arab world where women can get financial support.