Women Power Summit, the largest women’s summit in MENA, is bringing together a diverse group of awesome women from all walks of life under one roof for an engaging, inspiring and educational two days (6th and 7th of May). Since the summit is an opportunity to share the stories and insights of many of the speakers and the work, we didn’t want to miss out and had conversations with some of the speakers about their inspirations, work, and what could we look forward to from the summit.
Leena Al Olaimy, listed among Bahrain's Most Influential Women in ‘Business in the Gulf, is one of the speakers we are most looking forward to hearing from at the summit. A social entrepreneur, and environmental enthusiast, Leena has a vast range of experience in consulting, social development, and corporate communications. We had a conversation with Leena about the importance of women in leadership roles for economic growth and here are her thoughts.
From your work experience, could you shed some light on the gender gap/parity we have in our region?
According to a 2016 study by Shareholder Rights, out of 1,178 publicly listed companies in the Middle East and North Africa with full disclosures on the structure of their board of directors, only 21 percent had female directors represented at the board level. And out of the 248 companies with some female presence, only 16 companies had above 30 percent women’s participation on board.
According to Hawkamah Institute of Corporate Governance, women in the GCC account for just 1.5 percent of corporate board seats. The UAE ranks 42nd globally, Kuwait is 35th, Oman 37th, Bahrain 40th, and Saudi Arabia 44th.
According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, at the current rate of progress, it would currently take the MENA region 580 years to close the economic gender gap.
Having worked in the entrepreneurial field yourself, what do you think of the growing participation of women in entrepreneurship and the sort of opportunities that could be created for women?
I think the biggest gap in the entrepreneurship ecosystem is access to finance. This is not just gender-specific and is a challenge for entrepreneurs in the MENA region more generally speaking. However, out of the limited pool of angel investors and VCs, even fewer are women-led. Because of the gender dynamics that come into play for female entrepreneurs, I think it is important to have investors that can appreciate these nuances to make the investment in the first place; and to help female entrepreneurs successfully navigate gender-specific challenges post-investment.
You are currently working on the ‘Diversity on Board’ initiative, could you tell us about the initiative and what it means for women in leadership?
There is something that would grow the global economy by $28 trillion by 2025-- almost equivalent to the combined GDPs of the U.S. and China…. – (McKinsey Report). This something would increase profits, shareholder value, customer and employee satisfaction, and fewer governance-related controversies.…and that something is, WOMEN. Women’s economic participation and women at the top.
To reap the benefits of diversity, boards need at least 3 or more women. Yet globally, only 20.1% of boards have at least three women. Good corporate governance helps firms improve performance and manage risks. To be truly effective, a board requires a diversity of skills, cultures, and views for smart-decision making. Which is why 3BL Associates is proud to be launching Diversity on Board at the inaugural Women Power Summit in May.
Diversity on Board is an online platform that curates leading Arab women in business, government, civil society, the sciences—and not just the ones you would find on the Forbes 100 or Arabian Business Most Powerful women—but also the hidden gems who may not be the best self-promoters, or know how to positions themselves, or even publicly share their board aspirations. We want to address gender inequity in the boardroom and help organizations identify the right women for their boards. And we also want to work with partners, to prepare these incredible women to be effective board members.
I am definitely not suggesting arbitrary board quotas that appoint unqualified women. Rather, DOB will highlight qualified and inspiring women. And the reason we have called it 'Diversity on Board' and not Women on Board, is because in the second phase, we will focus on increasing board composition of other under-represented groups, including millennials, differently-abled, and others.
What aspect of the Women Power Summit are you most excited about and what advice do you have for young women attending the Summit?
The WOMEN! Being inspired by them, discovering them, connecting with them...that's what I am most looking forward to. My advice for young women is to be open, vulnerable, honest, bold and brave. We need to have real conversations. Also set an intention for the summit: what are you hoping to get out of it? Be clear on what you want so you can make it happen.