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Why having women in leadership roles is critical in the Middle East

Women empowerment initiatives are creating new opportunities for women to enter leadership positions.

Why having women in leadership roles is critical in the Middle East
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

This is baffling to us. Only 4.9% of Fortune 500 and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women. And those numbers are declining globally.

However, in the Middle East, policies supporting inclusivity and diversity have been implemented over the last decade to enhance women’s participation in the workforce. 

With women empowerment initiatives rising in the region, this creates new opportunities for women to enter leadership positions. “As more women assume leadership roles, they inspire and pave the way for other women to follow in their footsteps, enabling a more gender-diverse and inclusive business landscape,” says Sabine Holl, Vice President of Technical Sales and CTO MEA, IBM.

Consider this: According to a recent Kearney survey, the potential to advance to top leadership positions is important to eight out of ten working-age women in the UAE, and 73% feel they have those opportunities at work.

Also, 61% of UAE workers believe having more women in leadership positions will benefit their company, and 39% believe a woman will eventually become their company’s top executive. Similarly, about 54% of Saudi citizens believe having more women in senior positions will benefit the economy. 

Women are redefining the C-suite and entrepreneurial leadership in today’s business world, says Holl. “Companies with women in leadership roles tend to perform better financially, and diverse leadership teams are more effective. With their unique perspectives, innovative ideas, and exceptional leadership skills, women are changing how firms make key strategic decisions and shaping the top management team’s culture to be more open to change.” 

According to Wiam Hasanain, Director at Kearney Middle East & Africa, the spike in female participation in the workforce in the region is driven by legislation and many national initiatives, but he adds that the research revealed business leaders harbor unconscious biases that affect the hiring, promotion and retention of women. 

Systemic bias is the reality we live in. On the road to economic recovery, it’s imperative to do the hard work to remove bias from the system. 

“Organizations have a responsibility to rid their HR systems of biases, enabling a competent and diverse set of leaders at the table in the future,” adds Hasanain.

This is the only way to create and empower this new C-suite and ensure they are capitalized and resourced.

Studies have shown that having more women in leadership positions leads to better business outcomes, as diverse perspectives help to drive innovation and performance, says Fida Kibbi, Vice President, Head of Marketing, Communications, Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson Middle East, and Africa. “Women are redefining the C-suite and entrepreneurial leadership. The number of women in top executive positions is increasing, and they are bringing their unique perspectives and ideas to the table.” 

We are seeing an undeniable surge in the creation of new businesses led by women changing the face of industries. 

“Women’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit is driving new and exciting developments in technology, medicine, and other industries, and their success inspires future generations to follow in their footsteps. Overall, the increased representation of women in the C-suite and entrepreneurial leadership leads to more diverse, inclusive, and successful organizations,” adds Kibbi.


With women in leadership, the tech marketplace becomes more inclusive and leads to more effective, profitable, and socially responsible companies, says Farimah Moeini, Head of industry – Retail and eCommerce at Snap Inc. in MENA. “This also attracts and inspires younger generations of women to join the workforce and take on leadership positions, fueling economic growth. Not only do women bring diverse perspectives, but they also bring critically important leadership qualities such as agility, resilience, strong communication, and other result-driven attributes.”

Many women leaders feel that COVID-19 has caused a drastic shift in our views of what leadership should and shouldn’t be in the C-suite and entrepreneurial leadership. Last year, a PwC report said that the opportunity cost of women’s low workforce participation is $ 2 trillion.

“The more we come across statistics that build the economic case for women’s workforce participation, the more employers and the startup ecosystem will recognize the importance of intentionally driving women’s representation at the top,” says Samar Alshorafa, Founding CEO of She is Arab.


“The more women we see at the top, the more normalized it will be that women lead differently, and their leadership style is worthy of further research and investment.”

All agree that male champions of diversity must make an effort as employers and investors or decision-makers in funds that invest in startups. More support is needed for women-led startups and businesses.

“Men are also redefining what it means to be a gender-inclusive leader, and their support is crucial,” adds Alshorafa.

Simply put, women are redefining leadership by mixing professional and personal traits known to be unique for women, such as being nurturing, inclusive, empathic, and risk-averse, hence shifting the rhetoric.


Women tend to be intuitive and lead with compassion and are generally faster to adopt and drive change, says Haidi Nossair, Sr. Director – Client Solutions Group – META, Dell Technologies. “The presence of female leaders in influential positions serves as role models for other women and can help drive change in workplace policies and processes that benefit everyone.”

Numerous global studies have shown that organizations benefit from a more engaged workforce when it demonstrates a commitment to gender equality. 

“Women, particularly mothers, have a positive influence on the future of our society as they play an instrumental role in raising and nurturing the next generation. Empowered women are vital for economic growth, job creation, and societal progress,” adds Nossair.

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Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More

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