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Why the UAE is on the ‘right track’ for gender diversity in the boardroom

Why the UAE is on the ‘right track’ for gender diversity in the boardroom

From the 52 board appointments over the past year in the United Arab Emirates, 12 percent were females, according to the latest research from US-based international executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. Results were taken analysing 40 of the largest companies listed on the Dubai Financial Market and Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange in what was

From the 52 board appointments over the past year in the United Arab Emirates, 12 percent were females, according to the latest research from US-based international executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Results were taken analysing 40 of the largest companies listed on the Dubai Financial Market and Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange in what was the first time the UAE has been tracked by the company, which has its headquarters in Chicago but has international offices, including Dubai.

Alain Deniau, partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Dubai office and a member of the global Industrial Practice, told Arabian Business the average number of females on the boards of listed companies in the UAE stands at around 3.5 percent.

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He said: “This year, it’s 12 percent women hired, which is much more than the 3.5. The UAE is on the right track, but there is still a lot to be done.”

In March this year it was announced by the Securities and Commodities Authority that UAE-listed companies must have at least one director on their board.

Deniau said: “The UAE are very well aware that, in terms of diversity, they’re not doing that well, but the good news is that it is moving quickly. You guys are doing better and better and the number of women being hired is increasing.”

Within the Middle East and North Africa, the UAE has the highest level of women in the workforce with 57.5 percent, according to a previous World Bank blog post.

Alain Deniau, partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Dubai office and a member of the global Industrial Practice.

During a year of immense struggles on all fronts, companies were forced to navigate through a global pandemic, geopolitical uncertainties and economic recovery.

And Deniau revealed this was a huge reason behind the fact that 44 percent of seats on UAE boards went to people with experience as a CEO or CFO, exactly the same share as in Europe and slightly lower than in the United States.

He said: “Nearly two-thirds of the new board members had previous board experience. That’s also a reflection that we need experienced people. In a time of crisis you don’t want newcomers.”

While 79 percent of the new seats went to active, rather than retired executives – a much higher share than Europe’s 51 percent or the 57 percent in the US.

“The UAE is quite a new economy and as such you do not have yet a large pool of retired ex-senior executives, ex-CEOs or ex-CFOs,” said Deniau. “It reflects the UAE economy business model, which is young and therefore you have much more senior executives active rather than retired.”

A quarter of seats were filled by people from other countries, lower than Europe’s 40 percent; while the average age of new board appointments in the UAE was 53-years-old, down from the global average of 60-years-old.

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