Middle East sees developments for women in business over the past year

08 March 2019 Consultancy-me.com 6 min. read

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, Consultancy-me.com takes a look back at some of the local developments for women in the business realm over the past twelve months.

To coincide with International Women’s day for 2019, accounting network Grant Thornton has released its annual Women in Work report, which has revealed an encouraging five point global spike to 29 percent in the proportion of women holding senior leadership positions at organisations around the world – doubling the total gains made in the previous 15 years. The report, however, doesn’t cover the Middle East.

Here, we can look to an earlier report from Boston Consulting Group – co-authored by BCG Middle East partner and managing director Leila Hoteit, who was last year named together with Deloitte’s Cynthia Corby as among the 100 most influential women in the Middle East by Forbes Magazine – which showed that in 2015 less than 10 percent of senior positions in the UAE were held by women, with the figure in Saudi Arabia dipping below 6 percent, exacerbated by a paltry workforce participation rate of just 20 percent.

That, however, was before the royal edict granting women the right to drive in the Kingdom came into effect last year, with PwC predicting at the time that with as many as 3 million new female drivers taking to the roads workforce participation rates could jump dramatically. The government itself is aiming for 30 percent. In terms of the firm's own regional gender diversity profile, the ratio of female employees at PwC has now pushed above 30 percent, with a number of programmes in place toward ongoing improvements.

Recently, the firm hosted “Awareness to Action”, a women’s workshop featuring regional female role models – including PwC’s first-ever Saudi female partner and KSA Financial Services Leader Hala Kudwah, as well as Lama Rmeilly, PwC Deals Director and the firm's Saudi Women in Business Leader. Fellow Big Four firm KPMG sponsored a similar event – the inaugural Women Power Summit – held in Bahrain last May, providing a number of free business consultations to aspiring female entrepreneurs.Middle East sees developments for women in business over the past yearAcross at Ernst & Young, this year the firm extended its Corporate Finance Woman of the Year programme to Saudi Arabia, with Hatoun Al Otaibi selected to represent the country alongside UAE winner Ghalya AlAli at the global event in London last month, while the firm also introduced its global Entrepreneurial Winning Women initiative to the MENA region for the first time. And employees at EY can now enjoy extended parental leave benefits, after their region-wide introduction at the firm in July. According to figures from 2017, EY employs more than 1,300 women across the region.

Deloitte, too, is looking to boost its female headcount in the region – and in non-traditional roles – this year introducing an initiative in the Middle East aimed at promoting greater gender diversity in the cyber-security sector, with women making up just 5 percent of the information security workforce in the region in 2016 according to Frost & Sullivan data. Deloitte Middle East’s Rana Ghandour Salhab meanwhile was named by the Financial Times at fifth on a global list of diversity champions in business, lauded for her advocacy on gender equality in the region.

Toward the end of last year, KPMG released its first ever UAE Female Leaders Outlook, a survey of local senior female executives which uncovered an intriguing gendered difference in company and economic growth expectations, with women leaders found to be on average more realistic and tending toward gradual, sustained growth. Ranked 8th on DiversityInc’s 2018 global index, the firm last year also celebrated the women leading its own Energy and Natural Resources practice, including EMEA head Valérie Besson.

In terms of senior-level female appointments in the local consultancy industry over the past year, perhaps the most inspiring is that of Dina Abo-Onoq, who took on the role of chief country manager for Alvarez & Marsal in Saudi Arabia – joining A&M Middle East co-leader Saeeda Jaffar. Elsewhere, Navigant brought in ex-Deloitte Middle East forensics director Jacqui Record as a managing director in Dubai (now a senior managing director at Ankura following the firm’s purchase of the division globally), while at just 34, Deloitte protégé Claudi Massei took over as CEO for Siemens in Oman.