Female leaders in UAE eager to make a positive change

08 March 2021 Consultancy-me.com 6 min. read

Making the world a better place is top of the agenda for female business leaders in the UAE – more so than among their global counterparts. On International Women’s Day 2021, KPMG presents how female leaders are sizing up the post pandemic world.

The leading professional services firm surveyed more than 600 female leaders worldwide to gauge their position in a volatile global economy. A notable share of respondents was from the UAE – home to some of the most powerful women in the Middle East, and around the world.

For a nuanced picture, KPMG’s Lower Gulf team took a comparative approach – weighing sentiment in the UAE against responses from female leaders worldwide. Several factors make the UAE unique, most notably the desire to change the world for the better.

Top priorities for female leaders

Well over 70% of female leaders in the UAE claim that making a positive impact on the world is their top priority, compared to less than 60% globally. Even long-term business success – the top priority for female leaders worldwide – plays second fiddle to having a good impact in the UAE.

According to KPMG Lower Gulf partner and head of corporate governance services Maryam Zaman, an explanation of this perspective lies in the fact that “making a positive impact on the world is both a personal and commercial imperative.”

Building purpose

A key by-product of the Covid-19 crisis has been the acceleration of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) agendas globally. Consumers and regulators alike are demanding more social value and responsibility from businesses, and those who don’t respond will likely fall behind in the post-pandemic world.

Female leaders are focused on building purpose in business

And its not just consumers who are demanding more, employees are too. “In line with the renewed focus on ESG policies, employees are most motivated by a meaningful and purposeful work environment,” noted Zaman.

“Companies looking to retain and attract talent, will have to compete in this digitalized and dynamic environment, while meeting fundamentally changing values and priorities.” Female leaders in the UAE see this shift as an opportunity to fundamentally transform the purpose of their business, which explains the importance given to having a positive impact.

The workplace itself is a core focus area. A staggering 95% of female leaders in the UAE identify the need for more progress towards a diverse business environment – free of prejudice and discrimination. Measures are being taken – undeterred by Covid-19 – and closing the gender pay gap is a key priority.

Sustainability drive

Topping this off is a distinct focus on sustainability among female business leaders in the UAE – radically more so than around the world. For all its devastating repercussions, the pandemic has been good for the climate. Travel bans, virtual working arrangements and public infection risks have kept emissions to a minimum for months on end, and businesses have found their carbon footprint declining rapidly. 

Sustainability is a core objective for female business leaders in the UAE

In the UAE, around 90% of female leaders want to keep this momentum going to lock in long-term climate-friendly practices. Around the world, this figure stands at less than 60%. One reason for this stark gap is the aforementioned realisation in the UAE that more purpose means more value.

This is further being fueled by a strong government focus on sustainability, according to KPMG Lower Gulf partner and head of people & change Marketa Simkova. “From the UAE’s Vision 2021 to Expo 2020, the country strives to consolidate its position as a global sustainability leader.”

“This has been reinforced by national development agendas and charters, such as UAE Energy Strategy 2050, UAE Green Agenda 2015-2030 and the National Innovation Strategy. Recently we have also seen a push for companies to divulge their ESG performance.”

Digitalisation and economic optimism

With this framework to build on, the pandemic has been a catalyst for the ESG agenda – a change that female leaders in the UAE have been quick to acknowledge. And its not just a change of values that has highlighted the adaptability among the country’s female leadership ranks.

Digital transformation has accelerated since Covid-19

Respondents have also been quick to climb aboard the digitalisation wave that swept through the world last year. Transformation was already high on the corporate agenda before 2020, but the widespread transition to virtual working combined with the renewed importance of digital offerings during lockdown has turbocharged the digital journey.

2021 will see tech savvy consumers demanding ever more from their customer journeys, and the better technology will likely win out. In the UAE, two-thirds of female leaders have accelerated their transformation projects since the pandemic, building on rapid digital progress that unfolded previously.

Confidence in economic growth, UAE vs global

So adaptability, flexibility and resilience are key themes coming out of KPMG’s survey. Also in the mix is a hint of optimism. Around the world, 48% of female leaders are confident in their own country’s growth prospects over the next three years, compared to 50% in the UAE. Remarkably, economic optimism in the UAE actually rose in 2020 compared to 2019 figures.

“Our 2020 survey has found UAE female leaders less pessimistic about Covid-19’s impact, and some believe the crisis may unlock new growth opportunities from advances in technology and changed stakeholder expectations,” concluded Simkova.