Strengthening the Pipeline of Women in Management
Strengthening the Pipeline of Women in Management
Author: Imelda Dunlop

Here at the Pearl Initiative, we are just embarking on a major Programme stream that will inform business leaders on practical methods to retain and develop women into senior positions in the GCC region, and thereby create a larger pool of Board-ready women. The business case for greater levels of senior management and board diversity is clearly linked to its positive impact on strategic decision making, better governance, maximum use of talent and closer understanding of target markets.

The first phase of our Programme consists of an extensive research survey, a published insight report and a high-profile Forum event, planned for October 2014. The Forum will launch the report and hold a dialogue for business leaders on the issues raised, the analysis conclusions and the sharing and development of good corporate practices.

The Programme is in collaboration with the United Nations Global Compact and the Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC), allowing us to tap into global best practices and ensure that our work is fundamentally regionally-driven and relevant.

There have been several studies on the correlation between mixed-gender boards and company performance, and many find positive results. A study of Fortune 500 companies by Catalyst found that companies with the highest proportion of female board directors outperformed those with the least by 66 per cent. Credit Suisse Research Institute found that over the past six years, companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed stocks of companies with no women in those positions by 26 per cent.

Last year, the Pearl Initiative interviewed representatives from more than 100 family-owned firms in the GCC and found that 32 per cent had mixed-gender boards. This contrasts with women holding only 1.5 per cent of board positions in listed companies across the GCC. This tells us that strengthening the pipeline of talent through to senior management levels in organisations is the critical issue.

PricewaterhouseCoopers made a fascinating analogy in its global 2008 report “The Leaking Pipeline: Where are our Female Leaders?” I quote:

“Imagine you are the leader of a community with strong resources, including a critical water supply. The water supply is extremely precious to your community activities and outputs, and, because it is a limited commodity, you pay a premium to access it. It provides fertile land, great distribution channels and grows fantastic products. Your community is viewed as a leader in its ability to create a sustainable strong environment, which in itself attracts more people to live there. Your monitoring systems alert you that your precious water pipeline has a leak, and, as you investigate, it turns out that you have had a very substantial pipeline leak for a very long time, which results in a great deal of your water disappearing to other communities through which your pipeline passes. In fact, you have lost a great deal of water. This costs your community enormous amounts of money in wasted resource, loss of productivity, and loss of nurturing of your community’s physical infrastructure.

What would you do?

  • Would you honestly expect the leak to fix itself?
  • Would you make the effort involved in fixing the leak as a priority?

This water pipeline analogy clearly reflects the situation in which many organisations find themselves with regard to a continuing loss of female talent.

The Pearl Initiative Programme on Women in Management is focusing on strengthening this leaking pipeline of talent in the Gulf Region – to shed light on the perspectives, experiences and outlook of women in senior management positions, and the issues, trends and good practices when it comes to women’s career development in organisations across the GCC. It will also provide value to organisations in the region, through insight on the experiences of current and potential women leaders, thereby enabling them to benchmark themselves and develop approaches to increase the number of women in senior leadership and board-ready positions.

No such work has previously been carried out and published in the Gulf region, and this research programme is of particular relevance and interest in the light of several Gulf governments’ efforts to increase the level of participation of women in the workforce, in senior positions, and on boards of directors.

Watch this space through 2014, as we develop regional insight on this topic and use it to drive dialogue and progress on this important corporate governance issue in the region!

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