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Much more needed to encourage women to pursue careers in financial services, according to roundtable of top women in finance

United Arab Emirates: Wednesday, March 07 - 2012 @ 11:56

It included high profile panelists from some of the leading companies and associations in the region such as ICAEW, Latham & Watkins and Standard Chartered.

The aim of the ‘Women in Finance GCC’ roundtable was to initiate dialogue and start shifting the focus from what can ‘break’ a woman’s career to what can ‘make’ her career.

The main findings of the roundtable were:

- There is too much talk and not enough action in relation to women in business. There needs to be more collaboration between financial institutions, associations promoting women and the region’s governments to see more success.

- Increased industry awareness; more education, development and networking opportunities; combined with mentoring schemes, senior sponsorship and most importantly individual ambition will enable women to become more successful and progress further and faster in their careers.

“The position of women, in society at large and in business and government, has improved enormously in the GCC region over recent years,” says Linda Jarnhamn, Managing Director of HRinspireME. “In contrast to the fashion and media industries, for example, there has been little discussion of the reasons for the low participation of women in financial services in the region. This is why we have collaborated with Insight Discovery to convene this Leadership Roundtable, to initiate a debate amongst senior executives within the industry.”

At present, there is little awareness, here in the UAE or elsewhere in the region, of financial services as an industry amongst women. Emirati women, for example, often deem a career in the public sector as likely to provide the most opportunities. However, major financial services companies and other interested parties can do much more to boost the industry’s image among potential employees.

According to Amanda Line, Regional Director at ICAEW Middle East: “Young women are simply unaware of accounting as a profession. This is one of the reasons why Chartered Accountancy is not an aspirational career for young women in the GCC. We are therefore now working on increasing awareness – through networks, mentoring schemes and publicising the success of female accountants who can be valuable role models to young women.”

In many parts of the world, businesses have sought to make themselves more attractive as employers by introducing working practices that support women. These practices include flexible working hours and/or the possibility to work from home. There has been some progress in this direction in the UAE and other GCC countries. However, more can be done to align the expectations of potential employees with the requirements of employers.

Says Deanna Othman, General Manager – Priority & International Banking Middle East at Standard Chartered: “Expectations from, and influence by, families are very important in influencing women’s choices. We are therefore focusing on enhancing the profile of successful local women as well as providing targeted financial services education and development to women within our bank.”

Many of the leading international banks have in place structured programs that seek to promote and assist Middle Eastern women in their career paths. However, there remains a need for better development of female employees – especially in relation to technical and boardroom skills. Programs that encourage mentoring, networking and sponsorship are all helpful – and can be developed further. Notes Dipti Thakar, Counsel at Latham & Watkins: “Many women who are excellent advocates for their clients are reticent in advocating for themselves. I think women consider self-promotion unbecoming and aggressive, yet it is necessary to be proactive and take the initiative in order to reach positions of leadership.”

“Women’s participation at board and executive team level within financial services companies in the GCC is low. It is widely recognized that increased female representation on boards leads to greater financial success. None of the GCC countries made the top 100 list of the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2011, a report which directly correlates smaller gender gaps with increased economic competitiveness. Similarly, a 2010 McKinsey study ‘Women Matter 2010’ found that across all industries, companies with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperformed those with no female representation,” says Dipti Thakar.

Concludes Linda Jarnhamn: “Women in business is a much talked-about topic today. But that’s the real issue: there is far too much talk and not nearly enough action. With the Leadership Roundtable, we wanted to shift the focus from what can ‘break’ a woman’s career to what can ‘make’ her career. Extended maternity policies and childcare provision facilitate work-life balance and the choices that women make. However, without the right skills, experience and network, no woman – or man – will make it to a senior level position.”

The Leadership Roundtable, ‘Women in Finance across the GCC’ was held at The Gate in the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) on 12th February 2012. It was organised by HRinspireMe and Insight Discovery. Partners in the Leadership Roundtable include Standard Chartered, ICAEW and Latham & Watkins.

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Wednesday, March 7- 2012 @ 11:56 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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