Women Corporate Directors in the Middle East: New Trends Include the Private Sector Moving Board Diversity Forward

Oct 22, 2013, 12:15 ET from WomenCorporateDirectors

NEW YORK, Oct. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- "Women as change agents are driving corporate governance and diversity in the Middle East," says WomenCorporateDirectors CEO, co-founder, and co-chair Susan Stautberg. WCD – the largest organization of women board directors worldwide – opened its first chapter in the Middle East this year, choosing Abu Dhabi as the base for its Gulf Cooperation Council chapter. Two of the founding members of the GCC chapter addressed WCD's Global Institute in New York, describing a surprising level of movement toward diversity in the Middle East.

Fatima Al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates – board member of the Abu Dhabi-based Al Jaber Group and the first Emirati woman to be elected to the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce – serves as Chair of WCD's GCC chapter. Fatin Yousef Bundagji of Saudi Arabia, President of TLC Management & Development Consultancy and a board member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), is a Founding Member of the chapter.

As board leaders in the private sector, Ms. Al Jaber and Ms. Bundagji describe a region that is undergoing many changes around women's role in governance and reform. Some trends emerging include:

Making good governance a "habit"
"Transparency and good governance are a must," stressed Ms. Bundagji, who is also a Founding Member of the Baladi Campaign, an initiative centered on mobilizing women's political participation in Saudi Arabia. "Maybe we can only impose it on public companies, but once it becomes a habit then private companies will also follow the way." Private companies in the UAE with diverse board members, Ms. Al Jaber commented, possess "better decision-making and better transparency, and more governance in their decision-making criteria."

The change agents for such governance reform in Saudi Arabia have been women, says Ms. Bundagji: "We are really living in a critical time, but we need to take serious action, and I think women are the ones who are focusing on it more than men."

Following Norway's model
Outlining some of the key initiatives she would like to see take place in the next five years in Saudi Arabia, Ms. Bundagji declared her support for imposing board quotas to increase diversity on corporate boards, just as Norway has done. "We cannot just sit and wait for things to happen. We have generations in waiting, and they're not waiting anymore. They're going to be very aggressive, and they want to take their place in this world."

And it would be a mistake to think that her country cannot change and adapt, she suggested: "Saudi Arabia has been mastering the concept of resiliency ever since its creation."

Women helping women in the Middle East
For Ms. Al Jaber, who also serves as Chairperson of the UAE Businesswomen's Council and is on the board of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce & Industry, one strategy to grow the number of women on boards lies with female directors themselves. "We as women share a responsibility to promote ourselves for director positions. I think we also share a responsibility for putting ourselves in the foreground and saying 'we are there.'"

Ultimately, both directors agreed that reaching out to individuals on a one-on-one basis is vital in order to propel women to board positions and advance their leadership. "Individual-to-individual interaction, or citizen-to-citizen diplomacy, is something that really changes mindsets," asserted Ms. Bundagji. "I think that we are in a very fragile world, and we need to change mindsets towards each other."

WCD hosts a number of events for members throughout the year, including their flagship Global Institute and Visionary Awards Dinner, to be held May 14-15, 2014. Additional events include:

  • Americas InstituteNovember 7-8, 2013, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL; theme: "Leveraging the Opportunities for Growth in the Interconnected Americas"
  • European Institute – Spring 2014
  • New Director SeminarMay 13, 2014
  • Chair and Lead Director RoundtableMay 13, 2014

For more information about WomenCorporateDirectors and their programs for directors, please contact Davia Temin or Suzanne Oaks of Temin and Company at 212-588-8788 or news@temin.co.

About WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD)
WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) is the only global membership organization and community of women corporate directors, comprised of more than 2,500 members serving on over 3,500 boards in 57 chapters around the world, with many more slated in the next two quarters. The aggregate market capitalization of public companies on whose boards WCD members serve is $8 trillion – if WCD were a country, its economy would be the world's third largest, behind only the U.S. and China. In addition, WCD members serve on numerous boards of large private companies globally.

WCD membership provides a unique platform for learning from the intellectual capital of accomplished women from around the world, and WCD's mission is to increase courage, candor, inclusion, and cohesion in the boardroom. In 2012, WCD launched the Global Nominating Commission, a high-level task force of select corporate board nominating committee chairs and members from around the world, as well as CEOs, focused on proactively building diverse boards and candidate slates. KPMG is a Global Partner of WCD. WCD's Founding Partner is Heidrick & Struggles. Strategic Partners include Marriott International and Pearl Meyer & Partners, and WCD Alliance Partners include International Finance Corporation (IFC), JPMorgan Chase, and Northern Trust.

WCD has 57 global chapters, located in Arizona, Atlanta, Beijing, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Chile, Cleveland, Colombia, Columbus, Dallas/Fort Worth, Delhi, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Gulf Cooperation Council, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Houston, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, London, Los Angeles/Orange County, Malaysia, Melbourne, Mexico, Milan, Minnesota, Morocco, Mumbai, Netherlands, New York, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern California, Peru, Philadelphia, Philippines, Rome, San Diego, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Shanghai, Singapore, South Africa, South Florida, Switzerland, Sydney, Tennessee, Toronto, Turkey, Washington, D.C, and Western Canada. For more information, visit www.womencorporatedirectors.com.

SOURCE WomenCorporateDirectors