Less than 2 per cent of board seats at UAE listed companies are held by women, with experts acknowledging that boosting this number will take considerable time.
The Arab Women Organisation said this month that 111 Emirati women are running for board posts at companies listed on the two main stock exchanges, with women currently holding about 1.5 per cent of board seats in the UAE.
That is however well below the global average of 16 per cent of board seats being held by women, rising to 25 per cent for top firms listed in London, according to the annual Grant Thornton Corporate Governance Review.
Dr Ashraf Gamal El Din, the chief executive of the Dubai-based Hawkamah, the Institute for Corporate Governance, acknowledged that boosting the number of UAE board seats held by women would take time.
He pointed to new rules published in April by the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), which cover governance rules and corporate discipline standards, and apply to most listed companies in the UAE. They state that at least 20 per cent of the candidates for a company’s board seats should be women, with companies obliged to outline the reasons as to why women were not selected, as well as disclose the rate of female board representation.
Dr Ashraf estimates the proportion of women on the boards of UAE companies at under 2 per cent, saying Hawkamah will conduct a detailed study to reassess this number in January.
“I would say that it wouldn’t be more than 1.6 or 1.7 per cent so far, so I don’t see this really as a big improvement,” he said. “Things take some time to change unless you [have] quotas for board membership.”
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Simon Lowe, the chairman of the Grant Thornton Governance Institute in London, said that boosting the number of women in executive positions, rather than just on boards, marks a bigger challenge globally.
“The executive pipeline and pool is of course a much longer-term play. You can’t just take someone who’s a junior manager and make them CEO,” he said.
In 2003, Norway became the first country in the world to impose a gender quota, requiring listed firms to raise the proportion of women on their boards to 40 per cent.
But Mr Lowe said that the majority of female executives and non-executive board members he speaks to disagree with this approach: “They would say to me, ‘no, you have to get there on merit’,” he said.
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