Diversity in the context of sustainable development
March marks the month of celebrating women and some countries in the world have even declared the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, a public holiday. For me, this month has always been special, as in Romania it also marks the beginning of spring, but more importantly as we took the time to acknowledge the contribution to our success to women surrounding us, from our mothers and immediate female relatives, to our teachers, colleagues and women part of our support networks.
Closing the gender gap and promoting women empowerment has become a hot topic of discussion and represents a key priority of sustainable development, being an integral part of the Global Goals 2030 Agenda. Not only gender balance is a standalone SDG (SDG 5 – Gender Equality), but diversity, inclusion and equal rights and access to opportunities are also part of numerous other SDGs, such as SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth or SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities, with focus areas spanning from access to public services, participation in decision making or gender unbiased career opportunities. Let’s take March as an opportunity to start our individual or organizational journeys and support driving progress on these areas.
UAE’s model of excellence
Whenever I speak about the UAE, my deep admiration for its tremendous leadership at all levels surfaces and it is no different when it comes to gender balance. The UAE was the first country in the GCC to introduce a Gender Balance Council, the first country to mandate women presence in boardrooms, has issued a directive which states that Emirati Women must occupy 50% of the Federal National Council seats, and in terms of education the literacy rate is approximately 95% for both genders, with women outnumbering men in STEM studies at government universities (56%). A remarkable female leader in the UAE is HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi, who is known as the Mother of the UAE and laid the foundation of a gender inclusive society, starting with girls’ education to female representation in the Federal National Council. Sheikha Fatima also introduced the 28th of August as the Emirati Women’s Day, a nation-wide celebration that recognizes women’s contribution to UAE’s advancement. There is so much to learn from this model of excellence and I feel that such an example could be replicated across the world in driving the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.
Diversity and inclusion at the workplace
Research and statistics show that a diverse and inclusive workplace catalyzes employee productivity and engagement, as well as it optimizes strategic decisions, but only when the agenda is ingrained in the organizational culture and led both from top down and bottom up. With so much buzz around women empowerment, diversity and inclusion and equal opportunities, there is always a risk that this can become a box ticking exercise or a nice to have official statement. This is why I feel there is a very thin line for gender-based discussions as if the agenda is not properly adopted and promoted it can lead to the exact opposite effect, which is the formation of stereotypes. An example that I always like giving in this respect is the topic of women not speaking up at the workplace. There are numerous books and courses that support women build their voice, but if the leadership of an organization doesn’t encourage all the employees (irrespective of their gender) to freely express their opinions, women might tend to fall into the gender bias trap and frame the leadership as discriminatory. The easiest way to start the D&I journey as an organization is understanding how the team members feel about the organization and commit to accountability for the results, by adopting UNGC’s Women Empowerment Principles (WEPs). According to their website data, the WEPs have been signed by 56 UAE organizations and it would be wonderful to see more organizations making their commitment public.
Women in entrepreneurship
According to a research conducted by Boston Consulting Group, an equal participation to entrepreneurship could generate $ 2.5 trillion in economic returns, boosting the global GDP by 3 to 6%. In the UAE, we see more and more women behind startups, and this is also encouraged by new business setup packages offered to female founders. In terms of access to funding, although there is a global bias towards investment capital in female led startups, locally there are plenty of success stories, with a recent study revealing that mix-gender startups raised 21% more in VC than men only led startups. There are also numerous female-focused networks, from angel investment, business networking or even mentoring programs. A great starting point for individuals that would like to support the growth of female entrepreneurship is offering time to guide and support women through such mentoring opportunities.
To me, women empowerment in business means equal and fair access to opportunities across all areas and should be framed in the context of willingness, capabilities and ambitions. There are so many examples of incredible women around the world and in my life, for whom this meant dedicating their life to the upbringing of their children or to charitable initiatives and not necessarily to be an organization’s senior executive or a startup founder. So let’s all use the month of March as an opportunity to honor those that have pursued their dreams.
On The Impact Talks you can find a collection of inspiring stories and in the light of diversity, I would recommend listening to the ambitious mission behind She is Arab, driven by Noha Hefny and Samar AlShorafa.