Gender diversity on boards


This interview originally appeared in Arabian Business, covering the positive shift in UAE company boards towards greater diversity, including more international experts and women, driven by acknowledged benefits for corporate governance in sectors like finance and technology, with real estate and construction firms also adopting global governance principles.

Alya Al Zarouni

Published: 11/03/2024

Gender diversity on boards

How do you see the landscape of corporate boards evolving, especially in terms of diversity and inclusion, in the coming years?

The corporate board landscape is transforming profoundly, especially in the context of diversity and inclusion. Emerging trends indicate a shift toward more comprehensive representation, diverse expertise, and inclusive decision-making processes. This evolution is in recognition of the immense value that diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds bring to the table—fuelling innovation, risk mitigation, and improved governance.

The push for diversity is set to intensify, focusing on enhancing gender representation. Numerous jurisdictions, including the regional regulator Securities and Commodities Authority, are implementing rules and guidelines to boost the presence of women on boards, in the pursuit of a balanced gender composition. These efforts align with a broader movement towards greater gender parity within listed corporate boards.

Looking ahead, boards are prioritising assembling members with diverse skill sets, encompassing areas beyond traditional qualifications. Expertise in technology, sustainability, cybersecurity, and digital transformation are desirable, reflecting the evolving needs of businesses in our rapidly changing landscape. 

Anticipated changes extend beyond board composition to governance practices. Corporate boards are expected to adopt more inclusive approaches, fostering open dialogue, constructive debate, and equitable participation. Inclusive leadership styles and decision-making processes will take centre stage, ensuring every board member can contribute meaningfully, with diverse perspectives actively sought and considered. This forward-thinking approach acknowledges the importance of adaptability and versatility in navigating the dynamic landscape of corporate governance.


Alya Al Zarooni

What role does gender diversity play in fostering innovation and driving long-term business success at the board level?

Gender diversity is critical in fostering innovation and driving long-term business success at the board level through many mechanisms and potential impacts. An influential ‘Women Matter’ study by McKinsey noted that the presence of women in corporate boardrooms contributes to a more inclusive and forward-thinking governance approach, leading to tangible benefits for companies as they navigate a rapidly evolving business landscape.

The expertise of gender-diverse boards extends to effective risk management. A diverse board comprehensively assesses risk, while committing to long-term sustainability of the organisation. As a product of gender diversity, varied risk assessment has been shown to fortify corporate resilience against emerging threats and uncertainties, contributing substantially to sustained business success.

Moreover, gender-diverse boards are adept at comprehending and responding to the needs and preferences of diverse consumer segments. With women wielding significant influence as consumers and decision-makers across industries, their board representation provides a deeper understanding of market dynamics, customer behaviour, and emerging trends.

Beyond operational realms, gender diversity at the board level is a robust signal of an organisation's commitment to inclusivity and equality, shaping its ability to attract and retain a robust and agile talent pool; an indispensable quality for sustaining long-term business success.

Several research studies, including a working paper by the International Monetary Fund, have highlighted a correlation between board gender diversity and enhanced corporate performance. Companies with gender-diverse boards enjoy higher financial returns, robust stock performance, and superior overall business outcomes.

Gender diversity at the board level emerges as a potent force in reshaping governance dynamics, while steering sustained business success. By infusing boards with diverse perspectives, capabilities, and approaches, gender diversity catalyses innovation, effective decision-making, and strategic agility—critical components for thriving in a complex and rapidly evolving global business environment. As businesses increasingly recognise the far-reaching benefits of gender diversity in boardrooms, its pivotal role in shaping long-term success is poised to gain further recognition and prominence.

With ESG firmly on the agenda as COP28 has recently taken place in Dubai, how can gender diversity on boards contribute to a company's sustainability goals?

The Better Leadership, Better World report by WomenRising2030 has found that boards with gender diversity are more inclined to prioritise sustainability in their decision-making. The diverse perspectives brought by female directors amplify the commitment to long-term sustainability, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility. This can result in more ambitious sustainability strategies that champion environmental conservation, ethical practices, and greater social impacts.

Gender-diverse boards also demonstrate heightened sensitivity to a broader spectrum of risks, including those related to environmental and social factors. By integrating diverse viewpoints, boards can adeptly identify and address sustainability-related risks such as climate change impacts, regulatory shifts, and reputational hazards stemming from sustainability controversies. This proactive risk management approach fortifies companies’ long-term sustainability and resilience. Moreover, gender-diverse boards are often better equipped to weave ESG considerations into a company's overarching business strategies. 

Are UAE companies inducting or planning to induct international experts in various fields onto their boards? Are there any examples?

While specific instances may be discreet due to confidentiality and privacy considerations, the 2023 Board Monitor UAE report found that UAE companies are open to exploring and undertaking measures to include international experts on their boards. These endeavours resonate with the overarching trend of embracing diversity and global acumen in corporate governance, reflecting a commitment to staying attuned to the complexities of the international business arena. As organisations in the UAE pivot towards a more globally informed governance approach, international experts will continue to stand out as a strategic imperative for staying agile and competitive in the evolving business landscape.

In terms of corporate governance and efficiency, which sectors are leading in UAE?

The UAE has made significant strides in fostering strong corporate governance practices and driving efficiency across various industries. 
The UAE's financial services sector has been a vanguard in upholding rigorous corporate governance standards. Regulatory bodies, including the central bank, have implemented robust frameworks ensuring financial institutions' transparency, risk management, and accountability. In terms of adopting best practice, banking, insurance, and capital market entities continue to lead the charge.

Owing to UAE's prioritisation of technological advancement, UAE technology firms emphasise governance principles in operations, compliance, and decision-making, and all within a dynamic environment. Government-led smart initiatives and digital transformation efforts further propel the tech sector's efficiency and governance standards.

The UAE's real estate and construction sectors continue to be instrumental in driving economic growth, and subsequently prioritise corporate governance for responsible and sustainable development. Significant infrastructure and property development investments underscore governance in project management, operations, and regulation, which contribute to the sector’s overall performance. 

The UAE’s energy sector, covering oil and gas, renewables, and utilities, exhibits a commitment to sound governance principles, while addressing environmental concerns, regulatory compliance, and operational efficiency. 

Advancing remarkably, the UAE’s healthcare and life sciences sector emphasises governance for quality patient care, regulatory compliance, and ethical business conduct. A pivotal governance framework ensures operational efficiency, data privacy, and adherence to international standards.

Positioned as a global transportation hub, the UAE’s aviation and logistics sectors lead in governance and efficiency. Meticulous attention to safety, security, and industry regulations sets benchmarks for corporate governance practices, while technological and logistic optimisation enhances operational efficiency. 

The UAE's overall commitment to corporate governance and efficiency extends across all sectors, creating a conducive business environment. Emphasising transparency, accountability, and sustainable practices, regulatory bodies and industry-specific authorities contribute significantly to the overall competitive edge of the UAE's economy.