KUWAIT: Organized jointly by Alghanim Industries and Gulf Bank, the ‘Women in the Corporate World: Beyond the Glass Ceiling’ conference brought the topic of ‘diversity in the workplace’ to the table for discussion by key influential international, regional, and local leaders. The discussion resonated with Kuwait, as the conference was well attended and the audience reflected a cross section of the country. It was open to the public and held on Wednesday, 4 May 2016 at Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel, and was carried out in partnership with KIPCO with Cadillac, and Everything Kuwait joining as supporting partners.
The ‘Women in the Corporate World’ conference included keynote addresses from distinguished international and local speakers, such as Randi Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and Author of Dot Complicated; Sheikha Al-Zain Al-Sabah, Undersecretary at Kuwait is Ministry of State for Youth Affairs; and Sara Akbar, Co-Founder and CEO of Kuwait Energy. The conference also featured two major discussion panels, the first themed ‘The Work/Life Balance’, the second entitled ‘The Role Identity’. The conference was also networking platform for business people to exchange ideas on achieving success in the corporate environment. The results of a country-wide survey on key motivating factors for women in the workplace as were announced.
Omar Kutayba Alghanim, CEO of Alghanim Industries and Chairman of Gulf Bank, gave opening remarks to a capacity crowd. Alghanim said: “We are happy to host the first ‘Women in the Corporate World: Beyond the Glass Ceiling’ conference to address issues facing women in the workplace. We are talking about one of the most pressing problems facing our country, our region, and our time. Future generations will judge us on the degree to which we solve it, and it will take a lot of people working together to solve. In Kuwait, the 2014 female labour participation rate was 44 percent which is well below North America and the world and is unchanged since the year 2000; but is precisely double the rate in the Middle East and North Africa region. However, our male labour participation rate is 83 percent which means our gender participation gap is a mighty 39 percent. This rate has not changed in 14 years. None of this would matter if women in our country and in our region didn’t want to work, but the fact is, they do.”
Alghanim concluded by saying: We have a problem, a human problem with an enormous social cost. It is also a business problem, with enormous economic cost. We need to solve this because it is the right thing to do, and because it is in the interest of women, businesses, economy, society, and in the interests of women.”
Then local keynote speaker Sheikha Al-Zain Al-Sabah discussed the importance of goal setting and the role of perseverance in achieving one’s goals. She said: “I come from an organization which represents 72 percent of Kuwait is population and forms the future of this country, they need to be given the opportunity to build up a better one. Do we advise our young women to accept circumstances? It is a reality that females in our region constantly face challenges when excelling in their careers and my advice to them is not to accept these circumstances, not to surrender, add value to yourselves, take the initiative to move forward, fight for your dreams, take your anger and turn it into work that anybody would be proud of and you will definitely succeed. There will always be gaps around you, finding a way to bridge those gaps will give you a sense of purpose.”
Sara Akbar, shared her life story and how she was able to set up one of the most successful companies: “When I started my career I did not enjoy the same opportunities as the male engineers, but I refused to accept this situation and I insisted to proceed with my career the way I aimed to. Thankfully, I had an open minded manager who gave me the opportunity to do so and when I reached the glass ceiling, I decided to move on and start my own business. My mission was to create the largest independent oil and gas company in the region, but we became the largest in the western hemisphere. My message to all young women out there is create your own vision, establish your business and start small but aim high. If I can do it, you can too.”
To highlight the issues, challenges, and motivating factor for women in the workplace, the results of new nation-wide research from Alghanim Industries and Gulf Bank were released. The survey aimed at improving understanding of the key motivating factors for women in Kuwait workforce. The survey interviewed over 2,000 students and professional women in Kuwait and the findings were presented to conference delegates for the first time. The majority of respondents were working women (83 percent) followed by students (17 percent).
The majority of women indicated their preference for jobs in the private sector. The reasons for this were noted as: challenging work; room for learning and development; possibility for career advancement; a more healthy work environment; the reputation of the company; as well as salary and benefits. Results also noted that 7 our 10 women noted that the top two key motivating factors behind employment choices were: possibility for career progression was the top factor in choosing employment followed by financial reward. For women who work in the public sector, they indicate their choice is due to more flexible working hours. A more in-depth summary of the survey results will soon be published.
Randi Zuckerberg was the international keynote speaker. She shared her personal story of success in Silicon Valley and offered her expert insight into technology, business, and entrepreneurship in the digital age. She demonstrated how the Internet, social networks, and social media are being used and what it means for both entrepreneurs and citizens. She said: “You can look at my personal experience and see how you too can find your perspective and career path. But it is easy to be blinded when you work with people who think the same way you do. You need to seek out different perspective in order to find your own perspective.” She also noted: “It is also important, especially in today’s tech world, to occasionally unplug and recharge ourselves.”
The first panel was entitled “Work/Life Balance” and was moderated by Nima AbuWardeh, Columnist and Award-Winning Journalist.
Kristin Engvig, Founder of Women’s International Networking (WIN) commented: “In Norway 78 percent of women work and this figure also includes the highest rate of working women with children. This is possible because companies were forced to follow policies and legislation that allows things such as flexible time, among other things.”
Dr Lubna Al-Kazi, Professor of Sociology at Kuwait University and Director of the Women’s Research and Studies Center, added: “We need policy changes to encourage women to have flexible timings and the ability to work from home.”
Eman Al-Ablani, General Manager of Group Human Resources at the National Bank of Kuwait, said: “Empowering women is key, we should do that by inspiring them at a young age, but our educational curriculum does not do that, not for women or men.”
Salma Al-Hajjaj, General Manager of Human Resources at Gulf Bank noted: “At Gulf Bank 40 percent of our employees are women but oftentimes they don’t stay long enough to make it into leadership positions. You should live your life in phases and give each phase the time it needs.”
Mona Ataya, CEO and Founder of Mumzworld.com and Co-Founder of Bayt.com, talked about balance saying: “Define what creates the most meaningful impact at any given time. Then you shift your daily balance to accommodate it. You keep shifting until you find your equilibrium.”
Omar Alghanim also spoke about fostering the right corporate culture to accommodate career-minded women and gender diversity in the workplace. He said: “I see our corporate culture as a competitive advantage, we have access to a larger talent pool by seeking out qualified women.”
The second panel addressed the “Gender Role Identity” and was moderated by Richard Moseley, Global VP of Strategy at Universum.
Eman Al-Awadhi, Group Communications Director of the KIPCO Group, said: “With women, you get more of a consensus type of leadership. This means that when working with a team they understand that for them to succeed, each one of them has to succeed.”
Najla Al-Shirawi, CEO of Securities and Investment Company (SICO), said: “Women in leadership have a different style, Women are more likely to share information, credit, and power. They use persuasion more and power less. As women tend to climb the ladder for the lower levels, they cultivate teamwork.”
Dr Alanoud Al-Sharekh, Author and Academic, discussed leadership saying: “I think there is a consensus on what the qualities of a leader regardless of gender. At the end of the days, it is all about wanting to be a leader and having these qualities.”
Khaled Al-Khudair, CEO and Founder of Glowork, talked about his company saying: “Since our company targets women, 95 percent of our employees are women. However, locally I find that interviewers don’t ask women the right question, instead asking them about their age, marital status, and children.”
Lubna Qassim, Executive Vice President, Group Company Secretary and General Counsel for Emirates NBD, noted: “200 years ago women were allowed to participate in the workforce and today we are still assessing what it means for them to participate. There have been numerous studies that show the positive impact that women have in the workforce, but yet still ask that same question.”