Women edge into Gulf boardrooms as economies, societies shift

Fri Apr 18, 2014 8:47am EDT
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By Mirna Sleiman

DUBAI (Reuters) - Amina al-Rustamani, a member of a prominent UAE family, raised eyebrows among friends and relatives when she started her career in Dubai 13 years ago as an electrical engineer, becoming one of few females in the Middle East to enter the profession.

Success in a male-dominated environment helped give her the confidence to rise up the career ladder and break more barriers.

She is now chief executive of TECOM Investments, part of a conglomerate owned by the ruler of Dubai which manages a complex of nine business parks and spearheads the emirate's economic ambitions in information technology, science and education.

Almost unimaginable just a generation ago, Rustamani's rise to the highest level of business in a Gulf Arab country underlines a shift in the business environment that is allowing the gradual entry of women into boardrooms and other positions of economic power in the region.

"There's always this challenge to fit in and excel but once you prove that you are competent, you will earn society's respect," said Rustamani, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering from The George Washington University in Washington DC.

"Governments have a role to play, the private sector has a role to play and families have a role to play. But it all boils down to what you can do as an individual."

While female company directors are still a rarity in the Middle East, the region's growing wealth, rising education standards for women and government efforts to promote more equal opportunities should help make it easier for women to crack the "glass ceiling", or perceived discrimination against female executives, in future.

Women accounted for 9.8 percent of corporate board seats across the world in 2011, the latest data from U.S.-based research firm GMI Ratings shows. But in the Gulf Cooperation Council - the group of six wealthy oil-exporting countries - they accounted for just 1.5 percent, according to the Dubai-based Institute for Corporate Governance.   Continued...

Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, chief executive of Saudi-based Time Entertainment Holding, stands in Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai March 9, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah