28% is the percentage of female leaders at the Bank, which is an increase of 300% in the last 10 years
The Lead The Way Conference Commenced Yesterday Evening With Wide Attendance and Participation
Ahmad Al Bahar:
- The need to work on providing all means of support to genuinely, and sustainably, empower women
- Women still face many obstacles in terms of obtaining equal opportunities, despite their proven competence in the workplace
- The gender pay gap, lack of fair opportunities to handle leadership positions, and discrimination, are some of the challenges that women face in the pursuit of economic empowerment
- The Middle East needs years to close the gender gap, according to the current rates of women empowerment
- Gender diversity is a need for the economy, as it contributes to an increase in profitability ,productivity, creativity, and innovation
In celebration of International Women's Day 2023, Gulf Bank's Lead The Way conference commenced yesterday at Grand Hyatt 360 Mall, with the presence and participation of various economic, banking, diplomatic and government figures, in addition to several public associations.
The conference welcomed a large number of bank leaders and officials, including Gulf Bank’s Chairman, Mr. Jassim Mustafa Boodai and Acting Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Waleed Khaled Mandani. The conference shed light on the most prominent challenges facing the efforts of empowering women in Kuwait, and the positive repercussions of this on the economy – through interactive workshops, inspiring speeches, and thought-provoking panel discussions.
In his opening speech, Gulf Bank’s Board Member, Ahmad Mohammad Al Bahar said, "Despite the significant progress that has been achieved in recent years, women still face many obstacles in terms of obtaining equal opportunities, despite their proven competence in the workplace."
Al Bahar mentioned that the gender pay gap, lack of fair opportunities to handle leadership positions, and discrimination, are some of the challenges that women face in the pursuit of economic empowerment. And those challenges were the subject of research, discussion, and exchange of experiences at the conference.
He added: “The large number of attendees at the conference, is a clear indication of the importance of this topic, and the need to work on providing all means of support to genuinely, and sustainably, empower women.”
Al Bahar noted that the issue is related to the desire and demands of the community – as one important aspect is working to create inspiring ideas, and providing solutions that we can all benefit from. He also spoke of Gulf Bank's keenness to focus on social sustainability, as part of the Bank’s 2025 strategy, which places the employees at the forefront of its priorities. As empowering employees and developing their skills, aids in promoting a comprehensive and sustainable healthy economy.
He further questioned: Will all obstacles end once leadership positions are obtained by females? And what happens after that? Pointing that the conference aims to develop a complete vision and model to overcome the obstacles that women face in leadership positions, in order to preserve and build on their gains.
He stressed that any vision can only be achieved by having women and men on equal footing, as they are a matter of pride and honor. As establishing a work environment based on equality – where women are supported and empowered – will achieve more innovation and success and make the work culture healthier for all. Al Bahar indicated that this would lead to progress in society and reflect positively on the labor market and the future – calling on the importance of working together to promote gender equality and empower women, to achieve their full potential in the economy, and support the economic development of the country.
In her speech, the General Manager of Human Resources at Gulf Bank, Salma Al-Hajjaj, said that Gulf Bank's efforts over the past 10 years have contributed to an increase in the number of women leaders in the Bank by almost 300% in 10 years – as their percentage increased from 10% to 28%.
Throughout her presentation, Al-Hajjaj indicated that the delay in empowering women costs the Kuwaiti economy losses annually, at the expense of lost opportunities. Which calls for urgent action to accelerate the process of narrowing the gender gap.
She noted that recent studies indicate, that continuing the efforts to empower women at the current rate, will require more years to close the gender gap; compared to Europe, and in North America.
Al-Hajjaj indicated that gender diversity in the workplace contributes to an increase in profitability, productivity, creativity, and innovation. Furthermore, the companies’ ability to retain talent increases and the organization's reputation improves as well.
On a related note, Al-Hajjaj referred to many economic benefits of empowering women – such as welcoming new capabilities and ideas that can contribute to increasing the productivity of organizations and the national economy. And with more women entering the labor market, the volume of spending increases; hence, women’s access to their rights contribute to increasing the level of happiness in society.
She also indicated that empowering women and enhancing their leadership role requires more flexibility in dealing with them, taking into account their social and family circumstances. This includes seeking guidance from those around them to reduce the difficulties they face and support their ability to overcome them; in order to stop gender discrimination practices.
Al-Hajjaj recommended the need to develop a well-studied plan, within the 2035 strategy of empowering women, and to conduct an annual evaluation on it to evaluate the results, whilst working to spread the culture of gender equality. In addition to ensuring diversity when it comes to employment, by applying a clear concept based on competence and ability.
A Panel Discussion Moderated By Dalal Al-Dosari
- Khaled Mahdi: Gulf Bank’s women leaders’ percentage increase to 28% is commendable
- Hideko Hadzialic: We should avoid stereotypes and provide training opportunities
- Syntheia Saab: The continuous demands for gender equality should not be directed towards women only
The Deputy General Manager of Investment Relations at Gulf Bank, Dalal AlDousari, moderated the panel discussion with the participation of The General Secretary of the Supreme Planning and Development Council, Dr. Khaled Al-Mahdi, the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Program, Hideko Hadzialic, and MasterCard Representative, Syntheia Saab.
At the beginning of the panel discussion, Hideko Hadzialic said, “I have met many women leaders in Kuwait who do not agree with the quota principle, which is to allocate a certain percentage of women in leadership positions, although it is sometimes a solution.”
She indicated that there are some social barriers that hinder women's empowerment efforts in many societies, including unconscious biases, stressing on the importance of moving away from stereotypes and providing training opportunities that further help women develop their careers.
From his part, Khaled Mahdi commended Gulf Bank’s ability to increase the percentage of women in leadership positions by 300% to 28% in the last 10 years, noting that this figure is impressive as Kuwait's general index is 21%.
He noted that these achievements confirm the ability of the private sector to implement policies and meet the requirements of national plans quicker than the government sector – indicating that the government currently holds the greater responsibility to initiate changes as it controls 80% of the economic activities.
He also stressed the importance of shifting the culture of society, towards having more men believe in the role of women and their support, as well as the importance of women supporting other women. In addition to the need to change the image of women in academic curriculums that solely focus on their role within the home.
In her part, Cynthia Saab pointed that there is a social dilemma with conscious and unconscious biases, but if there are policies that determine the selection criteria and women meet the criteria of competence and ability, there is no room for preference of men over women.
She mentioned that the continuous demands for gender equality should not be directed towards women only. For example, the mother gets a maternity leave to accompany the child, noting that the father is entitled to have the same benefit, which makes him feel discriminated against.
Saab also spoke of the role of educating women from a young age about the various opportunities and fields to study and work in, and that it’s not restricted to only medical, engineering and business disciplines, including SMEs.
The conference witnessed two workshops: The first one was exclusively for women, which was presented by Kuwait University Professor, and Founder of SHORE Consultancy, Dr. Amar Behbehani, who discussed how women can remain emotionally and physically resilient as they progress to leadership positions.
The second workshop was presented by Global Brand Strategist and Reputation Risk Mitigator, Mr. Steve Brazell, who provided deep insights on how to empower women in helping them master the secrets of creating a strong and distinct identity of their own, that gives them the ability to compete and succeed in their professional and personal lives.
Gulf Bank’s Efforts to Support and Empower Women
Salma Al-Hajjaj indicated that Gulf Bank has taken many measures that have significantly contributed to empowering women and increasing their percentage in leadership positions to 28% in 2020, the most important ones being:
- Gulf Bank was one of the first Kuwaiti private sector companies to sign the Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs) in 2019.
- Gulf Bank was a pioneer in establishing equality between men and women when it came to job benefits, by deciding to eliminate cases of discrimination between the Bank's male and female employees, and to achieve full equality between them in 2021.
- Gulf Bank launched the Women of Wisdom (WOW) initiative in 2017, with the aim of empowering and supporting women in the business world, in terms of training, development and career advancement.
- Cooperation and partnership with international and local institutions to provide quality training programs that support the Bank's directions aimed at empowering women
Questionnaire To Understand Women's Financial Needs
Gulf Bank has launched a national survey to measure and understand women's financial needs, targeting Kuwaiti women working in the private and public sectors, aged between 25 and 35 years.
Gulf Bank extends its thanks and appreciation to the attendees and participants in the conference, including the banking, diplomatic and government officials, public associations, and others, for their keenness to support and empower women.