UAE banking sector well-positioned to help rise of female Emirati leaders

‘The GCC needs more female business leaders,” argued my colleague Najat Benchiba-Savenius in our leadership column in October. Based on Oxford Strategic Consulting’s recent Emirati Employment Report 2015, it was found that women were significantly more likely than their male counterparts to want to work in banking and finance.

Clearly, the sector appears well-positioned to lead the development of Emirati female leaders.

First, Emirati women want to work in this sector. Approximately 21 per cent of those surveyed viewed a job in banking and finance as their ideal role – compared with only 4 per cent of male respondents. The Real Estate Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi ranked as top employers of choice for women (15 per cent versus 3 per cent), and the real estate developer Tamweel and Emirates Islamic Bank also ranked as popular organisations. When these results were presented at Abu Dhabi’s recent International Conference of Organisation and Management, an Emirati woman who worked at Barclays almost jumped out of her seat, exclaiming, “that is so true”.


The strong preference may be the result of specific organisational practices and company culture within the sector.

Second, the industry is a strategic sector for the country, as it plays a key role in the UAE’s efforts to diversify its economy away from oil and create a sustainable economic future, and this is an ongoing region-wide priority. The UAE has made expanding its non-oil sector a priority over the past couple of years, but this will become even more important if the price of oil stays low for the foreseeable future, which looks increasingly likely.

Encouraging more women leaders in banking and finance is aligned with Government programmes to increase Stem skills among Emirati graduates and soon-to-be jobseekers. These skills are also intensely sought after in the UAE’s private sector, especially in financial services. In an era where governments will likely have to keep a close eye on public expenditures and take innovative approaches to produce new revenue, it will pay off to have even more Emiratis with a sound understanding of fiscal policy and market forces.

Third, existing institutions in the banking sector can facilitate training and leadership development. Institutions in this sector possess a strong track record of employing nationals, and this success can be built upon to develop more female leaders.

The Human Resource Development Committee in the Banking & Finance Sector (HRDCBFS) is known as one of the first Emiratisation bodies in the country. The HRDCBFS operates within the Emirates Institute for Banking and Finance Studies and is charged with driving Emiratisation in the banking and finance sector. The HRDCBFS has increased the number of nationals in the sector, but perhaps its mandate should also include female leadership development.

The UAE’s Central Bank can also prioritise female leadership development. The financial institution serves as a key facilitation mechanism to encourage cooperation across UAE banks. As a result, the sector benefits from a strategic alignment of various institutions and organisations that share a common interest in the employment and development of Emiratis. This has likely helped the banking and finance sector achieve such high rates of Emiratisation to date and it should also be used to focus on creating more Emirati female leaders within the sector.

When examining the potential for developing more women business leaders, it is useful to look at individual sectors from the outset. It is possible to determine where the current gains and potential future trends are to then further develop female leadership. Any regular attendee at industry events or academic conferences knows well that broad presentations and general pitches for maximising female leaders in the UAE or GCC rarely yield realistic insights or recommendations. Banking and finance appears to not only be a sector of choice for Emirati women, but also contributes to key country goals and demonstrates a rare strategic alignment of institutions and organisations.

Now is the time to invest.

Robert Mogielnicki is a senior analyst and the head of PR at Oxford Strategic Consulting, which specialises in building human capital across the GCC and Europe

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