Sanne Wass reports on some of the learnings from GTR’s second Dubai-based Women in Trade Finance event.

GTR Women in Trade Finance returned to Dubai in February 2019. The event featured Rana Nawas, strategic advisor and host of the When Women Win podcast, as the keynote speaker, followed by a panel discussion with some of the market’s leading trade financiers. Here are the key takeaways.


1. There is still a long way go for the corporate world to adapt to the modern worker

The corporate world is built by men, for men, and has still not adapted to accommodate the ‘modern worker’, Nawas argued.

“The corporate world was built 60 years ago by men, for a profile called the ideal worker. What was that? At the time, it was probably a man, who was unburdened by other responsibilities. He was either a young man or a married man with children and a wife at home,” she said.

“Today’s worker profile is very different. There are a lot more women in the workplace. 60% of professionals are in dual-career relationships, and we have tonnes of single parents in the workplace.”

So how much has the corporate world adapted to their needs, she asked. “Not a whole lot.”

Take the example of flexible working. According to Nawas, this is just one way in which corporations and institutions have attempted – yet not succeeded – in adapting to the modern day and age.

“Flexible working has the potential to really revolutionise the way we work and our ability to be productive, efficient and happy at work,” she said. “But what it’s turned into, unfortunately, is a very stigmatised way of work – across industries, across geographies. Whoever takes advantage of this – whether you are a man or a woman – dims the light of their career.”


2. Institutions should treat gender diversity as any other revenue driver

Promoting gender diversity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.

“The business case for gender parity is irrefutable,” Nawas said. “We now have decades of research that supports it. We know that diverse teams make better decisions. We know that gender diverse teams deliver better financial results on any financial metric you choose: profit, sales, return on equity, return on investment.”

She referenced a recent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics which explored exactly how much gender diversity matters to the bottom line. It found that increasing the percentage of women in corporate leadership from zero to 30 translates to a 15% growth in profitability for a typical firm.

According to Nawas, institutions should start treating the issue as they would with any other revenue driver.

“Imagine your institution, there is this really important deal, and if you close it, you will increase your profits by 15%. So your company would put their best people on it, hold them accountable for the results, and they would allocate resources and budget,” she said.

“Here you have this opportunity to increase your female leadership that would generate a 15% increase in profit – what are you doing to achieve that? Have you put your best people on it? Are they being accountable, and what budget have you allocated? If you are serious about moving the needle, you need to treat it like an important deal.”


3. The UAE government is stepping up its game

The UAE Vision 2021 aims for the country to be in the top 25 for gender equality globally. This may still be far off from its current standing of 120 out of 149 countries (according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018), but as one audience member said: “It’s very ambitious, but if one place can do it, it’s the UAE.”

Recent initiatives from the UAE government were highlighted by panellists and delegates, giving hope that the country is on the right path.

In 2017, for example, the UAE Gender Balance Council launched a ‘gender balance guide’ to give private and
public organisations and institutions a tool to advance gender balance in the workplace. In April 2018, the UAE cabinet approved a bill guaranteeing equal pay for men and women.

The changes are also being felt by international professionals doing business in the UAE. One of them is Emma Clark, the global head of marketing and corporate affairs at Falcon Group, who is based in London but has been travelling to the UAE for business for the past two decades.

“15 to 17 years ago, when I came to Dubai, I was quite a novelty in some of the meetings that I was in,” she said. “It’s definitely changed. Over the years, Dubai has become a lot more international, more international businesses are coming here, it’s a nice place to relocate to. So naturally, over time, it’s becoming more diverse.”

She added that the degree of gender balance depends on who she is meeting: front office and decision makers are still roles that are very male-dominated.

“But it’s improving,” she argued. “Companies seems to be a lot more receptive to meeting with women, there’s a lot more acceptability. It’s certainly a lot easier to be taken seriously. A few years ago, I would go to meetings with a junior male member of staff, and he would be spoken to and asked questions and I would have to point out that I was the decision maker and the one they should be talking to. This is changing, and everything is moving in the right direction.”


4. Men are part of the journey too

The question of gender diversity is not a men-versus-women debate, Nawas argued. As such, driving balance in the workplace should not only be about women lifting up other women.

“85% of senior leaders are male, so if we’re going to make a dent, we want to be there with men by our side,” she said.

Her comment was backed up by Caroline Stockmann, chief executive at the Association of Corporate Treasurers, who applauded the fact that almost half of the audience of the GTR Women in Trade Finance in Dubai were men.

“If you talk about inclusion, you can’t exclude men. It’s about getting the guys on side as well, and it’s nice to see so many of them in the room today,” she said. “Having allies is really important. In my experience men have never been malicious towards me or people I know. In general, people aren’t realising what they are doing.”

The event also saw involvement from male audience members, with one suggesting how men could support their female colleagues: “It’s often about confidence,” he said. “Many times, we all find ourselves raising our hands, while our friends may be a little more shy. And I think it’s our job to improve and encourage the process.”