‘UAE Female Leaders Possess Farsighted Entrepreneurial Vision’

Marking the UAE’s National Day, Marketa Simkova, Director, People and Change, KPMG Lower Gulf Limited, chats with Sabin Muzaffar about its recently published report on the country’s female leaders' confidence about growth prospects of their company & empowering through data.

Tell us a bit about the KPMG report – how is it encouraging as far as female leadership in business and entrepreneurship are concerned?

This is KPMG’s first ever Female Leaders Outlook report, which we believe to also be the first survey of its kind in the UAE. The study interviewed female leaders across various sectors of the UAE economy, as part of a global survey of female business leaders across 42 countries.

The report is an important milestone for us at KPMG, as it reinforces our firm’s growing commitment to listen to female leaders across industries, globally and in the region. Equally, it is a platform to emphasize that women increasingly become a part of mainstream business discussions and exchange knowledge, ideas and learning from each other.

Our study revealed UAE’s female leaders feel well-prepared for the current and future business challenges ahead and are embracing digital technologies. They see themselves as both digital and data savvy, and favor promoting the application of data analysis in their companies.

Female leaders in the UAE are also realistic about growth expectations and possess a farsighted entrepreneurial vision. They believe they are equipped with the necessary skills to successfully drive transformation processes, are open to innovation and have a straightforward, customer-centric approach.

The report suggests that 79% of the respondents expect the use of data analytics to increase, we would like to know how much awareness regarding data/analytics do you see in women-led businesses?

Any company that wants to benefit from upcoming technologies such as AI and blockchain needs to have strong data analysis skills.

Our report indicates that female leaders are now more data-driven and make decisions based on facts. This shows that women are very much on the ball when it comes to staying up-to-date with the latest technology to drive their business goals.

In your opinion, how can data enable an empowered business especially those led by women or are targeting a female audience?

We live in the age of data, where it is often said that data is power. Digitally savvy organizations tend to perform better than others, and the results show that UAE female leaders are well-prepared for the digital future. Female leaders increasingly refer to data in order to make tough decisions at the senior level, especially when it comes to technological disruption, managing resources or maximizing operational efficiencies.

Furthermore, UAE female leaders are open to data analytics and trust the results, since data can provide them a more thorough understanding of their customers’ needs, as well as the direction in which the business is moving.

Why is it important to include the viewpoint of women in leadership, what are the benefits?

As the worldwide economic power of female leaders rises — with female consumers driving approximately 70-80 percent of purchases and accounting for a global spend of an estimated $18 trillion in 2018 — these findings are particularly significant.

The need for diverse thinking at all levels is increasingly important as we grapple with the challenges of technological disruption and society’s increased expectations of business.

When comparing the results of the Global Female Leaders Outlook with KPMG’s Global CEO Outlook, which had predominantly male respondents (84 percent), women leaders were found to be more realistic, cautious and more likely to look for gradual, sustained growth than predominantly male CEOs.

Overall, female leaders bring the necessary personal and professional skills to succeed in a digital environment, focusing on networking and communications skills, and have a deep understanding of the qualities that help them thrive in leadership positions.

According to the report the confidence in growth prospects is on the increase compared to previous analyses, what and why is there this positive difference?

Our view is that there are a number of solid reasons behind that. One of the most important is that they operate in the UAE, a secure and stable nation that benefits from visionary and business friendly leadership. The government is actively introducing ways to help businesses, lowering their operating costs and making it easier to do business.

For example, the UAE government has introduced a number of measures – which we enthusiastically welcome – to ease business regulations and encourage greater inward investment. Our region is becoming more business friendly than ever before which translates into a positive outlook with respect to business growth.

Coming over to KPMG, what is the organization’s vision when it comes to women’s economic empowerment as well as inclusion?

Internally, the KPMG Network of Women (KNOW) is a global professional women’s network dedicated to helping women succeed at all levels of their career through relationship building, knowledge sharing and professional development and investments in gender diversity.

Locally, we believe there is tremendous potential to attract more women to be a part of the workforce. In the UAE, we have recently partnered with REACH Mentoring, an organization that addresses the issue of women’s empowerment by bringing together professional women from the region and pairing them with volunteers, both individual and corporate, to be mentors, helping them achieve personal goals.

In your opinion, what are some of the critical takeaways from the report that need to be highlighted?

UAE female leaders understand the capabilities their companies will need to acquire and the strategic decisions necessary to achieve growth. They have a thorough understanding of the strategic and operational requirements of the digital age, including a grasp of the needs of digital customer groups. Being data driven, they expect to see an increase in the use of predictive modeling and analytics in decision-making, and understand the importance of a robust cyber risk strategy.

One interesting aspect of the study is participants’ attitude toward quotas. Only 3 percent rank female leadership quotas as crucial for personal success, whereas 79 percent backed women’s enablement programs.

Gender equality and inclusion are key to sustainability as a whole and most certainly in the business landscape as well, what are your views on that especially as an important female influencer in the industry as well as one representing KPMG?

In today’s challenging business environment, with technology and digitalization on the rise, companies need to rely on a diverse workforce in order to survive and thrive. A diverse workforce can offer new perspectives and help drive innovation. As the business environment becomes more challenging, an inclusive corporate culture is vital for organizations to grow.

Male and female leaders bring different perspectives and life experiences to the boardroom, and organizations must strive to get the balance right if they are to achieve their full potential.

Although there is a lack of up-to-date figures about female employee representation in UAE organizations, a glance around any office in the country certainly shows there are plenty of women making a career here. We see women in leadership positions in many areas of business and recent laws and regulations in the UAE are encouraging gender diversity and female equality. According to the Dubai Statistics Authority, in 2017 13.3% of Emirati women working in Dubai occupied senior positions. Furthermore, there is a gradual increase in the contribution and participation of Emirati women in the labor market of Dubai, a positive reinforcement of the increasingly significant role women have on the economy.

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