Image: Noora Al Mansoori, official spokeswoman for the EITC Women’s Council.
A version of this story appears in the September 2019 print issue of CommsMEA.
Much ink has been spilled covering how we’ve long had a problem in getting more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers – and getting women to stay in STEM careers.
But there’s a difference between talking about the issue and actually doing something about it. Yet things are being done – and the Middle East is no exception.
In fact, the first Women’s Council for the ICT industry in the Middle East was launched earlier this year. Known as the EITC Women’s Council, the “EITC” in the name refers to Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, the parent company of Dubai-based telco du.
“The Women’s Council is representative of the growing need for diversity within our day-to-day operations,” explains Hanan Ahmed, EITC Women’s Council chairwoman.
“Together we will form a consortium of like-minded advocates who are passionate about women’s empowerment and aligning the company’s visions to effectively promote inclusivity within the workplace, within the industry, and within the communities of our beloved country.”
Noora Al Mansoori, official spokeswoman for the Women’s Council, expands on this – and the importance of the Women’s Council.
“The challenges women face in today’s ICT sphere are different from previous decades,” she explains.
“Globally, gender diversity, or the lack of it, is being held to account across many sectors. The ICT industry is no different. The way that women work is under the microscope as ideologies shift that allow more flexible working conditions and that enable women to take charge of their careers and professional aspirations. For example, roles that were traditionally male-orientated are now being filled by women, which signals that corporate cultures and society are motivating and encouraging us to take positions without having to face obstacles that hindered progress in the past.”
In addition to Al Masoori, the initial EITC Women’s Council leadership team consists of Hanan Ahmed (chairwoman), Dr Alia Al Serkal (vice chairwoman), Dr Mansoor Habib (council advisor), Aisha Rawert (council member), Dr Raffaella Bianchi (council member), Mona Gulaid (council member), Maryam Thani (council member), and Jennifer Gonzalez (council member). Al Mansoori says the Women’s Council is something that was long overdue in the region.
“Gender equality is no longer a taboo subject in the corporate world as companies seek to achieve balanced workplaces. The same can be seen if we canvas the global leadership front and the various strata of our communities. In the UAE, the government made a landmark announcement recently that the Federal National Council will consist of up to 50% women. This powerful motion empowers us to encourage [the] idea further. With the Women’s Council, we now have the platform to do so.”
Though the council is only in its infancy, Al Mansoori explains a number of outcomes are expected.
“We have been busy devising innovative ways to empower EITC’s female quotient of workers. To kick-start the council’s gender diversity agenda, we recently hosted over 100 EITC women employees in a full-day workshop to mark 100 days since the council’s inception.
“Overall, the council has its sights set on creating awareness, encouraging discussion, and driving positive actions towards building a workplace that supports gender balance.”
Women make up about 29% of EITC’s workforce at present. In addition, recent figures reveal that 40% of new recruits are female.
The Women’s Council also comes amid numerous other initiatives to recruit more women by telcos throughout the Middle East. For instance, Saudi Arabia’s STC recently appointed Fay Al-Alshaikh as product portfolio strategy general manager – becoming the Saudi telco’s latest female executive. Earlier this year Dr Moudhi Aljamea became the general manager of the ICT School at STC Academy, and Maha Al-Nuhait became manager of STC's sustainability programme. At this time last year, STC did not have any female executives. Bahrain’s Batelco, Kuwait’s Zain, and others have also announced initiatives to recruit more women.
Al Mansoori says attitudes may indeed be changing throughout the region when it comes to women in ICT, but there is still some work to be done before equality is achieved.
“In previous decades, the allure of the UAE for talented professionals from across the world was high. While this trend is still apparent, attracting and retaining quality job seekers or current employees has become more difficult for some businesses as they adjust to the changing demands from employees. As the workforce has become more dynamic, diverse, and educated, the talent pool has evolved to crave workplace cultures that provide collaborative, positive and innovative environments for them to flourish.”
She adds: “Gender diversity is becoming a priority for many workplaces, and we can see this through the increasing representation of women in management roles. While there is always room for improvement, the foundations are in place for positive organisational development. The effects of this can be lucrative for companies, and the UAE is definitely on the route towards achieving potential.”
The establishment of the Women’s Council also supports global perspectives on workplace diversity. Al Mansoori says du presently has employees from more than 70 different countries.
“Because of this, it is essential to build a culture of collaboration and a happy and balanced workforce that embraces diversity and inclusion,” she explains.
“By creating a Happiness and Tolerance Department [at EITC], we have taken the first step toward celebrating our diversity mix and developing a platform for promoting gender and cultural differences company-wide.”
Of course, multiple studies have also shown that, on average, companies with more women in leadership make more money, too. But Al Mansoori again stresses the Women’s Council has a greater purpose – and that she hopes it could inspire other ICT companies in the Middle East to form their own Women’s Councils.
“EITC is a company that holds a proud status as an enabler of transformation in the UAE,” she explains.
“With the formation of the EITC Women’s Council, we are proud to be expanding our transformation footprint and capabilities further to empower our workforce and to be recognised as a leading company for gender balance. The main purpose behind taking the lead on this is to achieve the goal of enabling women to play a bigger role in the company’s future – and in the progress of the country’s development.”
She concludes with one last piece of advice that she says applies to everyone.
“In Dubai. We don’t define you by your gender, your nationality. We define you by your skills.”