Changing ideas of women as leaders a key issue faced by GCC firms

Changing perceptions of women in leadership roles, acquiring and retaining local female talent and overcoming practical challenges in terms of logistics and infrastructure are key issues that employers in the GCC face.



These are the findings of a report conducted by The Pearl Initiative, a forerunner of women’s empowerment in the Gulf. Titled ‘Women’s Careers in the GCC – Four Good Practice Case Studies’ –  the report focuses on various aspects of female employment through surveys of four of the region’s leading companies – General Electric (GE), Olayan Group, Pepsico and Petroleum Development Oman.

The results suggest that an integrated approach involving schools and universities, aggressive awareness drives at multiple levels, implementing supportive infrastructure and work environment, family engagement as well as women-specific policies and programs are the most effective ways to address the challenges of female employment.

Developing more role models from the region, creating women-centric opportunities, investing in segregated offices and other useful services at the workplace and organizing transportation to and from work are a few of the strategies companies can adopt to create an enabling work environment.

Glass ceiling

Carla.Koffel The.Pearl.Initiative

Carla Koffel, executive director, The Pearl Initiative, said: “In the recent years, women in the Gulf region have been breaking through the glass ceiling at a growing pace, increasingly taking on top government and private sector jobs. Yet, even with scores of highly qualified women graduating from universities in the region every year, female participation at the decision making level still remains low.”

Nabil Habayeb, GE president and CEO for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, said: “The launch of the report is an important step in setting the landscape in job creation for women in the region and a way forward to further strengthen opportunities that will empower them with high-quality and rewarding careers.”

He added: “As a key partner in the socioeconomic growth of the region, we have taken concerted steps over the years to strengthen the participation of women in our regional teams. Committed to workplace diversity, we focus on hiring high achievers, building their skills, creating career pathways, providing networking opportunities and supporting them through female talent development programs.”


The Pearl Initiative’s goal is particularly important in today’s economic landscape given that diversity breeds innovation, creativity and business sustainability. In fact, industry experts find that companies which practise diversity in leadership enjoy better financial returns and higher profitability.

In April 2015, The Pearl Initiative released a breakthrough report titled `Women’s Careers in the GCC: The CEO Agenda’, based on the findings of a Gulf-wide research program conducted in partnership with the Sharjah Business Women Council.

The study revealed that working women in the GCC are as ambitious and career-driven as their counterparts in the rest of the world, with over 50% of those surveyed aiming at senior or board-level positions within the next seven years.

Female employment pioneer

GCC woman

Having firmly established itself as a pioneer of female employment in Saudi Arabia, Olayan Group helps young and ambitious women rise on the career ladder. The group has successfully increased the number of women in managerial or executive roles more than threefold in the last 15 years.

In less than a decade, the percentage of female employees in Pepsico’s Saudi office increased from five to 20. Women hold four out of 12 positions on the leadership team.

The company has adopted a tailor-made gender diversity and inclusion program with four main focus areas: improving work/life balance, nurturing a culture of understanding by setting the right tone, creating opportunities for women and communication.



2 × five =