UAE Portrait of a Nation: Business leader promises more women in the boardroom

UAE Portrait of a Nation: Business leader promises more women in the boardroom

For Nairouz Bader, a pioneer of Arab women in business, bringing greater equality to the boardroom has been a life-long fight.

The 49-year-old has spent more than 20 years cutting a swathe through the male dominated corporate world of the Middle East.

Today, her rise to prominence remains an impressive feat given how relatively rare her story is in the region.

Yet Ms Bader remains more determined than ever to stay in the fray, continuing to confront old-fashioned attitudes holding back aspiring businesswomen.

“The female agenda and leadership pathway for women is my passion in life,” Ms Bader, who started her career as a pharmacist, told The National.

“I used to put on an iron mask and act like a man so people would take me seriously.

“I would try to dress as an older woman in more formal outfits, assuming the more masculine I looked the more I would be taken seriously in business.

“It was difficult to prove myself and in some cases I have lost projects because I was a woman.”

Ms Bader, a single mother with two daughters, is now the chief executive and founder of Envision Partnership, a leading recruitment firm in Dubai.

The company was launched in 2005 and has been a driver in the promotion of women into senior leadership roles ever since.

The work has since given Ms Bader a unique perspective into how women are perceived in the workplace, both in the UAE and around the world.

And while she admits attitudes are changing for the better, she insists a long road still remains ahead.

“I feel responsibility to feed more women onto the shortlist for applications into strong leadership positions,” she said.

“Although successful women are more recognised now, the support network to encourage more [women] to achieve in future is still not there.”

Ms Bader, who lives in Dubai, began her career at the Swiss multinational healthcare firm Hoffmann-La Roche.

She later moved to the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, before deciding on a complete change of tack.

Today, while continuing to lead Envision Partnership, she also serves on the boards of a number of international recruitment associations.

Additionally, she is a regular speaker at the London Business School, all the while continuing to champion the need for more women in prominent leadership roles.

“There needs to be more policy making to support women and a quota system [in the Middle East] would help achieve that,” she said.

“It is a proven tool in countries that have achieved progression in more female contribution.

“It should not dictate the selection of candidates, but it would push everyone out of their comfort zone to dig deeper and identify more talented women.

“There are many barriers stopping women achieving parity with men in business, some of those barriers come from women themselves who may not have the same confidence as men.”

In 2015, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute found empowering women could help contribute up to US $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025.

The potential impact of such growth has not been lost on Arab leaders, with significant strides being made in gender equality across the Middle East.

Last year, President Sheikh Khalifa called for Emirati women to occupy 50 per cent of the UAE’s Federal National Council following this year's elections.

In Bahrain, a third of the nation’s foreign ministry is now female, while in Saudi Arabia, Princess Reema bint Al Saud recently became ambassador to the US, the first female ambassador to represent her country.

“We are still in need of a mindset change in the region to enable more women to move up the corporate ladder and take on leadership roles,” Ms Bader said.

“However, the region has now become more open to having senior female leaders who act as role models to inspire others.

“Women are mothers by nature so we are natural caregivers – nurturers with a tendency to encourage those around us to form a consensus.

“Things are changing and people are more open and encouraging towards women.”

This article originally appeared in The National.