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UAE leads GCC on board gender mix but region still lags

GCC boards female Shutterstock/Fizkes
In the GCC, listed companies operating in the utilities sector are best represented by female board members, with 8% of the total, while IT is among the worst with 1.8%
  • Women in more than 10% of UAE board seats
  • In wider GCC women hold less than 5% of seats
  • 152 years until gender parity at current rate

More than 10 percent of board seats at listed companies in the UAE are filled by women, well ahead of its Gulf neighbours, but still lagging the global average.

At the 168 companies listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and Dubai Financial Market, just 133 out of 1,231 board seats, or 10.8 percent, are held by women, new research has found. The figures suggest more than 20 percent of companies have no women on their boards at all.

The number of women on company boards in the UAE is more than double the percentage seen across the wider GCC, however, where women hold just 5.2 percent of the 5,591 board seats in 752 publicly listed companies.



The figures were compiled as part of the GCC Board Gender Index Report 2024, published this week by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and Aurora50, a Dubai-based agency that promotes inclusive workplaces and diverse leadership.

It revealed that female board representation is as low as 1.8 percent in Qatar and 2 percent in Saudi Arabia.

MSCI, an American finance company headquartered in New York City that tracks gender diversity of corporate boards, reported that, globally, women held nearly 26 percent of board seats at large and mid-cap companies, up just over a percentage point from 2022.

Although the global picture of the number of women directors improved last year, growth slowed compared to previous years with a rise of 1.9 percent in 2022 dropping to a rise of 1.3 percent in 2023.

In the GCC, listed companies operating in the utilities sector do best for female board members, with women holding 8 percent of the total number of board seats, followed by healthcare and energy.

IT was among the worst sectors, with women making up just 1.8 percent of company boards, the report showed.

Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, co-founder of Aurora50, believes that progress in gender diversity starts at the top. 

“A diverse board helps create a diverse, inclusive organisation: diversity creates impact for the organisation, industry and society. The need for a pipeline of female talent, from managers to senior leaders to board directors, becomes increasingly clear.”

Maryam Butti Al Suwaidi, CEO of the Securities and Commodities Authority, says that the report will contribute to “raising awareness about, and promoting the benefits of gender diversity in the GCC region”, while also increasing participation of women in senior roles across the region.

The World Economic Forum’s annual gender gap report in 2023 showed that the Middle East and North Africa remained the region furthest away from parity.

At the current rate of progress, full regional parity will be attained in 2156, 152 years away. 

The WEF said the UAE, Israel and Bahrain had achieved the highest parity in the region, while Morocco, Oman and Algeria ranked the lowest.

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