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Think women make bad bosses? Think again, says Visa senior VP

Women in meeting Unsplash
According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 115 years to close the gender gap in the MENA
  • 34% of male UAE bosses think women can’t compete, survey finds
  • Visa senior VP Saeeda Jaffar points to data that disproves this idea
  • Payments giant offering $10,000 grant to female entrepreneurs in UAE

Is a man better at running a business than a woman?

The Visa Entrepreneur Study, commissioned by the global payments giant, found that nearly four in 10 (38 percent) of male business owners surveyed in the UAE believed men have better business instincts than women. Furthermore, 34 percent said businesses founded by women couldn’t compete with those run by men.

“I have not seen any data that leads me to believe that businesses that are founded and run by men systematically do better than businesses founded by women,” Saeeda Jaffar, senior vice president and group country manager for Visa GCC, told AGBI.

“I have seen data to the contrary,” she said, pointing to a study from S&P Global Market Intelligence, which found that public companies with female CEOs or CFOs were often more profitable and produced better stock price performance compared to the market average.

That said, Jaffar – one of seven Emirati women among Forbes’ 50 most powerful businesswomen in the Middle East in 2021 – isn’t advocating for all-female teams. 

“We need teams that are looking from different angles and covering each other’s blindspots,” she said.

“We live in a world where challenges that we face as businesses are very complex, and not linear.”

Analysis by Boston Consulting Group found that if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by approximately 3 to 6 percent, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion.

Even as the numbers make a solid case, Jaffar is matter-of-fact about the long road ahead in shifting perceptions.

“The reality is you can’t control how people act and react,” she said. 

“I can let it get to me. Or I can just say, ‘It is what it is,’ and instead choose to focus on the ones that are gender blind. 

“Even if you’re a man, you’re not going to be in an environment where people are 100 percent supportive.”

Dr Saeeda Jaffar
Visa senior vice president Saeeda Jaffar said it was important to give women in the region an equal opportunity to compete.

A 115-year gap to close

There is certainly a long way to go. According to the latest World Economic Forum report, it will take 115 years to close the gender gap in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report said the MENA has the second-largest gender gap to close after South Asia.

Israel, the UAE and Lebanon are among the region’s best-performing countries in terms of gender score.

The report coincided with new data from LinkedIn, which showed an increase in UAE-based women setting up businesses during the pandemic.

However, the Visa study found that 86 percent of UAE-based female entrepreneurs struggled to get funding for their ventures, and three out of four have used their personal savings to start businesses.

The numbers are both cause for concern and optimism, Jaffar said.

“From my experience, a lot of the women entrepreneurs I have spoken to tend to be a bit more risk averse, and a little more hesitant to put their own savings into their own ventures,” she explained. 

“While there is a gap that we at Visa are trying to address, I’m equally happy to see that a lot of these women entrepreneurs take things into their own hands.”

Even as the region marked a record $2.6 billion high in venture capital funding in 2021, up 138 percent from 2020, investment in female-founded startups stood at just 1.2 percent of that figure, according to a report by Wamda.

With so many female founders overlooked or left behind in the funding race, Visa has expanded She’s Next, its global advocacy programme that supports female entrepreneurs with funding, mentoring and networking opportunities, to the UAE.

The local chapter of the programme, launched in partnership with First Abu Dhabi Bank, the UAE’s largest bank, and the Dubai Business Women Council, will offer women an opportunity to win a $10,000 grant.

Visa has invested more than $2.2 million in She’s Next grants globally since 2020, supporting over 200 small businesses founded by women.

More than half of female entrepreneurs surveyed by Visa in the UAE said they would use the additional funding to invest in new technologies, and for advertising and marketing.

The areas they said they most wanted to learn more about were setting goals for profitability, and ways to survive the continuing impact of the pandemic.

Personal experience

Asked about her own brushes with sexism, Jaffar, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a doctorate in chemical engineering, recalled a time during the early part of her career as a consultant, when a senior client asked her to fetch his tea.

“I got the tea,” she said. “And the whole while I went to get the tea, I was talking to him. Later on, he was very curious about my background, so he asked what I did and I explained.”

What’s important, she said, is that women be given an equal opportunity to compete.

“One of the best ways I have seen this being addressed is, for example, at the recruiting stage, you make sure that there are an equal number of men and women candidates for senior roles – and then may the best candidate win. It doesn’t matter what their gender is. We want to be able to create that level playing field.”