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Shining a light on the Gulf’s women board directors

Gulf women board directors Sara Nooruddin, Natasha Hannoun, Meitha Al Hashemi and Amani Bouresli
Suzanne Locke 29 November 2021
This year, 2021, has been quite the year. As it draws to a close and the United Arab Emirates celebrates its golden jubilee of 50 years, it is also the year of Dubai Expo 2020 and the year that the UAE made it a legal requirement to put a woman on every listed board.
We felt it right to mark such an auspicious time by talking to some of the members of Manarat, Aurora50’s invite-only club for regional women directors on listed boards.
We founded Manarat almost two years ago, at a time when there were only 28 women on listed boards in the UAE – 3.5 percent of all seats. We started out by organising a Zoom call (this was at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic) to ask women already in these positions how we could get more women to take their seats at the table.


More than half the women we spoke to committed to supporting our initiative, and Manarat was born. The word Manarat means ‘lighthouses’ in Arabic. We felt this sisterhood would act as the guiding lights for women coming through the ranks to become future board directors.
They are Aurora50’s guiding lights too: we meet quarterly and they are active contributors to Pathway20, our accelerator programme, and attended our chairs’ luncheon at The Board Summit this year. Sadly there are not (yet) enough women holding chair positions, so these are the most senior women in the regional board world.

Women’s ‘inner circle’ pays off

Today, 49 of the UAE’s 112 listed companies have female representation on their boards and that number is constantly growing.
Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2019 shows that women benefit from having a close inner circle of female contacts, even when they have similar qualifications and work experience to men (what it called women’s ‘dual networks’) and that, when they did, they were rewarded with leadership positions and pay 2.5 times higher than female peers without that inner-circle network.
This is what we hope Manarat will give to the women already in the club and to those on their way to joining.
With that in mind, we talk to:
  • Natasha Hannoun, head of debt at Shuaa Capital and board member of Pure Harvest Smart Farms
  • Sara Nooruddin, head of private investments at Osool Asset Management and board member of Aegila Capital Management, Amanat Holdings and Bahrain’s Royal Hospital for Women and Children
  • Amani Bouresli, professor of finance at Kuwait University and board member of Bahrain’s Ithmaar Holding and IB Capital Board of Directors and Egypt’s Faisal Islamic Bank
  • Meitha Al Hashemi, ADIB group credit officer and board member at UAE insurance companies Dar Al Takaful and Noor Takaful.

Aurora50’s interviews with Gulf women board directors

Can you tell us a bit about how you were raised, and your family values?

I was a middle child, with five siblings and we were raised in a traditional family and inspired by my father, who highly believed in education. He treated us equally and had huge confidence in us all from a very young age.

How did you settle into your first board role?

I learned on the go. I tried to take in everything around me, whether it was the material to be discussed or the body language of the people sitting in front of me. In the beginning it was overwhelming; however, with time, I’ve learned to listen more and to ask questions, whether during the board meeting or before. The more I asked, the more I became aware and ready to tackle any issue.

What have you learned from your board role(s)?

A lot! If I had to choose three things, I would say:
  1. Be prepared. There is usually a significant amount which needs to be covered in a limited amount of time. Preparation gives you time to think and digest.
  2. Develop relationships outside of the board room and get to know the other members of the board – particularly non-executive and independent board members.
  3. Speak your mind. If you’re not sure – ask a question.
The biggest learning from being a board member has been that you never let your guard down but always focus on the bigger picture. As a board member, you should not get involved in day-to-day decisions; however, we do need to guide the business and support functions on the way forward.

What’s your motto in life? 

I have two. “Work hard in silence. Let success make the noise” and “The best way to predict the future is to predict it.”

How do you negotiate the work-life-family juggle? 

I use the Pareto Principle – 80 percent of consequences are driven by 20 percent of causes. So I focus on the 20 percent, both in work and life.

Do you set yourself career and board goals? 

I work in investments, so targets and goals are words I use daily. We also review and reset frequently too. It’s the same in life, careers and boards: your goals will change but we should still set them.