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The UAE made it to Mars – it can put a woman on every board too

Illustration of rocket launching on screen
Diana Wilde 29 March 2021
The Hope (Amal) mission orbited Mars last month – making the UAE only the fifth country to ever reach the Red Planet, and the first Arab nation to do so. If we can make it to Mars, we can put a woman on every listed company board, as was recently mandated.
Nasa congratulated the UAE, saying: “If you ventured in pursuit of glory, don’t be satisfied with less than the stars?’ We’re not. We know there are many businesswomen who are also stars in this country.
The season of company board appointments is upon us, and women who hope to be made board directors should be planning ahead for 2022’s nominations as much as for 2021.
In the next three months, 50 board appointments will be made at the UAE’s 110 companies listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) and the Dubai Financial Market.

Start your groundwork for 2022 UAE board nominations

That makes this a great time to watch, learn and prepare. Another round of nominations will happen at the same time next year. Start your groundwork now, as you see appointments being made.
Both exchanges are overseen by the Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority (ESCA), which last year declared that women should make up at least 20 percent of the boards of listed local public shareholding companies.
Any business that did not achieve the quota had to disclose the reasons, and the percentage of female representation on its board, in its annual governance report.

UAE gender parity is worth $101bn

Women currently sit on the boards of 28 of the 110 listed companies in the UAE, or 26 percent, but only make up 3.5 per cent of all board positions (29 of a total 823 board members).
In India, where a 2013 law was passed to put at least one woman on a board, women now hold 17 percent of corporate board positions. In Pakistan, which followed suit four years later, the figure is nine percent. And there is a proven fiscal benefit to diversity in the boardroom.
UAE boards are questioning whether their executive leadership is adequately equipped for the ‘new normal’

Time for fresh board blood in a new world

As boards look to increase diversity, there is a clear opportunity to create a stronger team by appointing female directors.
Board tenures tend to last three years, and the best practice is for boards to start looking a year before a director leaves for their replacement.
The exercise can take three to six months. But the usual networks to which a board tends to turn for its next appointments, and the way it has searched for fresh blood in the past, may not be enough for this new world.
An artist’s impression of the Hope orbiter around Mars. Illustration: United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA)

Aurora50, a place for board-level networking

It may now need to use search firms or other, more disruptive ways to build a more diverse membership.
Aurora50 was set up as a place for men and women to network together and discuss board-level business issues.
In the past year, Covid-19 has also accelerated trends towards digital in businesses – and boardrooms -globally.
When Covid-19 happened, boards looked at how best to support their executive teams, for instance with more regular board meetings for support, changing any of the executives as necessary or bringing in consultants.

Boards value digital transformation skills

A year on, businesses are looking at whether the boards themselves have the relevant experience, people and composition for the ‘new normal’ and new strategic directions.
That provides a huge opportunity for anyone with specialist skills such as risk management, cyber-security, fintech, e-commerce or digital transformation and innovation.
Almost two-thirds of UK chief executives (59 percent) have put the digital transformation of core business operations and processes as a top-three priority, according to a 2020 PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey.

Join committees to gain board experience

Committees are a good way to gain board experience. Not only do they provide a good opportunity for you to show the value you bring; they also give you access to other board directors to widen your network.
At an Aurora50 meeting, I asked the women attending how many of the other women they knew – in such a networked country, the highest answer was three.
Committees of the board tap into the specific, specialised skills and knowledge of individual. board directors, helping to both educate the full board and to divide the board’s workload.
Ultimately, Aurora50 wants to see merit-based appointments of women board directors.

The pathway to independent directorships

Common committees include audit and risk, compensation, and nominating and governance.
Most women already serving on boards become directors as a result of the job position that they occupy. At Aurora50, we want to help them go on to become independent directors.
An independent director does not have a material relationship with the company whose board it sits on, is not part of the executive team and is not involved in its day-to-day operations. Some exchanges insist on a number of independent directors for a company to list.

Build your profile, showcase board experience

But we also want to remind you – the responsibility for building a pipeline of women board directors sits on the shoulders of women who want this to happen as much as with the boards.
Women with board experience need to make it known that they are interested in new positions.
If you’re diligently working on a board but keeping a low profile, you’re not making it easy for other boards to know you exist.

Merit-based appointments will lead the UAE to gender parity

Ahead of that 2022 round of nominations, you should be working to make sure people are aware of you, and networking to make sure that nominations committees know you exist.
Ultimately, Aurora50 wants to see merit-based appointments of women board directors.
Aurora50 offers a place for women to network at a board level in the UAE with The Board Summit and Pathway20, at a time when Covid-19 and the `new normal’ are creating fresh opportunities for aspiring women directors.
In 2021, the UAE celebrates its 50th anniversary and the year it reached Mars, please help us connect with board-experienced women, so the UAE can also achieve gender parity in the boardroom very soon.