Bader Al Kharafi
Bader Al Kharafi, Zain Vice Chairman and Group CEO, discusses the importance of women’s empowerment in Kuwait.
What are your views on women empowerment in the region?
The MENA female labor force is one of the lowest internationally and in particular in Kuwait. An interesting and related study from the Financial Times saw that 67% of university graduates in Kuwait are women, yet these excellent completion rates do not translate into the workforce.
A recent study indicated that raising gender diversity to the forefront of the organization improves the retention of talented women, directly increases the bottom line and realizes an enhancement in customer experience initiatives with impactful results.
What are the major challenges faced by women in corporate world?
As a leading telecom entity operating in 8 markets across the Middle East and Africa we have greater responsibilities to set standards across all our entities internationally. In November 2017, we identified that the company’s total women headcount is only 22.6% (total employees at Zain at that time was just over 7000). More alarmingly, leadership roles occupied by women were only 14.5%. This was clearly an issue that needed fundamental change from within the organization.
Accordingly, my team collected a heavy baseline to fully understand the nature of the problem and conducted research on top performing organizations. Internal data indicated that the majority of the female workforce were housed in supporting divisions such as Marketing, HR and Customer Care. We also found that the female headcount was most dense at the entry level. This data corroborated with the initial hypotheses and with further probing suggested that the organizational behaviour played a role in females missing out on promotion opportunities and career advancement, which must be led by a false perception of male preference.
What steps have your organization taken towards curbing those challenges?
With the fervent support of the Board and executive management, we launched the Women Empowerment Program (WE) on the 5th of November 2017 with approximately 250 women from our organization. In attendance were the CEO’s from across all operations as well as key Zain Group executives.
During the event we asked for solutions from our females who suggested we appoint ambassadors to act as internal change agents across all our 8 operations that would provide us with a catalyst toward the greater program. Interestingly, what started as a few ambassadors grew swiftly to 57. Additionally we insisted on two strategic and specific targets: 1) To Increase female leadership positions from 14.5% to 25% by the year 2020 and 2) Progress through the 3 stages of evolution for tackling a gender diverse workforce: a. Awareness: b. Realization. c. Motivation. Ultimately the language of diversity and inclusion is aligned with the company’s strategy and embedded in its culture.
What impact do you think are women entrepreneurs having on the society?
The number of women starting their own businesses is increasing across the region in all sectors. Women by nature are able to multitask with high emotional intelligence, making them more able to practice positive forms of leadership. Financial independence, economic growth, solution based innovations, raising an entrepreneurial generation, creation and development is an intrinsic motivator for women and you can observe this on a global scale. Today you find women leading or in key management roles in large conglomerates and start-ups, providing a different and dynamic management approach. This is incredibly inspiring and driving a new generation of future women leaders that will impact society positively on multiple levels.
What advice would you like to give to young women executives who are in the initial phase of their career?
Career progression for women is challenging and needs patience, high work ethic and dedication. Women, by nature, are nurturing and this approach actually works in the corporate arena, making their core traits an asset to the organization while continuing to build and develop their confidence. By staying focused and keeping their eye on the end goal, they are destined to succeed.
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