A study of 1,148 listed companies in 16 economies in Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT) finds that just 8.6% of Board seats are held by women, according to a report by the Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI) released today at the 2023 Global Summit of Women in Dubai.
Compared to other regions globally, MENAT trails all others. Europe and the US/Canada have the highest percentages with 33% and 32%. The region closest to MENAT, Latin America, has 14.5% women’s representation on boards, while Africa (19.1%) and Asia-Pacific (16.2%) also fare better. Over half of all listed companies in the region, 55.5%, have no women board directors.
“Despite the low overall percentage, a number of countries in the region as well as many companies are putting more emphasis on accelerating gender diversity on corporate boards,” says CWDI Chair and President of the Global Summit of Women Irene Natividad. The UAE, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Tunisia have taken major steps to increasing women’s representation on boards.
Legal mandates or quotas for women directors have been the most effective initiatives that began in Europe but are now in place in 45 economies. UAE was the first country in the MENAT region to institute a quota when it did so in 2012 for state-owned companies before expanding to all listed companies in 2020. Egypt followed with 25% as its target, and Morocco requiring companies to have at least 30% women on board by 2024.
Other than quotas, another initiative now adopted in 32 economies is the inclusion in corporate governance codes of gender diversity to be considered in appointing directors. Four countries in the MENAT region — Bahrain, Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey – now have such directives in place. All have also undertaken the critical first step of counting — country studies detailing the number of women directors in their respective countries, so as to track progress.
Deloitte Middle East, a Knowledge Partner to this year’s report, pointed out that “there needs to be a healthy pipeline at the managerial and executive level to feed the continuity at board level, the blind spot in quotas and legislation,” in their section of the report focused on corporate best practices in gender equality in the workplace.
The report identified 15 best performing companies in a Top Five listing (due to ties) with the highest percentage of women directors, all of which had 40%+ women on their boards – a high baseline percentage equal to that of other regions’ best performers. Ranking first as the only company among the 1,148 largest listed companies in the MENAT region to reach gender parity with a 50-50 board is Turk Prysmian.
Turkey, in fact, dominates the Top Five best performers with eight companies of the 15 headquartered in that country. Other companies with at least 40% women directors include three companies from Morocco and one each from Egypt, Kuwait, UAE, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia.
Another factor distinguishing this Top Five listing – five companies among the best
performers are headed by women serving as Chairs of the Board or CEO, living examples of a prior CWDI Report in 2021 (“Women Opening Doors to Boards and C-Suites”), which found that women-led companies tend to have more women directors and senior executives no matter which country they are located.
The report’s recommendations echo the steps already taken by the seven countries featured in the report, which provide a roadmap to strategies that can be replicated by the nine other economies included in the study. Several countries in MENAT have already conducted ‘business case’ research showing that more women directors lead to better financial performance. CWDI urges that such studies need to be disseminated more widely to the public.
“The initiatives underway in MENAT are all on the right track,” adds Natividad. “What tends to slow down intentions and implementation of laws and programs are obstacles rooted in traditional cultural perceptions of women’s roles. This is not peculiar to the MENAT region alone, though the culture ‘wall’ is thicker in the more conservative countries of this region. This is why quotas, mandates, targets with oversight are probably more impactful in cutting through traditional mores to create a more level playing field for women.”