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Women to take more active role in GCC family businesses

By Michael Finnigan

Family businesses in the GCC are looking to increase the number of women in senior management positions over the next decade in order to emulate the success of their global counterparts, new research suggests.

Leveraging an untapped talent pool, published by the Al-Sayedah Khadijah Bint Khawilid Center and Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company), investigated the role of women in family businesses across the GCC. It suggested that succession planning should be seen as an opportunity to draw from the family's entire talent pool.

Based on the interviews of 30 leading GCC family businesses, the study found that changing social conditions, like smaller family sizes and higher average age of marriage, had already contributed to an increasing number of women in family businesses.

Basmah Omair, chief executive of Al-Sayedah Khadijah Bint Khawilid Center, said: "This is a promising time for family businesses as all of the GCC countries have made female economic inclusion a top priority. The value of diverse perspectives from all members of the family is gaining widespread recognition.”

The study revealed that there are still major obstacles for women hoping to participate in family businesses, particularly cultural perceptions of a patriarchal society and fierce competition from family members.

However, the study highlighted that a large number of family businesses are expected to transition into the third generation over the next decade and female next-gens are increasingly requesting senior roles as they become shareholders.

“GCC women's roles in family businesses tend to exist in two spheres: core business activities, such as management and corporate governance, and enabling business activities, such as promoting family values,” said Ramy Sfeir, partner with Strategy&.

Sfeir said that several GCC families in the study described their philanthropic activities as being an ideal setting for women, as they believe women are better at developing and executing the right programmes to support those in need.

The study suggests that the GCC has succeeded in overcoming the gender gap in both primary and secondary schools but that work is still needed.  

According to a recent study conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), wide disparities in female workforce participation within the GCC exist, with 18.2% of women in Saudi Arabia entering the workforce compared to 50.8% in Qatar at the other end of the spectrum.

The Al-Sayedah Khadijah Bint Khawilid Center and Strategy& study suggested that senior family members and the government need to set up initiatives to improve these figures and ensure that family businesses are given the competitive edge that comes from incorporating women.

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