Follow The Leader: H.E. Shamsa Saleh, CEO, Dubai Women Establishment
17 Sep 2018
By Tamara Pupic
"Today the region is stronger than at any time before when it comes to women's empowerment and engagement in the economy, but also in fulfilling the gender gap in all aspects of life, not only in the economy."
Now that the UAE is synonymous with women’s empowerment in the Gulf region and beyond, it is of no surprise that the world’s leading policy makers choose to take part in the Arab Women Leadership Forum and the Global Women’s Forum Dubai, the flagship conferences organized by Dubai Women Establishment (DWE) to discuss how to foster women’s leadership around the globe. However, DWE CEO H.E. Shamsa Saleh recalls that, only a decade ago, she had to dispel many negative stereotypes about Arab women in countries around the world.
“The Arab Women Leadership Forum and the Global Women’s Forum Dubai are our projects with international impact,” she says. “We used to have our local forums, but with these conferences, we have brought about a new perspective, and we have succeeded in exchanging our best practices with other parts of the world. The most important thing is that we have managed to change the perception of Arab women internationally. I can recall that, when in 2007, I attended a forum in France, everybody I met there thought that we were still much behind the world, and that we were not even educated, or that we weren’t allowed to drive here, and so on. I realized that we had to bring them to Dubai and show them how women had progressed here. Furthermore, over the years, the forum has opened many business opportunities for women. We are now exploring how to bring more of these kinds of events from different parts of the world. In the next few months, we will announce these new initiatives.”
DWE was formed in 2006 under Law No. (24) by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai. Headed by H.H. Sheikha Manal Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council and wife of H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs of the UAE, DWE aims to encourage and facilitate the participation of Emirati women in the workforce and society. One of the organization’s many initiatives, the Arab Women Leadership Forum aims to particularly ensure that Emirati women pursue an aggressive growth agenda that positively impacts the UAE economy as well as the overall GCC region. Yet, H.E. Saleh points out that the success of DWE and the Arab Women Leadership Forum is just a part of the country’s lasting results.
“Today, the region is stronger than at any time before when it comes to women’s empowerment and engagement in the economy, but also in fulfilling the gender gap in all aspects of life, not only in the economy,” she says. “In the UAE specifically, about 46% of all public and private positions, and 66% of all government positions, are occupied by women. This is a good indication that women are participating in the economy. The second thing is about today’s results when it comes to women’s participation in higher positions, such as at a ministerial level, since we now have 27.5% women serving as ministers in the UAE Cabinet and 20% in the Federal Cabinet, which is one of the highest scores globally. I’d like to add that women’s participation is a must, not only for the sake of women themselves, but for the sake of society and the economy. Every economy needs women to participate. It has been proven that when women participate on a board, the efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability of that board is much higher because of the diversity of ideas, different decision-making, and so on. I’m proud to say that the UAE was the second globally, after Norway, and the first regionally to adopt a decree on women’s participation on boards. Our goal is to achieve 20% of women’s participation on boards by 2020. For that, we have a special program to educate and qualify women to be successful board members.”
H.E. Shamsa Saleh with HRH Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Image credit: Dubai Women Establishment.
DWE’s mandate includes extensive research into identifying and quantifying the status of women in the workforce of Dubai, as well as initiatives towards women’s further development opportunities. Last year, coinciding with its 10th anniversary, DWE adopted a new strategic plan for 2017-2021 which is built on four key pillars, namely Catalyst for Change, Research and Knowledge Hub, Representation and Strategic Partnerships, and Development and Capacity Building.
“When we established DWE, we first started with researching, testing and evaluating what were the needs and requirements of women in this region,” H.E. Saleh says. “One of the most important things was helping them to achieve a work-life balance. We realized that we had to start with this since many women had been struggling to manage their private and professional lives, and after that, we started our other empowerment and leadership development programs. The reason is that women can advance in their careers only when they can first take care of their homes and families. To help them with this, we have introduced many projects, such as the National Child Care Centres Project. Today, we have 14 nurseries across Dubai Government entities serving more than 1,000 women. For me, it has never been about the type of project that we are doing, but about the impact it makes on women and how we help them contribute to the economy more easily. This project is now being implemented at the national and GCC level. This is a moment of pride for us.” Another achievement, H.E. Saleh says, is the UAE’s adoption of Decree No. 14 of 2017 on maternity and childcare leave for female employees of the Dubai Government. Starting from March 1, 2017, the Decree entitles any full-time or part-time female employee in a permanent position to 90 days of maternity leave from the date of delivery.
Furthermore, the new legislation has provided working mothers two hours off a day for breastfeeding, as well as sick leave for cases of miscarriage or abortion, while mothers of children with special needs are now entitled to special care paid leave. Regarding fulfilling gender gap, H.E. Saleh believes that more can still be done in certain parts of the UAE’s economy. “We need to establish new incentives in certain sectors to encourage them to include more women,” she says. “Also, I think our next major effort will be for all of this to be applied at the regional level. The UAE will position itself as a reference for good practices when it comes to empowering women. I can say that in the UAE we have reached a stage that we can say that we are now fine, but our neighboring countries will have an impact on us, so we need to share our best practices with them as well.” H.E. Saleh began her career with DWE in 2008, rising to the position of Director of Strategic Development and Corporate Development, followed by Chief Executive Offcer in 2011. She is also the Secretary General of the UAE Gender Balance Council. Other DWE’s projects developed under her leadership are the Global Women’s Forum Dubai, Women in Boards Initiative, Women Leadership Exchange Program, and Emirates Leaders Gathering. Prior to joining DWE, she served as an executive at the Dubai International Financial Exchange and TECOM.
H.E. Shamsa Saleh, CEO, Dubai Women Establishment. Image credit: Dubai Women Establishment.
Having spent one and a half decades in leadership positions, her approach is to be goal-oriented. “I think that we need to work on changing the perceptions about women’s performance in leadership positions,” she says. “Women leaders need to do this themselves by showing evidence of their success. We are a society that leads by example, so when we see our female ministers demonstrating outstanding performance, we follow in their footsteps. So, I think that every leadership should be results-oriented and evidence-based. This should transpire down to middle and lower management. This is really important. They need to know that they are a part of the team, of one family, working towards the same goal. As soon as I achieve something, my staff will adopt that mentality. This is the main vibe in our society.”
Despite her many roles, this mother of three has set a new goal to herself- pursuing a PhD degree on women leadership in the GCC. “I set objectives for myself at a family level, work level, and even at my leisure level,” she says, as she shares her personal success strategy. “I always need to set certain objectives. Otherwise, I will not work in a systematic way. However, as soon as you have set clear objectives for yourself, you have to measure them. I will never introduce a new project without a plan on how we will measure our impact. This applies to all areas of my life, even for my kids.”