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24 March 2010

On crowns, inclusion, and women in the Middle East

Grüß Gott!


I’ve just returned from Vienna, where I had the opportunity to view the thousand-year-old Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.  I’m not big on jewellery, but I AM big on military history (thus shattering every feminine stereotype – hey, I do my part) and this artefact, while recognizably a crown, is more of a map, a bible, and an edifice, so intricate is its construction, and so symbolic its meaning.




Why am I telling you this?  Stick with me for a few paragraphs while I try to extrapolate a wee bit of Diversity & Inclusion “history” to what PwC Middle East has done to empower its women.


The Holy Roman Empire is sometimes referenced as a well-balanced system which organized a multitude of independent states, languages, religious dominations, and different forms of government leading to great cultural diversification and thus, prosperity over a long period (about 1000 years).  In other words, it could be said that the HRE exemplifies Diversity & Inclusion.  The jargon may be new, but the concept is old as time. 


And at the other end of the spectrum?  Let’s take Thirteenth and Fourteenth century Florence and Venice – financial powerhouses, the London and New York of their day (today, financial relics, though aesthetic masterpieces).  The direst global financial collapse in history originated solely from a tight-knit group of bankers, clerics, kings, and emperors.  The crash caused the worst onslaught of death and depopulation in history – a worldwide decline of almost twenty-five percent.  The elite cohort that was responsible for this?  Categorically NOT a diverse set of individuals by any stretch of the imagination, and about exclusive as you can get.  (You can’t help but hear echoes of that oft-heard witticism: “if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers & Sisters….”)


At least in part, the particular financial crisis that jettisoned Florence and Venice from the global financial scene was caused by King Edward II and III of England defaulting on loans made by the Bardi, Peruzzi, and Acciaiuoli international banks (Fourteenth-century England was a “Third World country” to the Italian principalities).  So what changed? 


Let’s fast forward a few centuries.  In 1689, the English Parliament passed the Act of Toleration, making it a haven for those persecuted for their religious beliefs elsewhere.  Twenty years later, England united with Scotland and Wales.  With shocking rapidity, Jews founded the London Stock Exchange, almost singlehandedly making London the world’s new financial center.  Scots became the chief empire builders, the driving force in the industrial revolution as well as an intellectual bastion thanks to the likes of David Hume and Adam Smith.  Britain’s most powerful financial institution – The Bank of England – was conceived by a Scot and funded by Huguenots, with Jews brokering its biggest loans.  Et voila – a superpower emerged.


Ah, Diversity & Inclusion.  It sounds – even with my admittedly active imagination – like it has a strong correlation with economic vibrancy and innovation.  Coming back to last week’s Vienna trip, where I attended the World Diversity Leadership Summit, the U.S. Ambassador to Austria told us that:

“Exclusion is a recipe for social stagnation and economic inertia.”

Yes – so history seems to tell us, both ancient and modern.  I don’t pretend that these highly complex and multi-faceted examples tell the whole story, but they DO purport a strong argument for inclusion as an economic catalyst, and exclusion as economic poison.  Whether we’re talking about the exclusion of women or any other demographic group, this is a powerful and timely message in today’s business world.


The Middle East Region is one area of the globe where exclusion – notably the gap between the rights of men and women – has been most visible and severe; it is also a place where a very high degree of improvement has been made within a very short period of time.  In 2005, women in Kuwait received the same political rights as men; Bahrain and the UAE have appointed their first female judges.  Women have gained more freedom to travel independently and to participate in public life. 


In the spirit of these very positive strides, I want to share with you how PwC Middle East celebrated International Women’s Day.  My colleagues Lynda McCalman and Zina Janabi tell us below how they’ve used IWD as a platform to launch an exciting new gender initiative to galvanize business via female empowerment. 


“March 8, 2010 marked the 99th International Women’s Day, on which women's economic, political and social achievements were celebrated around the world.  The theme for the 2010 International Women's Day was 'Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities:  Progress For All'.  In the spirit of International Women's Day, PwC Middle East announced the launch of its Women in Business (WIB) initiative.  The goal is to attract, develop and retain women in the Middle East as PwC views women as a critical talent group to enable the firm to continue its growth in the marketplace and to deliver the best in client solutions. 


PwC Partner Lynda McCalman and PwC Senior Manager Zina Janabi are co-leading this effort across the Middle East region.


Lynda  Zina_Janabi

The approach is to drive activities through connecting with the following four groups:

  1. Women to (other PwC) Women – Internal Focus;
  2. Women to (PwC) Leadership – Internal Focus;
  3. Women to Clients (current and future) – External Focus; and
  4. Women to Community – Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Globally, women face a number of challenges which impact their success in the workplace. In the Middle East there is a diverse international women community facing similar challenges. The Middle East WIB initiative was established to address these challenges, some of which include:

  • Gender-based stereotyping;
  • Preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities;
  • Exclusion from informal networks;
  • Lack of role models and mentoring;
  • Commitment to personal and family responsibilities;
  • Failure of leadership to assume accountability for women’s advancement; and
  • Ethnicity issues and HR policies.

A recent report, done by PwC on behalf of the Dubai Women Establishment, stated that nothing propels women to leadership roles more than their passion, focus and sheer determination. Their passion is not just about their career path but is brought to bear in other parts of their life, including the desire to encourage the next generation of women to strive for success. In the last few years, a significant number of women in the Middle East have reached positions of influence in business, politics, civil society, academia and the media. As a result of their success, they have not only been able to impact the industries in which they work, but have also had an important impact on the Middle East region as a whole.


Today’s successful Middle East women leaders are working in government, finance, manufacturing, and some are true entrepreneurs who have started their own companies. It is a testament to their achievements that some of these women are now becoming part of the exclusive – and previously elusive – lists in prestigious publications, including Forbes International, Forbes Arabia and Arabian Business. It is clear that women leaders in the Middle East are becoming more visible and their influence is felt across many sectors of business, despite the fact that they continue to represent a small minority in society. Yet this minority increasingly punches above its weight, and these women leaders act as role models and agents for change in the Middle East. 


We look forward to PwC Middle East contributing to the network on women in business initiatives.  Please feel free to contact Lynda McCalman or Zina Janabi with any questions.”





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My friend is the major bread winner in our family. She is currently the operations director for a large leisure company and in negotiations with a leisure company in Dubai to become a managin director with them. As part of our research on a number of company website, we have not been able to find profiles of women in senior positions. My friend's aspirations are to become a board member/chairman in the the next five years. I read on a recent post that the fact you are a women should make any diference as to how you progress through your career, but is this really the case. Are there any senior women in companies in Dubai? Will the fact she is a women stop her being really succesful in Dubai?

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