Tuesday, 19th September 2017 marked an extremely positive milestone for Women's Rights, and the UAE, when the Gender Balance Guide (the Guide) was launched. The Guide was stablished by the UAE Gender Balance Council, in coordination with the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Clyde & Co attended the launch of the Guide, under the auspices of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. The series of workshops held over two days by the Gender Balance Council in coordination with the OECD, aimed at enhancing, building and implementing the direction set out in the Guide.

The UAE Gender Balance Council : The UAE Gender Balance Council, the first of its kind in the world, was established in 2015 with the main objective of improving gender balance, achieving empowerment and equal participation of both men and women. It has looked at ways of reducing the gender gap across government sectors, enhancing the UAE’s ranking in global reports on gender equality and promoting gender balance in decision-making positions.

The Guide: The Guide provides user friendly guidance on the mechanisms and palpable actions which companies can put in place in order to systematically work towards achieving and embedding a culture of gender balance and parity within their organisation. The UAE has recognised gender balance as a key performance indicator in supporting Vision 2021, and achieving a cohesive society and preserved identity. As a way of measuring and monitoring gender balance, the Gender Balance Council has created Gender Balance Indicators (GBIs), which focus on measuring progress in three key areas, being; (i) women in senior leadership; (ii) women in specialised and technical fields; and (iii) building workplaces that support gender balance. In order to assist in realising these GBIs, the Guide sets out the following key areas in promoting gender balance:

  1. Commitment and oversight
  2. Integrating gender into policies and programmes
  3. Promoting gender sensitive engagement of personnel
  4. Improving gender balance in leadership
  5. Gender sensitive communication

In addition to identifying the key areas of focus, the Guide further sets out a tier level "praise" approach from which companies can measure the level of gender balance practices they currently adopt and set appropriate action plans and targets in order to progress and achieve the next level. There are three levels of praise ranging from bronze, silver to gold and quite helpfully, the tier system is incorporated into the five key focus areas highlighted above and clearly breaks down the actions and mechanisms companies must attain separately for each area in order to reach the desired tier.

Implementation: At this stage the Guide itself is not obligatory, it has been issued as an aide-mémoire to those companies in the public and private sector who require a point of reference in assisting them with the advancement and embedment of gender balance practices within their organisation. However it is understood from the Guide that the expectations identified by the GBIs will be applied to both public and private sector companies, with the implementation focus initially being on federal and local government authorities.

Prioritising the Gender Diversity Agenda: Research suggests that gender balance leads to better business results, but what steps can companies take to progress the agenda? As the Guide reinforces, there isn’t a 'one size fits all' approach employers can take, but rather, various structured initiatives and approaches can be taken in prioritising and positively enhancing gender diversity.

Gender diversity working groups have had a positive impact in encouraging employers to come together and share ideas and information relative to employee retention and recruitment practices.

Some specific initiatives we have seen companies adopting include; flexible working practices, returnship programmes, mentoring programmes, keep in touch days whilst on maternity leave and enhanced family friendly policies. Others have also sought to increase female representation and participation in middle and senior management by offering tailored coaching and additional training and mentoring, as well as having dedicated programmes in place.

The message from the Gender Balance Council is clear; gender diversity is a priority and is here to stay. Has your organisation done enough to addressed gender balance?