November 06, 2022
The two-year pandemic has shifted the global macroeconomic landscape. Countries and organizations worldwide are looking for ways to tackle the new challenges born of this shift and turn them into opportunities for viable, sustained growth. This opportunity is where diversity and inclusion come in.
Decision makers in public and private spheres can no longer afford to look at D&I as a feel-good cliche to keep their stakeholders happy and tick it off the environment, social and governance checklist. Instead, it must be treated as an essential core value that cascades down to the entire organization to unlock sustainable growth.
Sound D&I practices have opened new horizons for qualified women to participate in developing strategies and policies that contribute to national prosperity. Increasingly, stories of visionary leadership by women echo throughout our part of the world.
For example, Dr. Yasmine Fouad, minister of environment of the Arab Republic of Egypt, oversees Egypt’s transformational environmental actions, including issuing the Middle East and North African region’s first sovereign green bond of $750 million and the successful bid to host the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt.
In the UAE, Mariam Almheiri, the UAE minister of climate change and environment, is spearheading the country’s critical National Food Security Strategy and the UAE Net Zero 2050 initiatives worth UAE 600 billion dirhams ($163.35 billion). The UAE has also bagged the bid to host the UN Climate Change Conference in 2023.
Sarah Al-Suhaimi, the chairperson of the Saudi Stock Exchange, also known as Tadawul, has led the region’s largest exchange through sustained expansion with several significant listings, including Saudi Arabian Oil Co. hitting a market cap of $2.2 trillion on July 1. And the list goes on.
Women drive macroeconomic success
In our region, whether at home or work, women wield significant influence, directly feeding into the national gross domestic product. Many are familiar with the oft-cited statistic that women drive from 70-80 percent of household spending decisions, a crucial macroeconomic factor.
Research by the International Monetary Fund suggests that a gender-diverse workforce has a similar positive effect on GDP, as diverse boards can bring in various perspectives, backgrounds and experiences that can be critical to an organization’s growth.
Moreover, the cost of ignoring D&I is staggering. A recent study by PwC Middle East indicated that the MENA region loses a whopping $575 billion annually due to legal and social barriers that hinder women’s access to jobs.
Analysis from the Center for Inclusive Business and Leadership for Women in the Middle East further substantiates claims of women’s representation in the workforce. Its study, which advances inclusive employer practices, policies and national strategies for women’s participation at the organizational and national levels in the MENA region, suggests that a gender-balanced workforce could grow its GDP by up to 40 percent.
Diversity does the impossible
Such a significant uptick in GDP would be welcome news as our region collectively sets out to meet the challenges of the unprecedented uncertainty surrounding today’s markets, and D&I delivers the fresh perspectives we need.
Moreover, institutional investors and boardrooms are increasingly looking to partner with responsible companies that adopt robust ESG protocols incorporating D&I to reduce organizational risk as a basis for sustainable future progress.
This preference is one significant reason why bringing D&I to boardrooms and policymaking is more crucial than ever. It helps set the global economy on a new growth trajectory and brings organizational success.
In the energy industry, where the current market conditions have sparked a more rigorous debate on ESG policies, sustainable growth is key to ensuring the long-term success of organizations.
Investors understand that ESG investments are not a trade-off between a sustainable future and profit; ESG spending is not a cost but an investment. And it pays off.
Entities that focus on responsible ESG practices, such as inclusive policymaking seats for women and more diverse boardrooms, are more likely to produce successful business models for their stakeholders. In addition, women’s voices and perspectives are essential in building policy responses to global challenges and securing better social and economic outcomes.
Sustainable by design
Those outcomes include the environment. With the UN climate change conferences in the MENA region, we have a new opportunity to place women right at the heart of policy discussion and development.
While success stories of women in the MENA region’s policymaking have established their crucial role in the region’s sustainable development, we need to continue building on our existing frameworks to accelerate the region’s growth and leverage its untapped potential.
The way to unlock this potential is explored by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which provides several actions that can be taken to foster synergies between gender equality and energy goals. They include the representation of women within local, national and international decision-making bodies and in the energy industry at all policymaking stages.
For our region and the natural world, the UN climate change conferences are milestones that allow us to put women front and center in policy development. In addition, they are a catalyst for building upon the considerable progress already made in putting women into senior board-level positions in our region.
We hope such events can provide the impetus needed to increase D&I in policymaking and boardrooms to unlock sustainable growth for the region. It’s time to get serious about D&I.
* Raeda Al-Sarayreh, director, corporate communications and outreach, Arab Petroleum Investments Corp.