Dubai Holding shines spotlight on women leaders

Dubai Holding, a diversified global investment company with presence in over 13 countries, paid a special tribute to women leaders to mark International Women's Day.

Hosted virtually, the firm's first flagship public event, Women of Tomorrow, reaffirmed its commitment to gender equality, following the recent launch of the Dubai Holding Gender Equity Strategy and Framework.

It presented a unique opportunity for Dubai Holding’s various stakeholders, as well as a larger audience of female entrepreneurs, professionals and graduates in the UAE to engage and learn from leading women and men at Dubai Holding who shared their knowledge and expertise on some of Dubai’s leading business sectors, including hospitality, construction, asset management, and entertainment and media, through a high-level panel and sector-specific interactive breakout sessions.

During the flagship Women of Tomorrow event, Dubai Holding announced the selection of 15 senior female candidates for the Director Development Programme by Hawkamah, Middle East Institute for Corporate Governance. The programme will upskill the 15 female executives to support them in advancing into more senior management positions and leadership roles as well as becoming board ready.

Amit Kaushal, Group Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Holding, who delivered the keynote speech during the event, said: “It is a privilege for us to have this opportunity to honour and celebrate our female business leaders and colleagues whose endless contributions to our organisation, our community and society as a whole, have made the UAE what it is today. As a responsible business and key player in the socioeconomic development of the UAE, Dubai Holding believes in the sustainable and strategic value that results from the increase in female participation in the workforce. Research has consistently demonstrated that having more women in the workplace inspires productivity, and women in leadership roles greatly contribute to the enhancement of any business performance.”

Moderated by Brandy Scott, Senior Presenter at Dubai Eye 103.8, ARN, Dubai Holding Entertainment, the main panel titled Empowering Women in UAE’s Leading Sectors saw speakers from Dubai Holding discuss the opportunities and challenges for women in the private sector. Panelists included Ellen Dubois du Bellay, Chief Human Resources Officer, Jumeirah, Dubai Holding Hospitality; Khadija Al Bastaki, Executive Director, Dubai Design District, Dubai Holding Asset Management; Michelle Saywood, Vice President – Design, North25, Dubai Holding Real Estate; and Sara Stevens, Operations Head, The Green Planet, Dubai Holding Entertainment.

When asked about the challenges faced during her education and the start of her career, Khadija Al Bastaki, said: “The UAE government has always emphasised the importance of women in the social and economic fabric, taking prominent action to close the gender gap through the measures designed and implemented by the Gender Balance Council. Similarly, Dubai Holding champions the contributions of women across all its companies, continuously advancing the wider gender balance agenda through prominent policies. The Group’s leaders have indeed supported my ambitions, empowered me, recognised my achievements and provided me with this opportunity to lead the most creative and vibrant community – Dubai Design District (d3).”

During the session, Ellen Dubois du Bellay highlighted the importance of blind recruitment policies, which have recently been adopted by Dubai Holding. “Blind recruitment allows you to focus on the person’s skills and their resume versus their gender, age, nationality or the way they look. We all have biases, and you can try to control it – but you still have it. And when you take away these biases, you get a more level playing field,” she said.

The panelists also discussed the importance of mentorship and training to women’s career development, and advised them to embrace their passion, build their confidence and resilience and to seek companies that have a gender equality agenda.

Following the high-level panel discussion were four break-out sessions running in parallel – Women in Hospitality; Women in Construction; Women in Asset Management; and Women in Entertainment and Media – each of which allowed for deeper sector-specific discussions and learnings.

Women in Hospitality

This break-out session was run by Dubai Holding Hospitality members Jaime Emiley Simpson, General Manager at Jumeirah Mina A’Salam; and Dalia Alkhrisat, Project Director at Jumeirah. The session also showcased a video about women involvement in the sector.

Jaime Emiley Simpson said: “One of the key challenges for women in the hospitality industry is the lack of flexibility, which for working mothers can be especially restrictive. But the situation is definitely improving with the increased adoption of gender-conscious measures, and through the unparalleled support of countries like the UAE and organisations like Dubai Holding. There were only countable women working in the industry few years ago, and today I am pleased to see many women in top-level positions achieving great results.”

Women in Construction

This break-out session was run by members of Dubai Holding Real Estate. It was moderated by Alexander Davies, Chief Commercial Officer, and the panelists were Mariam Juma, Chief Operating Officer; and Peggy Lee, Director Estimation – North25.

When asked about the importance of diversity in the construction sector, panelist Peggy Lee said: “Absolutely, and diversity of workforce in a sense not only limited to gender but also applicable to ethnic origin as well as cultural and educational background, which is fundamental to create an inclusive environment within an organisation that facilitates knowledge exchange and unlocks opportunities. The idea of the construction industry being male dominated has undergone phenomenal change over the past few years. In the next decade I am confident that women in construction will no longer be a point of discussion as it will be the norm.”

Women in Asset Management

This break-out session was run by members of Dubai Holding Asset Management. It was moderated by Mahmoud Fansa, Head of PR and Communications, and the panelists were Haif Zamzam, Executive Director – Business and Corporate Strategy; and Hanan Huwair, Executive Director – Business Technology, Group IT.

Haif Zamzam and Hanan Huwair highlighted the importance of having policies in place to support diversity and women inclusion. “In an ideal world, you would not need policies to have diverse teams, but for the time being policies help. Research showed that diversity equals a happier workforce and more diverse teams perform better, and once companies see these benefits, it will become standard practice,” Haif Zamzam said.

The speakers noted that Dubai Holding also supports women in the community through their assets such as in5, an entrepreneurship incubator. Zamzam noted that one out of every four startups at in5 is women-led. in5 also has multiple programmes that support women entrepreneurs and provides them with a platform to pitch to investors for funding. 

Women in Entertainment and Media

This break-out session was run by members of Dubai Holding Entertainment. It was moderated by Kris Fade, Senior Presenter, Virgin 104.4, ARN, and the panelists were Priti Malik, Senior Presenter, Virgin 104.4, ARN; and Jaki Ellenby, Executive Director – Marketing, Global Village.

Speaking about the implementation of the Group’s gender equity strategy, Jaki Ellenby, said: “We are committing to having 30% women entrepreneurial partners by Global Village’s Season 30 and will be working with ARN’s Dubai Eye to start a women’s entrepreneurial club. This is one of the concrete steps we are taking to not just say that we’re supporting women but to actually make a difference in the lives of women by helping them set up their own businesses.”

She added, “What is really amazing about what Dubai Holding is doing right now is that there is a group of really strong women behind the scenes that are implementing this strategy – it is pragmatic and real, it is not rhetoric and words.”

Women of Tomorrow forms one of the many gender equality initiatives that Dubai Holding has deployed as part of the recently launched strategic Gender Equity and Inclusion Framework. The flagship Groupwide virtual event is part of the REACH Programme, which aims to promote gender-conscious stakeholder engagement, partnerships, products and services.

Dubai Holding will continue to roll out more gender equality initiatives across its companies in the upcoming months to drive the implementation of the framework.

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