Insights – Allyship for Women

Why were four men on a panel discussing women’s issues? Men, who believe that having women in leadership position is a business and moral imperative had a brave conversation at Capital Club Dubai, with other men allies who believe that they need to use their influence, knowledge, and resources to support women.
Moderated by Gregory Jasmin (GJ), Founder & Managing Director, X2X Group, and member of the Women in Business Committee. The guest speakers were Emmanuel Laurina (EL), Head of MEA, State Street Global Advisors, William Reichert (WR), Partner, Charles Russell, Speechlys, LLP, and Joe Lebrato (JL), VP, Agility Logistics.
GL: What does allyship mean to you?
EL: I think driving change needs vision from the top leadership, but you also need allies from within the firm at all levels to support and to drive that change. Most industries are still male dominated, which is why you actually need male allies in corporations to drive change. Women are allies by definition because they’re fighting for the cause, but you also need men to rally around the cause, simply because there are more men than women in leadership positions.
WR: We don’t need more women involved to try to make changes for women. We need more men to talk about this and look at the many different forms of unconscious bias.
GJ: What does it mean to have a level playing field when it comes to gender equity in the workplace?
EL: From the government side, regulations are important. And from the private sector, companies should have targets for having women in leadership positions. The 30% Club along with McKinsey have designed best practices tools that can help companies implement these targets to drive change. For example, look at your hiring practices and how you advertise for roles, and there is software available to screen for gender biased words. When we work with headhunters, we make sure that both the slate and interviewing panel is diverse and then the best candidate wins – woman or man is not relevant anymore, because we’ve made sure that we had diversity and inclusion embedded in the hiring process first. The final decision is down to skills and fit. These are powerful controls and hiring managers are able to see talent that they did not see before.
WR: Another way to help level the playing field is through investors who are now demanding for ESG reporting and thereby companies are forced to make sure that there is a sound diversity and inclusion strategy and a diverse workforce.
JL: I’m in the technology, construction and real estate industry and we are making a conscious effort to hire more women. However, it’s been frustrating because the pool of candidates is small. We are going further afield to find more women, including internships for young women.


GJ: How can mentorship, sponsorship and allyship help?
JL: Networking is important here, and it’s important for men leaders to put the word out that they are willing to mentor and sponsor, and for women to actively seek this rather than waiting for opportunities to come to them.
WR: It is the responsibility of all senior leaders, men and women, to help the next generation advance in their career.
GJ: The evidence shows that women face more barriers than men in securing mentors. There’s a case to be made for senior leaders to intentionally play a role in mentoring women. What are your thoughts?
EL: I was actually fortunate to be a mentor on the Reach platform in Dubai, which is an initiative that was co-founded by Farah Foustok, CEO, Lazard Asset Management. The idea is to provide a formalized one-year mentoring programme to female executives in the region, and the mentors can be men or women, but the mentees are all women. One of my own learnings through this is related to maternity leave. When you look at what the law says, it’s not enough. We need to do better and be more competitive because it is one of the criteria that will encourage women to join your firm.
As a mentor the process was a revelation for me, and it was shocking to learn that women working for top-tier global companies with office in the region, are being effectively bullied and treated as lesser because they’re women or not the right nationality. That is unacceptable. How do you change that?
WR: Regarding maternity leave, it should actually be parental leave. I decided to take a year off and raise my son and it was a wonderful experience. Definitely the hardest job I’ve ever had, the most fulfilling job. Imagine if we had a policy, of six months to one year of shared parental leave that is taken equally by the father and mother. That would level the playing field, and it is a great opportunity for the men, and they would learn empathy. I really would like to see more countries learn and adopt this from the Scandinavian nations
GJ: What is your perspective on the mentoring model? How can we change or adjust that to make it more inclusive to be able to mentor a woman?
JL: It is important to have a conversation around the whole person, and not just their professional life. It was a good place to start for many of my mentees, and it allowed us to have conversations about non-career-oriented things. I couldn’t imagine asking a mentee to meet over drinks, it would be uncomfortable for me.
EL: We have expanded the narrative beyond gender diversity to effectively include all forms of diversity – ethnic, people with disabilities, cognitive diversity, etc. Our mentoring programmes are conducted virtually, and typically we pair a mentor with a mentee from different divisions, different business lines, potentially even different countries.
Another function of the mentoring programmes within the corporate environment is to provide visibility. For example, when I have a meeting with my board of directors in London, my mentee can present on my behalf to get exposure to the senior management committee, introductions and opportunities to be involved in different projects.
Audience 1: How do we get women into senior leadership? What commitment do you make to actually influence another male leader to follow your lead and your best practices?


EL: There is research from the World Bank that claims that if we manage to close the gender gap entirely in the MENA region, we can add US$2.7 trillion to the economy by 2025. Furthermore, over 70% of university graduates in the UAE and over 57% of graduates in Saudi Arabia are women.
In 2018, we looked at about 172 blue chip companies in the GCC, and 95% of the companies in Abu Dhabi and 70% in Dubai had no women directors on their board. Today, this statistic has gone down to 58% and 57% respectively. Saudi Arabia went from 96% to 80%; Bahrain from 60% to 30%. This shows progress, and this has been driven by the public sector. The onus now is on the private sector and follow suit, and more men and women need to be role models, both in the corporate world as well as civil society.
Audience 2: How can we educate the SME culture regarding women in leadership?
EL: The recruitment industry has a role to play in purposefully making sure that there the slate is diverse enough. On another point, the expectancy is that the companies founded and run by millennials and the next generation will tend to be less biased in general. Furthermore, SMEs are smaller and therefore nimbler compared to the big corporates with tens of thousands of employees, where it takes years to drive change.
Audience 3: How do you mature the VC sector to invest in women founders, who find it much more difficult to acquire funding. Secondly, do you have any recommendations for regulators? And finally, what would be your message to the CEOs?
WR: The venture capital ecosystem here is still small and immature, but it’s growing quickly. There are some talented women leading the change. I would say to the CEO to look at data and understand the link between diversity and profits and attracting investments.
EL: As an investment management firm, we look at what the company has embedded as their core value of their business. Our belief is that a company that is well run, diverse, transparent, and sustainable, will outperform its peers in the long run. Part of our mission is to convince our portfolio companies that they should align to these objectives, because they will outperform their peers in the industry.
Whenever we visit clients, all we hear about is, “How can you help us become ESG compliant?” We’re being approached by even development funds and public funds in Saudi Arabia, and they are asking us to help them build their ESG governance framework. Companies need to understand that disclosure and mitigation are very important. And at the moment there is still a major gap in terms of disclosures.