INVEST + INNOVATION
Influential women can make a transformative difference in a company, industry or even a nation. When women are leaders, they are more likely to contribute to education, health and community development programs in the areas where they work and live, according to Mercer's "When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive" report.
Despite the positive benefits women leaders bring to businesses and communities, female decision-makers remain difficult to find in leading financial firms around the world. Women are also significantly underrepresented on the leadership teams of companies that receive investment capital. A new report from Oliver Wyman (part of MMC group of companies) shows that globally, women hold 20% of positions in executive committees and 23% on boards, but only 6% of CEOs in financial institutions are women.
However, in the Middle East — traditionally one of the most challenging regions for female leaders to scale — women are gradually being named to leadership positions in the region's financial sector.1 As women make their mark in Middle Eastern finance and, in turn, their communities and region, business leaders around the world should take notice.
Women Leaders in Middle East Finance
The growing number of influential women in Middle Eastern finance includes those working in banks, investment firms, financial law and consulting companies.1 For instance, in September 2018, Ms. Rola Abu Manneh was named CEO of Standard Chartered UAE, becoming the first Emirati woman to lead a bank in the UAE. With a long experience in UAE banking, Ms. Abu Manneh has the knowledge and leadership competencies to bring important business to her bank. In her first year as CEO, she has already advised Dubai-based Emaar Properties on the sale of its hotels to Abu Dhabi National Hotels.2
Ms. Rania Nashar is another great example — she is the first female CEO of Saudi commercial bank, Samba Financial Group, one of the largest in the region. Ms. Nashar has over 20 years of experience in the commercial banking sector and was named CEO in 2017, becoming the first female CEO of a listed Saudi Arabian bank.3 That was also a moment when Saudi Arabia began implementing reforms to promote gender equality as part of the KSA's Vision 2030, and Ms. Nashar says she wants to continue doing more.
"I have to not only prove to myself that a bank of Samba's size can be run by a female CEO — and can achieve the best results in its history — I have to prove it for all the women in Saudi Arabia and in the world," Ms. Nashar notes. "I hope that I can be an honourable portrait for Saudi women."4
Ms. Lubna Olayan is also an influential leader in Saudi Arabia. For more than 30 years, she was the CEO of Olayan Financing Company, the holding company through which The Olayan Group's trading, real estate, investment, consumer and industrial-related operations are conducted in the Gulf region. She has received numerous awards and recognition, including landing in Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world, Fortune's list of Most Powerful Women and recognized as a champion of women's economic empowerment.5
Why Gender-Balanced Leadership Matters
Women leaders such as these are helping to advance and make a shift in the gender balance in the region's financial sector. While they represent progress, there is still much to be done. Governments are working to increase the gender balance but transforming the mindsets of business leaders and overcoming bias is a slow process.
However, it's a process worth pursuing. For organizations and nations that are facing workforce challenges, an underutilized female workforce represents a strategic opportunity to compete, grow and win, helping to transform the entire economy.
According to Mercer's "When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive" report, women's essential roles as providers, caretakers, decision-makers and consumers make them instrumental in the education and health of future generations, as well as the development of their communities. Women leaders can also be instrumental in building stronger and more collaborative teams; retaining, developing and nurturing talent; and bringing a diverse and new perspective for organizations.
In fact, the Mercer report also shows that increased participation from women in the workforce has implications for the economic and social development of communities and nations. Economists have calculated that eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could significantly boost gross domestic product by 5% in the United States, 9% in Japan, 12% in the United Arab Emirates and 34% in Europe.
Achieving Gender Equity in Underrepresented Sectors
Finding the right approach for sourcing and engaging female talent depends on the individual company's culture and needs, but there are some broad strategies that may be effective globally. Mercer research shows that the chief building blocks for achieving gender diversity are health, financial well-being and talent management elements.
Health concerns are of special significance to the female population, as women are affected by different health issues and illnesses than men, and they experience and use the healthcare system in different ways than men.
For example, there are gender specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women, affecting their capacity to be productive at work. Unipolar depression, a leading factor of working disability, is twice as common in women than in men.6
To achieve gender equity in business, companies must make healthcare available to women in the ways they most need, including:
1. Flexibility for maternity leave
2. Physical health, wellness and mental health support
3. More autonomy and access to health resources
4. Psychological support for severe life events
5. Confidential medical support dedicated for women
2. Financial Well-being
Women reportedly have greater financial responsibility and greater financial stress than men. According to a 2018 study conducted by Prudential, the average woman has saved less for retirement compared to the average man. Only 54% of women have put aside money for retirement, and on average, they have saved $115,412. By contract, 61% of men have saved for retirement, and on average, they have saved $202,859. This greatly increases the likelihood of a woman living in poverty in retirement and is exacerbated by women's longer life expectancies.7
To address this, organizations need to ensure that women receive fair financial compensation, greater coaching and educational support in planning for their financial futures, tailored retirement options for women, and encouragement for systematic and regular contributions to savings and retirement accounts.
3. Talent Management
Women need opportunities for advancement, as well as training and development opportunities. In addition, they also need flexible work options that make it possible for them to fulfill other essential roles outside of work.
Attention to management positions are critical to further improve the gender participation in executive levels. These jobs are usually high demanding in working hours, requiring management of teams, clients and superiors. For women who achieve such positions, it may also coincide with motherhood period, making it even more challenging if companies do not provide adequate working arrangements — such as flexible working options leveraging technology, childcare support, mentoring and leadership support for women, business resource groups and diversity and inclusion efforts and training.
Women in the workforce have an undeniable power to make meaningful contributions and expand businesses. When financial institutions and governments begin to focus on the strategies required to get talented women working and leading, they will begin to see positive results. Not only can influential women bring business acumen to help grow organizations, but their roles in societies also enable them to make significant improvements in education, communities and the transformation of countries.
1. "The 50 Most Influential Women in Middle East Finance," Financial News, 29 Apr. 2019, https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/the-50-most-influential-women-in-middle-east-finance-20190429.
2. "FN 50 Middle East Women 2019," Financial News, 2019,https://lists.fnlondon.com/fn50/women_in_finance_/2019/?mod=lists-profile.
3. "Rania Nashar," Forbes, 2018,https://www.forbes.com/profile/rania-nashar/#20d8136e473c.
4. Masige, Sharon. "Raising the Bar: Rania Nashar," The CEO Magazine, 27 Jun. 2019,https://www.theceomagazine.com/executive-interviews/finance-banking/rania-nashar/
5. "Lubna Olayan Retires as CEO of Olayan Financing Co.; Jonathan Franklin Named New CEO," Olayan, 29 Apr. 2019, https://olayan.com/lubna-olayan-retires-ceo-olayan-financing-co-jonathan-franklin-named-new-ceo.
6. "Gender and Women's Mental Health: The Facts," World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/genderwomen/en/#:~:targetText=Unipolar%20depression%2C%20predicted%20to%20be,persistent%20in%20women%20than%20men.
7. "The Cut: Exploring Financial Wellness Within Diverse Populations," Prudential, 2018, http://news.prudential.com/content/1209/files/PrudentialTheCutExploringFinancialWellnessWithinDiversePopulations.pdf.
Benefits have traditionally been provided on a "one-size-fits-all" model, meaning some employees gain greater value than others. Today, employees increasingly expect more personalized benefits that allow them to flex and utilize benefits depending on their particular needs and life stage. This allows employees to feel they are being treated equally, independent of circumstances (i.e., single or married).
It's time to break the mold with a "non-traditional" approach that may include well-being incentives, opt-in/out insurance coverage and a design that allows individuals to claim parents' expenses or pet care expenses. Forward-thinking companies are on this journey already, but many aren't, as HR departments overestimate employee's satisfaction with the status quo. Why? They're afraid to ask. The risk of not asking can result in investing valuable budget on unused or underutilized benefits.
Get to Know Your Employees Better
Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. Gather feedback through engagement "spot" surveys or focus groups on what employees like and dislike in current offerings or what else would be beneficial. While it may be impossible to implement everything, it's a great opportunity to engage.
Employees may not know what they need. Use data analytics to better understand what types of benefits (especially health) are being used the most and what's essential.
Are people reporting that they want more well-being incentives, yet no one is taking advantage of your discounted gym membership offering? By combining qualitative and quantitative data, you can identify gaps. Sometimes, that gap is not on the offer itself but rather the communication around it.
Communication Is Key
We often hear from HR, "Our employees have good knowledge of their benefits; we communicate them every year." This is not enough.
Effective communication is key. Employees are time-poor with little patience for reviewing the fine print of policies. Why not get feedback on their preferred channels of communication? Find simple ways to communicate regularly, focusing on different benefit offerings. This can include infographics, interactive landing pages, videos or simply shorter, bite-sized information.
Don't forget to tell employees why certain benefits are important — they don't always know!
Flexible Doesn't Always Equate to $$$
Providing personalized benefits can be costly, but it doesn't have to be. It's about taking your current budget and creatively investing in employees in a way that resonates. Another benefit is confidence in knowing your investment is being used.
Companies who invest the time in designing benefits that resonate with employees — throwing out the traditional approach by embracing new ways of more personalized thinking — will see a greater return on investment and a happier, more engaged workforce.
For many decades, Saudi Arabia — as a nation, culture and economic force — has been inextricably tied to oil exports and the energy industry. However, a bold new vision, named Saudi Vision 2030, aims to wean the country off its dependencies on fossil fuels through the creation of sweeping new reforms and policies. This vision looks to modernize Saudi Arabia, both as a domestic society and a global financial powerhouse.
The Power of Embracing Change
In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud led the unveiling of the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative, which detailed the nation's unprecedented and extraordinary commitment to emerge as a leader in a rapidly evolving world. As oil prices continue to react to new economic realities and regional political forces shape the roles and objectives of nations throughout the Middle East, Saudi Arabia's decision to proactively embrace change could have extraordinary foreign and domestic ramifications.
With a population of more than 33.4 million people and a median age of 25, Saudi Arabia faces a future filled with significant challenges and opportunities.1 Saudi Vision 2030 is a road map for how the nation will empower its millions of young citizens to work and thrive in a globalized world that increasingly views petroleum as an outdated and harmful source of energy. A shift in long-established revenue resources and economic paradigms requires a fundamental shift in local workforce skill sets and proficiencies with modern technologies.
As other nations are slow to adjust to climate change and other geo-economic shifts, Saudi Arabia is poised to exemplify to the rest of the world how governments can leverage policy reform to enhance the lives of people both inside and outside the country's borders.2
Accommodating a Complex Global Economy
Saudi Vision 2030 will have a profound impact on rapidly growing economies, such as India, that seek to leverage digital transformation while implementing innovative domestic and workforce policies.
In fact, the fate of Saudi Arabia and India are becoming increasingly intertwined, as India — unlike many western economies — requires more oil to empower its robust economic rise. Industrialized markets, in areas such as Europe and the United States, are seeking greener alternatives and more electric vehicles for transportation demands, but India remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels. By 2040, India will need to process up to 10 million barrels of crude oil every day to support its expanding economy and progressively urbanized populations.3
Saudi Arabia, a nation that already has a few notable government policies elevating the standard of living for its citizens (such as offering free college education to all citizens), is further internationalizing its economy by prioritizing privatization. The 2030 plan encourages financial institutions to promote private sector growth, marking a significant development in how the country is aligning its domestic workforces to compete in a globalized economy. The focus on increasing privatization and other non-oil industries — such as construction, finance, healthcare, retail and religious tourism — will create new opportunities for Saudi businesses and entrepreneurs.4
Creating a Future Through Indigenous Resources
Saudi Vision 2030 addresses many of the local, cultural challenges facing the nation, such as the role of women in the workforce and society, the impact of digital transformation and automation, and the need to modernize the sensibilities of Saudi businesses. Allowing women to drive and granting them greater access to economic prosperity — with the goal of increasing women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% — has generated positive responses with global investors. The 2030 plan also prioritizes domestic issues and the overall health of its citizens, with the stated objective of raising the average life expectancy from 74 to 80 years and aggressively promoting daily exercise and healthier lifestyles for all Saudi citizens.5
The Saudi government also seeks to bring its society into the digital age by implementing more e-government services that will connect citizens to resources through smartphones, data-centric operations and other technologies. This push will also drive human capital out of government jobs and into the private sector. According to the Mercer Global Talent Trends 2019 report, companies in countries such as India, Brazil, and Japan will experience a 70% increase in automation, boosting their need — like Saudi Arabia — to find new roles and professional development opportunities for workers.
The 2030 plan offers an ambitious vision for the nation's indigenous resources. Empowering women and integrating modern technologies throughout its economy and government are just part of this comprehensive strategy. By inviting the global economy to invest in its progressive financial mechanisms and bolster tourism through campaigns highlighting the nation's history, Saudi Arabia is poised to lead its people, and the world, into a future forever defined by a new, modern view of the future. Will it work? The world will know in 2030.
1. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "Saudi Census: The Total Population." General Authority for Statistics, Accessed 11 July 2019,<a
2. Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. "Vision 2030." Vision 2030, 9 May. 2019,<a
3. Critchlow, Andrew. "India is too important for oil titan Saudi to ignore." S&P Global Platts, 6 Mar. 2019,<a
4. Nuruzzaman, Mohammed. "Saudi Arabia's 'Vision 2030': Will It Save Or Sink the Middle East?" E-International Relations, 10 Jul. 2018,<a
5. "Saudi Arabia Vision — Goals and Objectives." GO-Gulf, 14 Jul. 2016,https://www.go-gulf.com/blog/saudi-arabia-vision-2030/.
Feeling stressed by your management responsibilities? If so, you're not alone. In our latest norms, we found that just 67% of leaders and managers think the level of stress they experience at work is manageable; the other third was unsure or overwhelmed. A similar percentage said they struggle to maintain work-life balance. Just half of leaders and managers feel they have enough time to do a quality job, and only 48% feel they can detach from work. These results suggest that anywhere from a third to a half of leaders and managers are struggling to cope with the challenges of their job.
When confronted with statistics like these, some just shrug and sigh: "Stress is part of the job, isn't it?" Based on a growing body of research, that's a dangerously defeatist perspective. Aside from the health risks associated with stress, there are a number of dysfunctional workplace dynamics that can emerge when leaders feel rundown, exhausted or emotionally drained.
Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., for example, has found that negative emotions can trap people in a flight, fight or freeze mindset that limits their ability to think creatively and develop innovative solutions. Janne Skakon and colleagues1 have found that the way leaders cope with their stress trickles down, impacting their employees' own work experience and stress levels. And at Mercer|Sirota, we've found that overwhelmed managers are significantly less likely to recognize and praise their direct reports.
If you're chronically stressed at work, it's time to stop buying into the myth that leaders and managers must be selfless martyrs. You're putting your own health and well-being, along with your team's effectiveness and engagement, at risk. Instead of working yourself to exhaustion, start developing a self-care strategy to manage the demands of your job. Here are four steps to consider:
1. Recognize the Warning Signs
Burnout — a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion often accompanied by self-doubt and cynicism — is a serious issue. Researchers have found prolonged periods of burnout can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, high cholesterol, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Burnout can manifest itself in a number of ways, including increased irritability, decreased motivation, changes in eating or sleeping habits, or unexplainable aches and pains.
2. Rest and Recover
If you find you are experiencing burnout, you need to take immediate steps to get help. Start by telling someone what you are experiencing. Tell your boss, an HR business partner or a colleague. If you don't feel comfortable telling someone at work, then (a) realize you may be working in a toxic organization2 that is not healthy for you and (b) be sure to tell your family, friends or your doctor. If you remain silent, your exhaustion could lead to isolation and compound your problems.
After you have shared your concerns, start finding ways to detach from work. Stop checking email the moment you wake up. Skip unnecessary meetings. Lighten your load. Take a mental health day. If you can reduce your hours or take a vacation, do so. Find ways to rest and reset so you can recover.
3. Reflect and Reorient
After you've gained some distance from your experience, it's time to start identifying the factors that led to your burnout. Start by reflecting on the timeline of events. When did your stress levels first start to rise? What was going on at work? Outside of work? Have you had this experience before, or is this the first time you've experienced burnout?
Next, reflect on the nature of your stress. As you've probably heard, stress is not always bad. Researchers have found that challenge stress — the stress associated with achieving an important goal — is positively related to job satisfaction. Hindrance stress — the stress associated with barriers that prevent us from getting work done — is negatively related with job satisfaction. If you've had a burnout experience, you've probably been dealing with a lot of hindrance stress. With that in mind, think about the way work gets done in your organization. Some experts argue that burnout is the result of working in a dysfunctional organization.
Finally, consider your own personality, values and attitudes toward work, your organization and your job. Researchers have found that people with certain personality traits are more prone to burnout.3 Through these reflections, your goal is to learn from your experience and gain insights that will prevent future episodes of burnout.
4. Rebuild a More Resilient You
If you have gone through burnout, the good news is this: you can use this experience to become a stronger, wiser and more resilient person. But that will require intentional effort on your part and a commitment to practicing self-care.
As you design your own self-care plan, realize that multiple pathways exist. Start by rethinking your approach to your job; you will probably need to change some of your workday habits. Your physical health is critical: researchers have found that leaders and managers are more effective when they are eating right, sleeping well and getting exercise.
Your mental perspective is also important: Stanford psychologist Alia Crum has argued that stress can be good for leaders if they know how to manage it. Be sure to consider your emotional response to the vicissitudes of work and life: research suggests that psychological flexibility and emotional agility can make you a more effective leader.4
And as you build your self-care plan, be sure to take a holistic approach, considering all aspects of who you are and what's important to you: research shows that your spiritual life — those aspects of your life that provide a sense of meaning, purpose and coherence — can help increase your resilience.
As you consider these four steps, remember this: if you're not taking care of yourself, you're not going to be able to take care of your team — at least not for the long haul. At some point, your patience, your health, your energy, or your effectiveness is going to give. Without some type of self-care strategy, you're doing yourself — and the people who depend on you — a disservice.
1. Skakon, Janne; Nielsen, Karina; Borg, Vilhelm; Guzman, Jaime. "Are Leaders' Well-being, Behaviours and Style Associated with the Affective Well-being of Their Employees? A Systematic Review of Three Decades of Research." An International Journal of Work, Health & Organisations, Volume 24, Issue 2, 2010,https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02678373.2010.495262.
2. Appelbaum, Steven and Roy-Girard, David. "Toxins in the Workplace: Affect on Organizations and Employees." Corporate Governance International Journal of Business in Society, 2007,https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242349375_Toxins_in_the_workplace_Affect_on_organizations_and_employees.
3. Scott, Elizabeth. "Traits and Attitudes That Increase Burnout Risk." Very Well Mind, May 20, 2019,https://www.verywellmind.com/mental-burnout-personality-traits-3144514.
4. Kashdana, Todd B. and Rottenberg, Jonathan. "Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health." Elsevier, Volume 30, Issue 7, November 2010,https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735810000413?via%3Dihub.