Invest

The Time Is Now: The Case for Responsible Investing in the GCC

16 May, 2019
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"Implementing ESG assessments will help set clear KPIs and identify where and how projects generate value and mitigate risks associated with them."

Times are changing. The world is moving toward an ethical, long-term sustainable way of investing. Forward-looking governments are increasingly emphasizing the role of financial markets in fostering sustainable development. Investor demand for responsible investment (RI) solutions has increased significantly, as observed by the growth of assets being allocated to RI-related investments. Combined with the shift toward low-cost equity index tracking, this has led to an increase in the number of RI indices that are now available.

We expect RI indices to become an important first step in integrating environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) considerations for many investors with existing passive or factor-based investments. At Mercer, we define Responsible Investment as the integration of ESG factors into investment management processes and ownership practices in the belief that these factors can have a material impact on financial performance.

Meanwhile, in the GCC region, with efforts to diversify the economy, governments are gaining awareness around the importance of responsible investing. The GCC makes up four of the six Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF), which founded the One Planet SWF Working Group in December 2017 at the occasion of the "One Planet Summit" in Paris.

Within the UAE itself, numerous initiatives — such as The Green Economy for Sustainable Development and Green Agenda — are propelling the country into the future of responsible investing. In keeping with the diversification strategy, these initiatives support Vision 2030 by aligning with the nation's economic growth ambitions and environmental sustainability goals.

Abu Dhabi is contributing to the agenda in a major way through various developments, such as Masdar City — a multi-billion dollar green energy project.1 Meanwhile, Dubai set up an energy and environment park called Enpark — a Free Zone for clean energy and environmental technology companies.2

As the business case for responsible investing gets stronger in the GCC, there is a growing demand for incorporating ESG factors or sustainability themes into investment decisions and processes. Institutions are factoring the benefits of responsible investing, not only to their investments but also to their reputation and bottom line. Sustainable investing offers attractive opportunities to tap into the growth potential of companies providing solutions to various challenges of resource scarcity, demographic changes and changes in the evolving policy responses to a range of environmental and social issues.

Studies and industry evidence have shown the benefits of integrating ESG factors on the company's long-term performance. For example, Deutsche Bank reviewed more than 100 academic studies in 2012 and concluded that companies with higher ESG ratings had a lower cost of capital in terms of debt and equity. Another study in 2015 by Hsu (Professor at the National Taichung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan) and Cheng (Professor at the National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan) found that socially responsible firms perform better in terms of credit ratings and have lower credit risk.3

With companies operating against the setting of public concerns around environmental and social issues, incorporating ESG considerations is now also considered best practice. Employees increasingly want to work for and invest in companies that make a positive environmental impact. Global initiatives and bodies, such as the CFA Institute, have highlighted the financial and reputational risks of not taking ESG considerations into account.

While the GCC is beginning to understand the benefits of applying ESG, the region hasn't been too far from its concept. Sharia-compliant investing has been around for the last two decades. Both frameworks apply the negative screening approach and seek investments which provide a sustainable return. With the combination of ESG factors and Sharia screening, Islamic investors can improve investment performance while meeting social and environmental goals at the same time.

As the UAE is now focusing on diversifying its investments, it can highly benefit from creating a responsible investing market and culture where strategy and processes go hand-in-hand as important steps for successful integration.

When seeking sustainable growth, an additional layer of insight and oversight is extremely crucial to mitigate emerging risks, like climate change. To that end, implementing ESG assessments will help set clear KPIs and identify where and how projects generate value and mitigate risks associated with them.

For example, Mercer applies an Investment Framework for Sustainable Growth with its clients, which distinguishes between the financial implications (risks) associated with environmental, social and corporate governance factors and the growth opportunities in industries most directly affected by sustainability issues. Measuring impact and mitigating risks has become increasingly important and represents a strong investment governance process.

The benefits of adopting ESG are numerous. While the GCC has started with the implementation of ESG principles, more work still needs to be done in making sure governments are fully engaged with stakeholders, including investors, and strategies are aligned across the region.

Regulatory pressures to meet global standards of ESG integration will only increase in the coming years. Instead of hiding from it, it is time for companies, investors and governments to come together and define a way of working that moves the GCC forward in terms of responsible investing and sustainable growth.

1Carvalho, Stanley, "Abu Dhabi To Invest $15 Billion in Green Energy," Reuters, January 21, 2008, https://www.reuters.com/article/environment-emirates-energy-green-dc/abu-dhabi-to-invest-15-billion-in-green-energy-idUSL2131306920080121
2
Energy and Environment Park:Setup Your Company In Enpark, UAE Freezone Setup, https://www.uaefreezonesetup.com/enpark-freezone
3
Chen, Yu-Cheng and Hsu, Feng Jui, "Is a Firm's Financial Risk Associated With Corporate Social Responsibility?"Emerald City, 2015, https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/MD-02-2015-0047

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Fabio Takaki | 19 Dec 2019

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. 1. Health   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. Sources: 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.

Varun Khosla | 03 Oct 2019

For decades, any conversation involving startups and executive compensation conjured images of Silicon Valley and shiny office buildings full of technology virtuosos working for innovative companies striving to be the next billion-dollar unicorn. Now, a new era of global startups is taking root in previously unexpected regions around the world. In fact, recent research reveals that $893 million was invested in 366 startups throughout the Middle East and North Africa. That number represents a $214 million increase from 2017, which saw $679 million in startup investments.1 Similarly, startups are increasing in Southeast Asia, largely driven by "SEA turtles" — locally born residents who studied and worked overseas (mostly in the West, in places like Silicon Valley) and are returning home to launch their own startup companies. The region has experienced a major inflection point, with VC investors in Southeast Asia investing over $7.8 billion across 327 deals.2 There's one key component all these startups need, however: leadership. But attracting and retaining executive-level talent and management teams can be a major challenge for these burgeoning startup hotbeds, especially when it comes to compensation. Corporate Investors Are Changing Executive Compensation   Many of the world's most recognizable startups were launched by charismatic, individual founding partners, such as Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma and Mark Zuckerberg. However, the rise of these luminaries and their compelling stories do not mirror the new era of startups blossoming around the world. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), for example, investment companies are providing the initial financial backing needed to launch startups. These investment companies are there from day one to ensure the startups have the capital needed to secure subsequent rounds of funding. Additionally, the executives of these startups are not the original founders and, therefore, desire different compensation models to secure their continued loyalty, creativity and commitment. Acquiring top C-level talent for startups can be a daunting task, as the risk level is high for businesses that do not have a proven track record — or any record at all. Traditionally, western-based startups have fashioned executive compensation packages around medium- to long-term benchmarks predicated on the company's expected growth, but triangulating growth models, investment strategies and executive payment packages can be a complicated and tenuous proposition. Since most global startups today are built around investment companies instead of inspirational individual founders, these companies must be diligent when determining how or how much to pay the executives — who can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure. How Much Should Executive Compensation Be?   Investment companies naturally want to maximize their profits, which means they want to retain as much equity in the startup and as many shares of the startup as possible. Every dollar, share of stock or option paid to startup executives is money the investment companies surrender to operational costs. However, low-balling startup executives or opting to hire those who aren't as skilled or experienced also comes with the risk of undermining the startup's ability to compete, grow and drive revenue. Financial arrangements that provide management with a potential share of equity (or shadow equity) require careful thought and consideration. An executive compensation plan must act as an incentive and retention device for startup executives while delivering a fair return to investors and shareholders who have funded the company. Investors and shareholders must decide how much dilution of equity they are willing to accept to provide an appropriate equity pool for the management team. This is why many companies decide to execute a scaled approach that decreases the size of the equity pool with each round of funding to accommodate the increasing value of the company. This type of program impacts the dilution of equity and can allow for more creative compensation strategies — particularly when dealing with more sophisticated startups, such as in the pharma and fintech industries, which require the talent and knowledge of more accomplished professionals and leaders. Investment companies can offer either share options, which give employees the right to buy or sell stock at a designated time and price, or full-value shares, which offer employees actual ownership in the company. Both contribute to the dilution of equity, but options typically contribute more to the equity dilution than full shares. For example, an equity pool comprised of options may amount to 15% to 20% of a company's capital, while a pool comprised of shares may amount to as little as 3% to 5%. This indicates the same amount of long-term incentive awards paid in options will lead to higher equity dilution than awarding full shares. Investment companies must determine which strategy best suits their objectives. When to Pay Executives and Management   Should investors pay their executives and management teams only after they have received a return on their investments? Or should executive compensation be based on employees performing their jobs to the best of their abilities, regardless of the outcomes — which are often determined by external economic forces beyond their control. Many startups now implement the former strategy, believing that benchmarks for returns on investments motivate executives and provide them with the extra incentive to do everything possible to create shareholder value. In fact, in a majority of cases, long-term incentive plans only pay out when investors receive a return. Alternately, some startups choose to compensate executives and management based on specific, mutually agreed upon corporate goals and objectives. Compensation can then be provided as cash or shares, though there may be restrictions on when those shares can be sold or vested or whether they come in the form of options or full-value shares. Startups are popping up all over the world, ushering in a new frontier of ideas and innovation, as well as investors and executives who will create the next generation of future unicorns. As new trends continue to emerge for how executives in these startups are compensated, global startups will need to review their options with scrutiny to attract the best executive talent while maximizing returns for investors. Sources: 1. "2018 MENA Venture Investment Summary." MAGNiTT, January 2019,https://magnitt.com/research/2018-mena-venture-investment-summary. 2. Maulia, Erwida. "Southeast Asian 'turtles' return home to hatch tech startups." Nikkei Asian Review, 22 May 2019,https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Cover-Story/Southeast-Asian-turtles-return-home-to-hatch-tech-startups.

Fiona Dunsire | 05 Sep 2019

The markets across Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are some of the most exciting in the world, amid a backdrop of economic growth and changes in demographics, investment markets and regulations. Mercer's Growth Markets Asset Allocation Trends: Evolving Landscape report examined retirement plans in 14 of these markets, with a look at current investment positions and changes over the past five years. The study included retirement fund assets of almost $5 trillion across markets in the Southern and Eastern hemispheres. These areas offer exciting potential for asset owners, managers and investors, as almost 70% of global growth now comes from these economies, according to the World Bank. We are also seeing a rapid expansion of the middle class, creating different patterns of consumption and savings. In addition, half of the top 50 global institutional investors are located in these markets.1 The Global Investment Landscape Is Becoming More Robust   Because the economies of Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are large and growing, with a rising share of wealth being held by individuals, they are of particular interest to investors around the world. These markets are also becoming increasingly open to foreign investors. At the same time, regulatory changes within these regions are allowing domestic investors to invest more broadly and outside their home markets. All these developments translate into a more open and robust investment landscape, with increasing opportunities for investors across the globe. The pension and savings systems in these regions are also undergoing reform, with the same trend toward increasing individual responsibility for retirement savings as seen in Western countries. Overall, we are seeing a shift to defined contribution (DC) plans at the expense of defined benefit (DB) plans across both corporate and government-sponsored schemes. These changes further emphasize the need to deliver effective investment solutions to meet future savings needs and ensure trust in the systems. 3 Ways Investors Are Responding   Investors and plan managers are responding to the changing environment in three key ways: 1.  More investors are putting money in equities. In the past five years, equity allocations rose approximately 8%, from 32% to 40%. For investors in many jurisdictions, the shift was intended to increase expected returns on the portfolio. Investors across the world face challenges amid an increasingly competitive investment landscape and a low return environment. Adding equities to the portfolio mix should offer greater return expectations over time. 2.  Market liberalization is enabling more diversified portfolios, through increased exposure to foreign assets at the expense of domestic assets. On average, foreign exposure in retirement plans increased from 45% of the overall equity portfolio to 49% in the past five years. Investors sought greater geographic diversification, especially in Colombia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan. In some countries, such as Brazil, Colombia, Peru and South Africa, recent changes in legislation now allow increased foreign asset exposure. In Japan, the Government Pension Investment Fund has seen a move to more foreign equities at the expense of domestic equities in recent years. The shift to foreign assets was also present in fixed income, with the proportion of foreign allocations rising from 16% to 23%, in part due to less attractive local interest rates, as well as a search for increased diversification. Significant home biases remain; however, we expect this trend to continue as regulatory changes support broader global investment. 3.  Investors are showing slightly more interest in alternative investments. More investors are including alternatives in their portfolios, and Mercer expects that trend to continue on an upward trajectory. Among those investors who provided details on their alternatives asset allocations, more than 70% of the average allocations went to property and infrastructure, and approximately 20% went to private equity. Changing regulations have made alternatives more attractive for investors in some areas. For instance, in Chile, a 2017 reform to the investment regime passed, allowing pension managers to invest in alternatives up to 10%, though specific limits vary by portfolio. The main objective of this enhancement is to boost returns and ultimately retirement incomes. As investors seek to diversify their portfolios and seek return enhancement, we expect alternatives exposure to continue to grow over time. We hope investors use our report's findings as an opportunity to review their own portfolio and determine where they can improve their asset allocation to achieve even better investment outcomes. To learn more, download the full report here. Sources: Top 1,000 Global Institutional Investors." Investment & Pensions Europe, 2016. https://www.ipe.com/Uploads/y/d/w/TOP-1000-Global.pdf

More from Voice on Growth

Pat Milligan | 19 Dec 2019

Life expectancies have risen sharply in recent decades, from an average age of under 53 years in 1960 to 72 years in 2017. And in high-income countries, the average life expectancy is closer to 80 years of age.1 Given longer lives and longer work lives across the globe, fewer people today are adhering to a career model defined by three key phases of professional working life: school, work and retirement. Instead, a multistage life is increasingly common — one in which individuals may go in and out of the workforce, work part time or join the gig economy, and get new training or credentials in midlife or later. As workforces live longer and delay retirement, employers are struggling to evolve models, practices and policies that align with this new reality. To permit people to extend working life and remain productive into older age, employers must become "age ready" — or risk losing out on the benefits this growing segment has to offer. Another important factor is ensuring these employees are not victims of age discrimination — a common prejudice that often goes overlooked even in organizations committed to employment equity and that embrace the most comprehensive Diversity & Inclusion strategies. A Global Workforce of Experienced Employees   Mercer's "Next Stage: Are You Age-Ready" report reveals that, though populations across the world are living and working longer, the Asia Pacific region is feeling the greatest impact from a rapidly emerging generation of experienced employees. In fact, the report states that there will more than 200 million people age 65 and older between 2015 and 2030. Japan is becoming the world's first "ultra-aged" population, where those over 65 years of age will comprise more than 28% of the population. Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan — designated as "super-aged" populations — are not far behind, with more than 21% of their citizens soon becoming 65 and older. Increasing life expectancies have forced mature employees to face some difficult decisions. While many continue working out of a desire to learn new skills, connect with others or satisfy a desire to contribute to society, some aging workers don't have that choice. Instead, these employees continue working simply to finance the costs of their extended lives. Getting older is expensive, and weakening pension systems, poor savings habits in a context of inequalities in income growth, and low interest rates have all conspired to undermine the security once taken for granted by those nearing retirement age. Aging workers who opt not to retire present their employers, as well as incoming generations of younger workers, with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Dispelling Preconceived Notions and Biases   Though workplaces around the world have greatly improved their efforts to curtail discrimination related to an employee's race, sexual orientation and gender, efforts to address age discrimination are often overlooked. Here are some of the most entrenched and damaging myths concerning seasoned employees, according to Mercer's Next Stage report: 1.  Myth: "Experienced workers are less productive." Truth: Extensive research dispels the myth that job performance declines with age. 2.  Myth: "Experienced workers have difficulties learning new skills and technologies." Truth: The hurdle here is not that these workers have difficulties learning new skills, but rather they often haven't previously received the training necessary to advance certain skills or knowledge. However, research shows that 85% of workers, including experienced employees, actively seek opportunities for skills development and technical training to enhance their career development possibilities. 3.  Myth: "Experienced workers are more costly." Truth: Pay can be higher for increased age (and responsibility) but older workers can significantly reduce costs for employers in other ways, like through reduced turnover rates. In Mercer's data, some drop off in pay for the same level of job is experienced as workers age. Mercer's penetrating research and analysis on the productivity levels, learning intent and capacities, and employer expenses related to experienced workers reveals a much more nuanced and complex relationship between older employees and their younger colleagues. Even in study cases where older workers did show lower individual productivity levels, the assessments did not account for key nuances, such as the time dedicated to mentoring, training and guiding others instead of focusing on their individual performances. Expanding the Value of Experienced Employees   Businesses must learn to capitalize on the talents, skills and potential of mature employees who are postponing retirement. Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report states that the integration of modern technologies into corporate HR systems presents older employees with powerful tools that can teach them new, valuable skills. In addition, these technologies provide them with curated career development paths using specialized learning functionalities and predictive software algorithms. Corporate learning platforms can be used to shape content relevant to a particular ambition, close a skills gap or build connections among peers who can share expertise. Curated learning programs also allow employees to develop at their own pace and earn credentials based on benchmarks determined by personal career objectives. Professional development opportunities for experienced employees are also limited by many employers' inability to accurately assess the value and scope of their contributions. Mercer's Next Stage report argues that experienced workers can contribute significantly to organizational performance through their deep institutional knowledge, social capital specific to the business and technical or content expertise honed from years of on-the-job practice. Also, critical soft skills, such as listening, communicating, collaborating and team building, are commonly undervalued. Businesses that rely on common proxies for performance, such as performance ratings, promotion probability and pay, are likely to under-appreciate the contributions of their experienced workers and miss opportunities to better leverage their work. By maximizing the value and potential of experienced workers, employers can create new professional development opportunities that leverage these workers' experience, expertise and life-knowledge. With age comes wisdom. When empowered, experienced employees can lead their companies into the future — guided by their invaluable experience with the past. Sources: 1. "Life expectancy at birth, total (years)." The World Bank, 2017, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/sp.dyn.le00.in

Fabio Takaki | 19 Dec 2019

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. 1. Health   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. Sources: 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.

Amy Scissons | 28 Nov 2019

What does it take to lead successful international teams? Successful teams are often united over a common goal and a shared set of experiences. But, as the workforce becomes more distributed and business travel becomes increasingly burdensome to the bottom line and detrimental to the environment, leaders need to be more creative in developing and fostering positive team dynamics. With fewer face-to-face meetings, how are international leaders coalescing their teams? Here are four habits I have adopted that you should consider in managing international teams: Habit 1: Remove the Mentality of "You Need to Be There"   Technology is, without a doubt, the game changer when it comes to international team effectiveness. Yet, human-led organizations often struggle to accommodate and leverage the speedy and persistent nature of change brought by digital technologies. There are, of course, times when face-to-face meetings are required; however, Mercer has noticed clients are demonstrating an increasing comfort level with holding seminars, conferences and other traditional in-person interactions via online meeting platforms. Though the virtual workforce trend is nothing new, it has reached an inflection point where clients often prefer to partner with companies that actively internalize the power and practicality of being agile, versatile and virtual. Today's transformative Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) urge their C-suite peers to adopt have this mindset and leverage differentiating new technologies. As managers, marketing leaders will find that their employees and marketing teams are more productive and online more, if allowed to do their work on their own time. People react well to not only managing their work but also having the flexibility to set their own schedules. At Mercer, we have seen our people work with more excitement, passion and collaborative enthusiasm when provided the freedom to excel according to their personal cadences. Let talented people do what they need to do to get stuff done. Habit 2: Cross-Cultural Communication With International Teams   With the direction set and the team empowered to find their path forward, it's time to focus on communication. Different cultures, of course, perceive, process and interpret information and context differently. These differences can create communication breakdowns that are extremely costly in terms of time, quality and money. Effective messaging is direct and only refers to limited but critical pieces of information that necessitate a particular email, phone call or conversation. Inspiring leaders find their voice and communicate in a way that is simple, memorable and supportive. All correspondences among international teams should be carefully packaged, contained and well thought out. Don't underestimate the power of repetition. Often, when dealing with team members from multiple cultures and languages, repetition of established goals, processes, timelines and expectations is vital to successful outcomes. Repetition, when done with tact and clear intentions, is not disrespectful or seen as micromanaging. It bolsters the ability of everyone on the team to achieve their goals (honestly, I find repetition extremely helpful. By the time I'm reminded what we're trying to get done three or four times — especially in a few different ways — it sticks!). When you're dealing with cross-border teams, never assume that everyone fully understands the strategy and desired results on the first two or three discussions. Using repetition creatively helps the team focus on the north star. Habit 3: Be Succinct and Culturally Aware   Cultural awareness is learned. It took me a while to appreciate and understand the nuances of each member of my team, not only in their approach to solving problems, but the influence of their culture on their overall outlook. Our research on diversity and inclusion points to the value of ensuring all voices are heard on the team. As a matter of fact, there are a range of products today designed to enable employees to share their perspectives (separate from employee engagement surveys) — and many of these are being tailored for D&I purposes. With international teams, this lesson is particularly punctuated. When team members in Tokyo, Taiwan and Mexico City are speaking to each other, ensuring they use the same direct, simple and familiar language increases efficiency and the likelihood of success. Being culturally sensitive and aware is incredibly important. Years ago, I used to feel very concerned if people were not speaking up in marketing meetings or weren't instantly on video conferences showing their face, but I realized over time that people need to communicate in ways that make sense to them. As a leader, I've learned it is my responsibility to respect other people's learning and working styles and that — if I did that — these individuals would become increasingly more open and trusting of me. Marketing leaders have to earn trust, just like everyone else. It is important to not expect that people think and act the way you think and act. People come from different perspectives and have different personality types — from introverts to extroverts and everything in between. And that diversity is instrumental to success. Habit 4: Lead With Genuine Positivity   My favorite habit, is bringing my whole self to work. As leaders, we must make a conscious effort to be encouraging and find genuine, sincere ways to boost people's confidence. This takes time and awareness as each person behaves according to varying types of motivations, instructions and sensibilities. As a company, we have to be demanding, because we have aggressive goals. However, the most effective and rewarding route to achieving those goals is by making the conscious decision to encourage employees as they execute their responsibilities — especially during challenging times. Regardless of gender, race or nationality, I think that one overriding universal truth is that people respond more graciously, productively and passionately to authentic positive feedback and encouragement. I know this personally, because I have benefited from positive reinforcement many times in my career — often when I needed it the most — from my peers, colleagues and fellow team members. It really helps. In fact, the most successful leaders I know and have worked with are extremely positive people. Teams and individuals need to be reminded, particularly during tough times, that they are doing excellent work and they are moving in the right direction. Never underestimate how much a genuine comment, like "You're doing a great job" and "Keep going" can do for someone who feels overwhelmed, underappreciated or unmotivated at a particular moment in their career. Positivity is all about appreciating the time and work employees invest into success and giving them credit for their efforts and accomplishments. Originally published in Thrive Global.

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