Dr. Linzi Kemp, Associate Professor at American University of Sharjah’s School of Business Administration, participated in a key panel at the Women in Leadership Economic Forum which took place in Dubai on the 25th – 26thOctober, 2017. In the lead up to the Forum, Linzi took some time to discuss the main obstacles to women’sprogression in the workplace, and the initiatives her and her AUS colleagues are undertaking to promote women in leadership, in this region and beyond.
You and colleagues, Dr Norita Ahmad and Ms Linda McLoughlin, created the ‘Expert Woman List’,a media database of female experts and leaders in the Middle East that provides an online directory and source for broadcasters, journalists, conference organizers, event managers, and others. What motivated you and your colleagues to create this list?
There are so many talented and accomplished women in the Arab Gulf states. There are also many opportunities for these women to use their expertise, for example, as board members, and to share their expert knowledge at conferences and events, as well as during media interviews. We found that there was a disconnect between the number of women available to successfully talk and act on important topics, and yet they weren’t being invited to get their important messages out into a public arena. This was in large part because media and conference organizers, and those searching for board members, just did not know about these women andtheir work. Thus, the expert women list was born – it is a very accessible and important list for any conference organizer, journalist, producer, or other professional looking for expert insight, to find the right person that they are looking for – and they also happen to be women!
More and more women in the GCC are undertaking higher education, with female graduation rates in the UAE higher than those of their male counterparts. However, female workforce participation in the region is not reaching the same levels of parity. What do you believe are some reasons for this gap?
I think the answer to this can be broken down into three parts. Firstly, there are individual reasons. Some women may feel that they are not able to,or indeed want to, achieve leadership positions.There maybe a choice between career and personal success because of time commitments to family, that doesn’t allow women the same flexibility as men to focus on their career.
There are also organizational limitations on women. Organizations are still very much structured to accommodate men, rather than women. And as we hear time and time again, women are paid less than men, even when working in the same roles, with the same level of experience and qualifications.
Lastly, there are societal influences that have a big impact. Women are typically in positions behind the scenes, whereas men tend to be more visible in public spaces. Men are still very much seen as the bread winners in society – men are expected to work, whereas for many women, work is seen as a choice.
Therefore, it is imperative that educators and business practitioners work together to bridge this gender gap. We need to be creating change where the conditions, which have led to workplace inequality, are replaced with an environment where women are afforded the same opportunities for workforce entry and progression as their male counterparts. Business practitioners and academicians are welcome to use the teaching and training resources available through the Center for Women in Leadership (Middle East) created through a grant from the American University of Sharjah. Go to https://wil.insightsme.net.
Your academic areas of research focus on organizational behaviour. What role do you see leadership theory playing for the progress of women in the workforce?
Leadership theory has, for the most part, a strongly male perspective. There are few leadership theories pertaining to women in the workforce, and none of these theories are focused on women in the MENA region. This is whytogether with colleagues (Dr Savita Kumra and Dr Val Lindsay) at the AUS School of Business Administration,we are in the process of proposing a research forum for international scholars where more female-centric focused organizational theory can be discussed and debated, with a particular reference to women in this region.
What are the main challenges you believe still face women seeking management and leadership roles?
There are challenges for women’s entry to, retention in, and promotion through organizations. At entry level, there seem to be many women graduates, a challenge for organizations is to find and recruit them. But as numbers of women leave the workforce and never return, the challenge is to retain them. At AUS, we (myself, Dr Norita Ahmad and Dr Lucia Pappalardo) are studying this phenomenon, known as the ‘leaky pipeline’, for STEM women in the UAE. A challenge for promotion to management and senior leadership is the few women that are available, and having to actively seek them out. Unfortunately, Femicide, the metaphorical ‘killing off’ of female ambition, ability and skill presents a major obstacle. Unless we can crash through these barriers, men will continue to vastly outnumber women in management and leadership roles, in both the public and private sectors.
What advice would you give to a fresh female university graduate who is ambitious to become a leader in her field?
Oh absolutely to fulfil her ambition. If she does succeed it will be because she has worked exceptionally hard, and been persistent, despite obstacles faced. She will need to have an understanding of the organizational and societal challenges which place unequal career limitations on women, and be realistic about perceptions and prejudices that women typically encounter in the workplace. Women who succeed to become organizational leaders do not come to such positions by accident. It takes an incredible amount of tenacity and perseverance to achieve their ambition.