For the first time ever, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is hosting the Arab Women Forum as part of the fourth edition of the Top CEO Conference and Awards, which kicked off on April 10 and will run until April 11 at King Abdullah Economic City.
Women’s role – especially in senior leadership positions – in organizations has been at the center of many discussions globally and in the region. However, few organizations and forums have taken any actual initiative. Arab Women Forum aims to do just that through the conference.
Julien Hawari, co-CEO of Mediaquest – the company behind the Top CEO Conference and Awards, and Arab Women Forum, says: “This is an exciting and transformational time for women working in the Middle East, and the ultimate goal of our new forum is to enhance and support the growing contribution of Arab women to drive the region’s ongoing economic and social development. By providing attendees with a series of engaging keynote speeches and panel discussions, as well as strong networking opportunities, we are empowering women to lead a paradigm shift in the region and improving their potential to claim the senior positions they deserve.”
Within the media and marketing industry, for instance, Omnicom Group launched its Omniwomen initiative last year, which is dedicated to championing the number and influence of female talent within the company and is currently active in ten local chapters across the globe, including in the USA, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, China and the UAE. At Omnicom Media Group MENA specifically, females represent 45% of the total workforce. In leadership, the ratio is 20 percent, with a goal to reach 50 percent by 2020.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched for the first time in Lebanon and the MENA the “Women on Boards (WOB)” initiative to advocate for gender diversity and empower women, so they can become board members and play a vital role in companies’ growth.
In light of such initiatives and the changes taking place in KSA, the Arab Women Forum brought together top female executives, decision-makers, professionals, and experts on women empowerment and business leadership at key sessions including “The Economic Revolution”, “Entrepreneurs” and “The Community-Based New Economy”, among many others.
At ‘The Economic Revolution’ session, attendees engaged in open discussions about the wide-ranging benefits of including of women in the workforce in Arab countries, including boosting the GDP of the region, reducing unemployment, and kick-starting the economy in a new direction.
With credit representing the key constraint to female entrepreneurship in the Arab region and 39% of Arab firms reporting difficulties in this area, the ‘Entrepreneurs’ session explored the venture capital and investment situation, and debated whether women-led projects should be fast tracked to empower businesswomen.
‘The Community-Based New Economy’ session questioned whether technologies and the new sharing-based economy could pave the way for Arab women to become active economic members of society. The session also asked what can be done to achieve a more inclusive approach, how female representation can be improved, and what role technology can play.
The forum also explored the societal challenges that women face in business, with sessions dedicated to “Arab Women’s Image” and “Political Representation”, as well as the topic of work-life balance in a session dedicated to “Balance”. During the forum, participants will be introduced to the Women to Watch Network, which includes women who have secured significant new jobs, taken on major new challenges, and achieved impressive successes that are positively changing the region’s business environment.
Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News says, “Given the raft of reforms underway in Saudi Arabia, there could not be a more appropriate and meaningful time to host such an event. This conference aims to take this conversation forward – for the benefit of both Saudi Arabia’s female workforce and the wider society as a whole.”
The Arab Women Forum is supported by Arab News as the Official Partner of the event. Women’s Forum as the Supporting Partner of the event and Haya magazine as the Media Parter.