Women’s Path to the Boardroom


Accredited Chartered Manager (CMI), Eman Deabil, examines boardroom diversity in Bahrain

It’s no secret that the business case for boardroom diversity has been examined carefully in numerous studies and publications by many global firms such as McKinsey & Company, Deloitte and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) – to name a few. In addition, it is clearly obvious that there are many women who dream of climbing up the ladder in the corporate world and reserving a seat in the boardroom, which is why they study, work extremely hard to widen their experience, progress in their higher degrees, pursue careers in a wide-spectrum of fields, juggle many balls and do their best to balance their work-life responsibilities.

However, for any dream to materialise it has to start by ‘planting the seeds and watering the garden’, yet studying the ‘climate’ is also essential to make sure that the ‘seeds’ have the right ‘atmosphere’ to grow and prosper. Hence, I decided to scan the environment, conduct a study, and support it with facts and figures to see if the dream is possible!

The study is based on a dataset covering a sample of 117 organisations in Bahrain with data compiled from the official websites of the sampled business organisations in the time period from December 9 to December 13, 2020 with the assumption that the information provided by these websites was accurate, up to date and reliable.

Sector classifications were grouped into eleven different sectors. For each sector the percentage of women serving on the boards was calculated – the findings are shown in the table below:
From the table above, we can conclude the following:

  • There is a total of 971 directorships, where 876 seats (90.2%) are covered by male directors, and 95 seats (9.8%) are attributed to women directors.
  • More than half (56.4% being 66 Boards out of the 117 sampled organisations) have no women representation (0%).
  • 68.5% of the organisations (a total of 37 out of 54) in the Financial Services sector have no women representation (0%).
  • Only 2 out of 117 organisations (1.7%) have more than 50% of women holding positions in the boardroom. Both are family-owned companies in which those ladies are part of the family: company X with 2 women out of 3 board members (67%), and company Y with 7 women out of 13 board members (54%).
  • But what does that mean? Do we have hope, as women, to be in the boardroom?
  • The answer to this question is ‘YES’ and ‘NO’.

There is a positive outlook on our horizon, especially when we consider the initiatives taken by our country to empower women and position them as an integral part of the society. This includes the Supreme Council for Women (SCW) and the broad initiatives undertaken by it, such as launching the National Model of Gender Balance. Another example is ‘Women in FinTech Bahrain’ – the professional network founded under the umbrella of the Economic Development Board (EDB) to raise awareness of women’s role in FinTech.

Nevertheless, by looking at the statistics and figures – 90.2% men to 9.8% women in a sample of 117 organizations (public/private) in December 2020 who are Board Members demonstrates the current situation clearly. Deloitte’s sixth edition report titled ‘Women in the boardroom: A global perspective’ issued in 2019, quotes Dan Konigsburg, “These statistics are hardly encouraging for those who believe in the value of board diversity. At this rate, we – or our children and grandchildren – will have to wait until 2052 to reach anything close to parity”. Similarly, by looking at the global perspective as an indication, the average increase of women representation in boardrooms is around 1% every year. So, if we do the math, we will require around 40 years to reach a women representation of 50% in boardrooms globally.

In Deloitte’s report published in 2019, it also stated that globally, women hold just 16.9% of board seats. This indicates that we are below the global rate by 7.1%. However, our numbers are better than some of the countries in the GCC and Middle East.

I personally believe that women are a key to economic development, given that women make up a large portion of the customer market, yet they are barely represented in boardrooms. Ignoring this portion of our population will certainly deprive us universally from reaching the gender diversity we are aspiring to achieve, which in turn may have a negative impact on organisations in terms of business outcomes, strategic decision making, profit margins, workplace culture, innovation, and even reflect on their reputations when they communicate about values (e.g. gender diversity) that are not practiced at senior levels.

This leads to some other big questions such as: Despite all these national efforts to empower women, why do boardroom figures not reflect this? What gets in the way of women? Do nations require a quota for women in boardrooms to make it possible? What does it take to be a board member?

Eman is an accredited Chartered Manager (CMI), professional management consultant and a published author. She is a certified PMP, PRINCE2, COBIT5, CGEIT and the first Bahraini

Be sure to read the next issue of Woman This Month to explore Part 2 of The Path to the Boardroom.