Pioneering Women in Finance Industry Outline Steps Toward Greater Diversity and Inclusion


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Leading women in the finance industry outlined the U.A.E.’s progress in promoting gender equality  during a U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council webinar held on 16 November 2020. These executives also shared ways to build on this progress in a sector that has been traditionally dominated by men. A video of the webinar can be found here.

Ms. Rola Abu Manneh, CEO of Standard Chartered U.A.E., began the session by affirming how “proud and privileged” she feels to be an Emirati given that the U.A.E. Government is “really ahead” on the issue of female empowerment. She noted, in particular, the U.A.E.’s recent legislation ensuring that women receive equal pay as men in the private sector.

Ms. Gail Dady, Partner at DC Capital Partners, then reviewed her untraditional path to the finance sector following a career in the U.S. Navy. She remarked on the cultural similarities between the finance sector and the military. Moreover, she spoke about the importance of mentorship for aspiring women in the industry.

Ms. Shamsa Al-Falasi, Head of the Global Subsidiaries Group for the GCC and Iraq at Citigroup, subsequently took stock of the U.A.E.’s progress in achieving greater gender equality within the finance sector. She noted that there are 7,200 women in the U.A.E. banking sector, 58% of them in leadership positions.

Ms. Al-Falasi also lauded the “wave” of appointments spurred on by the appointment of Ms. Jane Fraser as President of Citi. She called this appointment “just the beginning.” Citi is also notable for its appointment of Ms. Elissar Farah Antonios as CEO of Citi in the U.A.E.

Ms. Raja Al Mazrouei, Executive Vice President of the FinTech Hive at DIFC, then spoke about the FinTech Hive’s AccelerateHer program, which is a female-focused mentorship accelerator program to empower women in financial services. This program aims to equip young women who aspire to leadership positions in the industry with important tools and experience to help them broaden their reach and knowledge of the industry. Thus far, the program has graduated 26 women.

Ms. Mercedes Vela Monserrate, Associate Director of International Affairs at ADGM’s Financial Services Regulatory Authority, spoke about ADGM’s Gender Equality Initiative, which was launched in 2019 to strengthen gender equality across all job functions and levels. This initiative is in line with the U.A.E. Government’s 2021 Vision and the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals. In so doing, Ms. Monserrate noted that gender balance has become a key performance metric for corporations, which have realized the return on equity from gender-balanced workforces.

Following remarks by the panelists, Mr. Danny Sebright, President of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council, moderated a question and answer session during which the panelists elaborated on the steps the industry needs to take to recruit and retain women in the financial sector. Ms. Monserrate spoke about the need, in particular, to increase the proportion of women in top managerial roles, noting that 70% of undergraduates in the U.A.E. are women, but women only represent 10% of those in senior roles. In order to remedy this, she encouraged sponsorship, networking, and mentoring. Building on this, Ms. Abu Manneh elaborated on the need to change broader societal norms that inhibit the progress of women in the sector. Moreover, Ms. Al Mazrouei praised the important work of initiatives such as the 30% Club, which is a global campaign led by Chairs and CEOs taking action to increase gender diversity at board and senior management levels.

The panelists also offered their advice to young women seeking to enter a career in finance. Ms. Abu Manneh encouraged young women to follow their passions, stay “agile,” and identify mentors. Ms. Al-Falasi exhorted women to “just go for it,” “learn as you go,” and “keep faith in yourself.” Ms. Monserrate spoke about the importance of networking, in whatever form that might take. Finally, Ms. Al Mazrouei noted the utility in “building a personal brand” and understanding that “it is okay to ask,” whether for an opportunity, promotion, or participation in a particular group or activity.

The Business Council is proud to support female empowerment in the U.A.E. by hosting relevant forums for female business leaders, including a panel luncheon program on “Empowering Arab Women Entrepreneurs.” The Business Council has also published reports and updates on gender equality in the U.A.E., such as its reports on Women in the U.A.E. Workforce and Women in Sustainability.

This webinar comes as part of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council’s “Back to Business” series. For more information about this series and an exciting slate of upcoming events, please contact the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council’s head of communications Ms. Mary Zuccarello at