Zain Group, the leading mobile telecom innovator in eight markets across the Middle East and Africa hosted its second annual Women Empowerment (WE) forum at the Four Seasons Hotel, Kuwait on 12 November, gathering 300 female participants from across the Group, including CEOs of each Zain operation and their respective Human Resources heads. The meeting showcased the progress and achievements to date, future plans, and strategy, as well as highlighting how the efforts Zain is undertaking are closely aligned to the UN’s Women Empowerment guidelines.
The initiative is the brainchild of Zain Vice-Chairman and Group CEO, Bader Al-Kharafi, who in November 2017 inaugurated the female-focused empowerment initiative, aimed at achieving gender equality and empowering women in the organization to act, lead, develop, and succeed. During the forum, Al Kharafi delivered informative keynote addresses on leadership development as well as holding discussions with the participants.
Reaffirming his personal commitment to Women Empowerment within Zain, Al Kharafi made two significant ‘regional first’ announcements, one being the application of flexible hours for working mothers with children up to kindergarten age and, two, the creation of a new position and appointment of Maryam Saif as Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer (CIDO) to drive new Empowerment initiatives that define, enhance and continue to cultivate an environment of inclusiveness and equal opportunities in which Zain personnel across all operations may work productively and thrive. The CIDO will also continue to empower youth and women.
The forum saw all Zain country operation CEOs participating in a panel session that focused on the importance of the Women Empowerment Initiative on each individual operation whereby they all indicated their personal commitments to the initiative. Keynote presenters and coaches also participating at the Forum included Joanna Barsh, Director Emerita at McKinsey Global Consulting Group and renowned author of several top-selling management books, as well as Connie Dieken, the founder of Influence 360º, who was named one of the world’s Top 10 Executive Coaches.
Over a year ago, after having collected a heavy baseline of information within the organization on the topic, it was identified that Zain Group’s total headcount of women amounted to just 22.6% of the total workforce, with the representation of women in leadership roles within the organization standing at just 14.5%. This was a red flag to the company’s board and management, and it was clear that a formal program to raise the participation of women at Zain at all levels was required and pressing.
Accordingly, Zain’s WE program in partnership with McKinsey Global Consulting Group developed a detailed roadmap and program in-line with Zain’s newly formed strategic targets for females, underpinning McKinsey’s Four Imperatives for building a successful inclusion and diversity strategy based on Leadership Development, Culture Transformation, HR Policy Transformation, and Female Recruitment.
Commenting on the second annual WE forum and the progress to date, Al-Kharafi said, “We are confident that by implementing a series of targeted women empowerment initiatives through awareness, realization, and motivation, will result in both the development of more future female leaders and in more females joining the company. I firmly believe that championing gender diversity at Zain will create competitive differentiation, fast-track our strategic ambitions of unlocking the tremendous growth opportunities in the digital arena and at the same time improve the company’s bottom line.”
In the lead up to last year’s inaugural WE event, a heavy baseline of data was collected and has continued to be mined during the last 12 months, including a review on all Zain Group-related policies and female-related initiatives; statistics of females in leadership positions, women serving in truly operational leadership roles and identifying common trends and hurdles across all Zain operations. This information was presented and discussed during this year’s meeting, resulting in the formulation of women-related empowerment activities and targets set for the next 12 months.
Much progress has been made since November 2017 including a Kick-Off Women Empowerment event for ambassadors that was hosted in Bahrain in March 2018 as well as a workshop that focused on strategizing and planning actions plus a Centered Leaders gathering in Kuwait in May 2018.
The WE program has taken measurable steps in raising the profile of women such as the appointment of ambassadors to act as internal change agents across all operations. Zain also implemented two strategic targets: 1. To increase female leadership positions from 14.5% to 25% by 2020 and 2. To evolve towards a gender diverse workforce.
Further achievements during the last 12 months of the Zain WE initiative include:
- Female leadership, director and above at Zain Group has grown from 14.5% to 15.5% in one year
- Female recruitment into Zain across all operations grew from 21% of total recruitment to 29%
- Over the past year, the number of women at Chief level increased from 6 to 11, an 83% increase
- 33 high potential female leaders have been identified to form the Centered Leaders program
- 61 Women Empowerment Ambassadors have been onboard and tasked with action planning
- Zain signed up to the UN Women Empowerment Principles and communicated this to all 6,000 employees
- Introduced a Women Empowerment communications app with 300 employees already using it
- Women Empowerment embedded into the board of director’s agenda and placed on CEO Scorecards
- Two talented women from Zain operations sponsored to attend MBA programs at ESADE, Barcelona
- Women Empowerment campaign and initiatives communicated widely across all Zain internal and external platforms including social media platforms
As Women Empowerment is now part of the Zain Group strategy, its action planning and tracking is measured through quarterly senior management operations review, with Bader Al Kharafi personally overseeing progress.
Al Kharafi concluded by disclosing his personal views on the impact that women entrepreneurs and leaders are having on businesses of all sizes and on society at large across the region, “The number of women starting their own businesses or taking leadership roles is increasing across the region in all sectors. Women by nature are able to multitask with high emotional intelligence, making them more able to practice positive forms of leadership. Financial independence, economic growth, solution-based innovations, raising an entrepreneurial generation, creation and development is an intrinsic motivator for women and you can observe this on a global scale. Today you find women leading or in key management roles in large conglomerates and start-ups, providing a different and dynamic management approach. This is incredibly inspiring and driving a new generation of future women leaders will impact society positively on multiple levels.”