MENA Britain Trade Expo provides unique insight on women in business
About 600 people attended this year’s MENA Britain Trade Expo in London, which focused on business in the Middle East and North Africa region, on November 10. Female leaders of companies spoke about the lack of women in trade and initiatives and encouraged them to enter the sector, not just in MENA but in some well-developed parts of the world as well.
“Governments worldwide have recognised women’s participation is critical to economic development, Sabila Din, CEO and founder of Din Consultants in London, said during the conference. “The World Trade Organisation estimates women in trade could add $28 trillion into global GDP by 2025. Yet if we look in the statistics in the UK, of the 17% female-owned enterprises, only 15% engaged in trade. In the MENA region, of the 6%-10% female-owned enterprises, only 1% engage in trade. Of the 40% of global annual GDP spent on procurement, only 1% is awarded to women suppliers.”
Din cited US initiatives to encourage women as an example for the MENA region and the UK to follow.
“We must ask ourselves, what are the barriers to this huge opportunity?” she said. “There are initiatives that are under way such as the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative, which aims to connect women to opportunity through different acts of intervention, which include enacting fair policies, strike business deals, unlocking financial services and granting ownership rights.”
“In the US, 10% of procurement has to be awarded to female-only SMEs (small and medium enterprises). In some MENA regions, there are targets to reward SMEs, but there is no mention of what contracts should be awarded to women. In the UK, we are yet to reach that stage,” she added.
A particular focus on Egypt was provided by Rana Adawi, chairwoman and managing director of Acumen Asset Management.
“To have an enterprise in import and export, you need to have work experience so if this ratio drops to half, this is one of the reasons why we do not see enough women enterprises,” she said.
“The ventures that are set up by women in the MENA region… are normally consumer focused more than business sectors. Women are focused on technological advancement and social media in online businesses that do not have enough finance or empowerment behind (them) to be able to export to successful businesses,” Adawi explained.
“The multi-layered bureaucracy is another challenge but challenges are always opportunities. With the ‘Arab spring,’ women have played a very big role in that. They were the ones on the street that changed things so we will see the 23% increase.”
Stella Cox, managing director of DDGI Limited, spoke about her experience as an English woman working in the Middle East.
“I have never experienced gender discrimination working in the MENA region. One challenge I did face a while back is whether my clients would accept a woman dealing with them or if it would be a tough call. As a relationship manager, I needed to go and see my clients where they worked and I couldn’t get visas in certain markets,” Cox said.
“When I worked in Islamic finance there were no women working with me so that was demotivating. Now things have changed. During the time I was working there, I would say we built history developing our own paths creating role models and mentors. We looked to collaborate with our firms and partners and overcome barriers.”
MENA Britain Trade Expo returns to Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London October 26, 2018.