'It is time to tackle gender inequality and boardroom imbalance' - new GWPR MENA chair

Lucy D'abo, chair of GWPR MENA, says flexible working hours, equal opportunities, women in leadership, and sponsoring up-and-coming talent is at the top of the agenda for a new regional branch of Global Women in PR (GWPR).

Lucy D’abo is the chair of the newly-formed Global Women in PR (GWPR) MENA
Lucy D’abo is the chair of the newly-formed Global Women in PR (GWPR) MENA

Global Women in PR (GWPR) is launching a Middle Eastern branch to tackle gender inequality in the PR, PRWeek can reveal.

The MENA branch of GWPR will be headed by Lucy D’abo, who has been in the Middle East for 18 years. 

In 2004, she co-founded DABO & CO a multiple award-winning integrated communications agency - acquired by Edelman in 2015, which resulted in a merger with their regional offices.

"Now is the time for GWPR to launch in the Middle East," D’abo told PRWeek Middle East, in an exclusive interview. "It is a very urgent topic; globally women represent more than 70 per cent of the workforce of PR and communications but only hold 30 per cent of leadership positions. While statistics are hard to come by in the region, we believe the same to be true in the Middle East."

GWPR is a global organisation for senior women in PR made up of networking groups and individuals around the world; offering cross-border support, information on best practice and networking events and is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting female talent in the PR industry.

Already established in Europe, Asia, and Africa, the MENA branch will officially be launched in January and will be chaired by D’abo. 

Board members include Grayling's Middle East and Africa CEO Loretta Ahmed, who recently acquired Grayling Dubai from its parent company Huntsworth plc, Felice Hurst, managing director of Hanson Search MENA and Asia Pacific, Teri O’Donnell, founding partner and chair of Manara Global, Rachel Dunn, deputy managing director of Weber Shandwick Dubai, and Leanne Foy, head of marketing and business growth at markettiers and operations director of GWPR.

D’abo said the new platform aimed to "connect and attract women in leadership within the communications industry across the MENA region, as we strive for excellence and a fair gender balance".

"With a focus on the future, GWPR MENA offers a not-for-profit platform for our members to tackle key issues around the role of women as well as the fast-changing landscape within the industry. We recognise that the world of PR is fundamentally shifting and that creative communications is at the core of our future," she said.

"We aim to bring interesting and diverse female and industry leaders together across a yearlong program, drive conversations through a distinctive format that opens up new debate around positive tension points, and take the conversations from the ‘boardroom’ in a meaningful to leaders of the future."

D’abo said GWPR MENA has been in the works for about five months. The board had identified three key areas to tackle; introducing mentoring and sponsorship of young talent, stressing the importance of ‘returnships’ – such as women return to work after maternity leave – and, most importantly, flexible working hours for women. 

"There is a huge amount of data supporting the benefits of flexible working hours for women," she said. "Getting this in place now will have enormous benefits for female generations of the future." 

GWPR MENA is currently undertaking research to shed light on the current flexible working hours landscape in the UAE. The research will later be expanding to reflect the wider region.

"We need to know the lay-of-the-land now so we can start to press change and see tangible results down-the-lien," she said. 

Mentoring is also a key factor, with D’abo saying: "This is not just about senior managers, mentoring young staff but also reverse mentoring - with CEO’s having. A real understanding of what junior account managers want to see to have a real understanding and to ensure dynamic and strong relations from top to bottom.

"Ultimately, our ambition in MENA is to connect and attract women in leadership within communications, drive change, improve gender equality and striving for excellence for the industry which will be a benefit for all."

"Having been in the industry for 20 years and being at the helm for one of the leading integrated communications agencies, seeing women improve is of huge importance to me. We want to address disparity and move to more equality in the region. Statistics prove that gender parity directly impact company revenues, effectiveness and economic growth and we all need to embrace and encourage and the next generation of women leaders."

Mentoring programme

The MENA branch will have a mentoring programme to support up-and-coming talent, host regular debates and knowledge-sharing sessions to "ensure the next generation of women to have the robust skill set to further their progress".

It will also have a male advisory board "because, ultimately, we know that gender parity is a challenge for everyone - not just for women - and we drive to be as inclusive as we can to ensure we tackle the issue".

A unique challenge in MENA, said D’abo, is that very few women own or start their business which means a lack of positive role-models for women across all industries.

Whilst the UAE is addressing gender parity in some industries – such as the UAE’s Cabinet, where 30 per cent of ministers are female – many other industries are lacking.

Another key issue is women lacking in self-belief. "Data shows that often women will only apply for a job if they have about 90 per cent of the skill-set required; while men will apply if they have about 65 per cent. This is a factor in why, despite about 75 per cent of CEOs listing gender equality as one of their top ten priorities, the vast amount of promotions go to men," D’abo said.

"Given the fact we are in the business of communication, women need to be able to shout about who they are and believe ion ‘Brand Me’. Women need the tools to be able to do that, and we, at GWPR MENA, want to help drive that change."

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