Egypt's Women Leaders on the Rise

Recent studies indicate that more women in company leadership can increase company performance and that boards with high female representation experience a 53% higher return on equity than those with the least female representation.
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Recent studies indicate that more women in company leadership can increase company performance and that boards with high female representation experience a 53% higher return on equity than those with the least female representation. Women outperform in sales by 42% and have a 66% higher return on invested capital, according to an independent British review by Lord Davies. A McKinsey & Company study, as have others, show similar results: more female business leadership is better for performance.

In Egypt and around the Middle East, the role of women in societies has become increasingly important. There is a strong sense that women are now choosing to portray themselves on a different platform from what the typical eastern culture has been accustomed to. The stereotype of women has been altered where we've witnessed some growing trends of entrepreneurship, women assuming senior executive positions and more Middle Eastern women are entering the workforce and choosing careers and roles in industries that are considered male-dominated.

This new phenomenon is being celebrated and recognized by the programs of various local and international organizations including UNESCO, Goldman Sachs and others. They cast light on the achievements of women in the Middle East, which signals the importance and relevance of the role that women are playing not only on a local level, but the impact on the wider economy.

Goldman Sachs for example initiated the "Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership Program" as part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative, a global initiative providing 10,000 underserved women entrepreneurs with a business and management education in developing countries. The American University in Cairo (AUC) in partnership with Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania have helped Arab entrepreneurs via a blend of certifications, research and mentoring programs reach their business goals successfully. The program has graduated 303 Arab female entrepreneurs since its inception in 2008.

One of the most successful regional programs supporting youth with a special focus on helping young women enter the labor force or become entrepreneurs is Education For Employment (EFE) which I am proud to represent as a Board member. EFE has provided job and entrepreneurship training to over 16,700 Arab youth with limited opportunity - 50% of them young women.

Programs supporting entrepreneurship like Cairo Angels and Wamda have been very successful regionally. Wamda organised "Wamda for Women" roundtables this year in Cairo, Doha, Riyadh and Amman. Rise Egypt, a first major entrepreneurial summit was held in Cairo on November 24-25 was a resounding success. It brought together many different and important players from the entrepreneurial ecosystem: investors, accelerators, corporates, civil actors and entrepreneurs. We do sense a strong vibe around town that entrepreneurs are changing Egypt for the better.

At the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt (AmCham Egypt), one of our most active committees is the Women in Business Committee, whose objective is to foster and support the professional development of women in business using AmCham's four activity pillars: awareness, advocacy, building connections and services. The committee does this by implementing a program of activities and providing a forum for women to share and learn from each other's successes. The committee is also dedicated to developing and promoting strong women leaders and to promote women participation on Boards of organizations and within the wider business community.

There are numerous examples of women who made it to the top given the right support. In 2012, AmCham Egypt launched the MENA Council Women Awards Program, which seeks to recognize women of excellence in the MENA region who have made significant contributions in their professions and communities. The 2013 program recognized three women from across the MENA region, including Ms. Nevine El Tahri - who is also known as "Egypt's Investing Entrepreneur." After more than 12 years of heading her own financial services business Delta Securities Egypt, Nevine was awarded the "Enterprising Woman of the Year" at the Global Summit on Women in Mexico City in 2005, and numerous other international prizes. She is an example that young Egyptian businesswomen look to, and we need more inspirational female business leaders like her.

The need for support networks and women-focused startup initiatives is apparent in the statistics: women make up half of university attendees in the MENA region, but are only 21 per cent of the workforce, according to World Bank data.

At this time, education, greater support for businesswomen, and the creation of a slightly more level playing field thanks to the novelty of entrepreneurialism are all allowing women to succeed in Egypt and across the Middle East.

As the ecosystem for entrepreneurship further develops, I strongly believe that women will bring additional value as entrepreneurs, and as leaders in the ecosystem and that encouraging more women to lead business is no longer the right thing to do, but rather the bright thing to do.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Education For Employment (EFE) in conjunction with Arab World Mother's Day. The series highlights the collective personal, societal and economic impact of women employees, employers and entrepreneurs in the Arab world. EFE's mission is to create job and entrepreneurship opportunities for unemployed youth in the Middle East and North Africa. For more information about Education For Employment click here.

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