Responses by Shilpa Shetty, Vice President, Private Client – the Continental Group


What can be done to improve diversity and inclusion of women?


Despite commitments to diversity, equality, and inclusion, women employees continue to feel ostracized at work or suffer from inequality in pay, primarily due to gender biases. And in traditionally male-dominated industries like finance and insurance, greater redressal efforts are required to balance the gender equation. We need to emphasize fixing certain pressing issues, including the “broken rung” — a phenomenon where entry-level women employees are deprived of the first, important managerial promotion, leading to a career-long setback. Broken rung is often based on conscious or unconscious biases, such as maternity and domestic obligations.


In addition, women in male-dominated industries also face microaggressions and subtle, unseen gender biases. These need to be acknowledged and addressed, creating a culture of empowerment. As women, the onus is on us to raise awareness, educate, and drive change. Measures to promote diversity and inclusion can also include sessions to share corporate stories and experiences, shareable collaterals with pertinent information, survey-based feedback/suggestion mechanisms to measure progress, and encouraging transparent communications.


Could you give us a bit more insights on the following points, particularly with a focus on what the insurance sector in the UAE or MENA can do.

What are the 3 things you still feel need to change to empower women even more? what can women themselves do to bring about change?


The current corporate environment in the UAE is conducive to women’s career advancement. Women entrepreneurs, particularly in the finance industry, have access to incubators, accelerators, and networking events to fuel their aspirations. Supported by the government, many women leaders have emerged in the industry in recent years, entrusted to make high-level decisions. The overall ecosystem is also devoid of discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality, and religion — all underpinned by multiple progressive and women’s rights reforms in recent years. This status quo is evident in the insurance industry as well, with women holding many leadership and senior positions. However, there is still room for improvement, especially in terms of recognition. Irrespective of genders, we need avenues and greater means to celebrate the achievements of those who are working wonders in the industry.


The three changes required to empower women more are:


Motivation: About time women get out of their comfort zones, attend women-led conclaves, and share their success stories to rally others. There are motivational videos, podcasts, and TED Talks available online, besides magazines such as Forbes Women, which shine a light on those who are enhancing their careers while effectively handling domestic responsibilities.


Knowledge: Lack of financial literacy can hamper career development in the industry. So, women must prioritize learning and upskilling, without letting any financial aspect overwhelm them. There are multiple platforms to accrue the knowledge required to stay ahead.


Be vocal: Most importantly, women must stake their claim on what is rightfully owed to them, in terms of promotion, recognition, accolades, increments, etc. If you feel something isn’t right or fair, let it be known. Asking is the beginning of receiving in today’s competitive environment.


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