Manama, Bahrain - Citi Bahrain and the Bahrain Association of Banks (BAB) recently organized a 'Women in Banking' roundtable that determined that there is a need to establish a forum to support and empower women working in Bahrain's banking and financial sector. Female banking executives from more than 15 institutions attended the seminar held at the Kempinski Ixir Hotel.
Keynote speaker HH Shaikha Hessa bint Khalifa Al Khalifa, Chairwoman of Al Salam Bank and Executive Director of inJAz Bahrain, spoke on the role of women in the banking and financial sector, pointing out that it is the largest single employer in the Kingdom, with more than 14,400 people and with women making up 37 percent of that workforce. "However, the majority of that percentile hold only junior to middle management roles," she said.
Shaikha Hessa went on to underline the need for a diverse workforce: "Women in the workplace, in particular in the banking sector, continue to be dismally represented, especially in more senior banking roles. It is clear that women aren't currently progressing as far, or as high, as their male counterparts. This is not only a local issue, but is also an epidemic that is spread across the globe."
She listed the challenges facing women in the financial sector as being: the prevailing attitude towards women; an existing male-dominated workforce; the organizational culture and a lack of female role models. Shaikha Hessa concluded with a call for proactive initiatives to counter the challenges to women's career progression in banking. She added: "The biggest challenge that women face in their career advancement in banking today is not about organizational processes, but is about awareness, attitudes and the culture of the organization. These issues ought to be changed if banks wish to achieve gender diversification at senior levels. This will call for a sizeable shift in both organizational, social culture and attitudes."
The roundtable was also addressed by Mrs. Sabah Khalil Al Moayyed, herself a banker with three decades of experience in the financial sector, most recently as Chief Executive Officer and a Board Member of Eskan Bank, a post she relinquished only last month. She fully endorsed Shaikha Hessa's call for action to support and promote more women in the financial and banking sector.
Sharing her own experience, Mrs. Al Moayyed explained the importance of family support: "I come from a family with high expectations of women in education and the profession. This was very important in allowing me to set my sights high in my chosen profession. I also realized that to progress in my chosen profession I had to acquire skills throughout the sector, and I moved during my career through all departments of the banks in which I worked." Mrs. Al Moayyed said she resigned as the Chief Executive Officer of Eskan Bank to devote her energies to empowering women and housing issues in Bahrain.
Citi Country Officer for Bahrain, Mr. Mazin Manna, who opened the roundtable, underlined the bank's commitment to diversity. He said: "We recognize this as one of our competitive advantages, which is enhanced by attracting, retaining and developing the top female talent in the industry. At 53 percent, women make up more than half of Citi's workforce globally. In Bahrain, 30 percent of our Citibank workforce are women, of which 62 percent are officers; 36 percent of our new hires in 2012 were women."
Two Citibank executives also spoke on their own experiences in banking: Mrs. Nahad Bardestani, VP for Treasury Operations & Citi Islamic Operations in the Middle East, and Mrs. Huda Hussain Ali, Assistant VP for Corporate Banking.
After a very lively question-and-answer session between the audience of women executives and the speakers, Mr. Manna closed the event with a suggestion to follow up on this event with a proposal to form a working group to formulate recommendations on how best to further the development of women in the banking sector.