Supporting working women in the Middle East

Gulf International Bank collaborates with London Business School to grow opportunities for women


The ongoing work into boosting female empowerment at GIB will provide important insights for the bank’s ambitious plans for its work force.

Conducted in collaboration with London Business School, the project is designed to key into Vision 2030 – a national modernisation and reform agenda in Saudi Arabia. The work on gender forms part of a series educational development programmes focusing on talent, leadership designed and implemented by GIB and London Business School (LBS).

“There isn’t much research on working women in the region and it will really help us understand how we are going to meet our 2030 targets at a granular, local level,” said Nawaf Kably, Chief HR Officer, GIB, Saudi Arabia.

“It is important we understand the challenges to female empowerment here, and that is why we have built upon our relationship with LBS to really give us clarity on what we have to do. This work also fits with Vision 2030’s female empowerment agenda, which is very ambitious for women in Saudi Arabia. Today 22% of the workforce is female and the target is to get that figure to 30% by 2030.

“GIB is showing leadership and building on our record with a number of initiatives. We have a female empowerment forum, we have built female recruitment and advancement metrics into senior manager’s KPIs, we have a thriving womens’ mentoring network and our graduate recruitment programme’s intake is a minimum of 50% women.

“It is important we understand the challenges to female empowerment here, and that is why we have built upon our relationship with LBS to really give us clarity on what we have to do”

“Our deep relationship with LBS will give us a rigorous framework to go even further.”

Helen Lloyd, Group Chief HR Officer, GIB noted that the bank already had four senior female role models and mentors on the bank’s Executive Committee. She added that it was important to understand that the bank’s work was not just about the ethics of female empowerment but growing the business and the economy for everyone.

“When women have more opportunities, society wins and the pie grows for everyone,” she said. “Diverse teams are more successful, more creative and connected. GIB is in a position to transform women’s empowerment in the region; we have the toolkit.

“We also have to hold up the mirror and that can tough and we shouldn’t shirk from that. Explicit bias is a thing and I’ve experienced it. As an HR professional my role is to say it isn’t acceptable.

“My focus now is addressing hidden barriers, for example, around flexible working and challenging perceptions that it means you are less serious about your career.”

“We have to hold up the mirror and that can be tough and we shouldn’t shirk from that”

Randall Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, said GIB had already taken important steps.

“We know there are real barriers,” he said. “The career pipeline for women is leaky and we have to ask ourselves why that is. There are stereotypes of what a leader should look like and women still feel exceptional in those roles.

“One area is feedback. In my research I have found women receive more ‘nice’ feedback than men, who receive tough developmental feedback. It sounds ‘nice to be nice’ but actually women are missing out on feedback they need to hear.”

Helen Lloyd concurred: “It isn’t that managers aren’t willing, it is more a case that they don’t know how to give that kind of feedback.”

“We are fortunate at GIB, the Chair and the CEO both want to see improvements and they are asking for the data to see how we progressing against the numbers. Once you’ve got that commitment at the top then it is easier to create lasting change.”

GIB employs 980 professionals across its offices around the globe. It provides wholesale, treasury, asset management, investment banking, retail banking, and Shariah-compliant banking services. GIB is owned by the governments of the six GCC countries and the bank's principal shareholder is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, with a majority stake of 97.2%.

Professor Peterson, Helen Lloyd and Nawaf Kably were speaking in November at the HR Summit & Expo at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre