KUWAIT: The General Manager of the Human Resources Department at Gulf Bank, Salma Al-Hajjaj, affirmed the bank’s keenness to empower women and support their career development, noting that women occupied 28 percent of the bank’s leadership positions in 2022.
Al-Hajjaj indicated in an interview that the percentage of female employees has reached 43.5 percent out of the total number of employees in the bank, and that by the end of 2021, Gulf Bank was a pioneer in establishing equality between men and women when it came to job benefits. The bank believes in equal income based on qualification and competence, and not gender.
She also noted that Gulf Bank was one of the first private sector companies to sign the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), which aligns with the bank’s five-year strategy for 2025 and Kuwait Vision 2035.
Speaking on Women of Wisdom (WOW), Al-Hajjaj mentioned that Gulf Bank’s female employees are reaping the benefits of the WOW initiative that was launched back in 2017 with the aim of empowering and supporting women in the business world – in terms of training, development and career advancement.
She also spoke about the bank’s keenness to cooperate and partner with international and local institutions to provide quality training programs that contribute to the development of the bank’s human talent. In addition to supporting the bank’s direction towards empowering women, noting that several female employees from the bank, participated in a program organized by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to prepare managers for the board of directors’ positions.
On the occasion of this month’s International Women’s Day, Gulf Bank decided to celebrate this special day differently this year, by organizing the ‘Lead The Way’ conference on March 20, at Grand Hyatt Hotel – 360 Mall, which will address the achievements of women leaders, discuss, and analyze the efforts of empowering women in Kuwait, and the modern-day challenges they face at work. The details are as follows:
Gulf Bank pays significant attention to the issue of empowering women in society. What about the women within the Bank?
Gulf Bank is keen to establish the principles of sustainability, which is why it has prioritized the issue of women empowerment inside and outside the Bank. This begins from the recruitment process to high-level training and development, to supporting their career paths to reach leadership positions. It is noteworthy that the number of women in our leadership positions reached about 28 percent in 2022, while their percentage has reached 43.5 percent out of the total number of employees in the Bank.
As part of Gulf Bank’s efforts to fulfill its obligations and implement its undertakings, the Board of Directors, at the end of the year 2021, decided to cancel cases of discrimination between the Bank’s male and female employees, and to achieve full equality when it comes to job benefits. Gulf Bank was a pioneer in implementing this decision, which aligns with its five-year strategy for 2025 and Kuwait Vision 2035.
Women of Wisdom (WOW)
Question: Gulf Bank launched the Women of Wisdom (WOW) program in 2017. How has it positively reflected the empowerment of women within the Bank?
Al-Hajjaj: Studies and research have proven that companies that operate on the principle of gender justice have higher profits and productivity for several reasons – including an increase in diversity of opinions and viewpoints, which reflects positively on the services. Especially since we, as a Bank, provide services to consumers, and women are an integral part of these consumers.
Therefore, we launched the Women of Wisdom (WOW) program as an internal initiative back in 2017, as a result of the Bank’s vision, and direction, to empower and support women in the business world. The program provides networking opportunities for female employees through monthly gatherings, that are held with groups of females – with the aim of promoting transparent discussions on various topics related to work-life balance. The bank’s ultimate goal is to support more women in their career paths, as they strive to reach leadership positions. This aligns with Kuwait Vision 2035, which aims to increase women contributions and presence in leadership positions.
Training and qualification
Question: To what extent is the Bank interested in training and qualifying women to obtain leadership positions in the Bank?
Al-Hajjaj: In relationship to Kuwaitization and job replacement programs, it was necessary to expand the talent pool available in the market, in order to fill the need and vacancies for certain disciplines. This standpoint has created an urgent need for female employees to work in the bank. Hence, with the increasing number of women in Gulf Bank, we are keen to cooperate and partner with international, and local, institutions to provide quality training programs. This is to contribute to the development of the bank’s human talents and to support its direction towards empowering women. Female employees from Gulf Bank participated in a three-month training program, organized by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group, in cooperation with the Tamayouz Foundation and Soroptimist Organization. For the second year in a row, we are proud of the participation of our female leaders in this program, due to the expertise it provides to trainees; especially women, as it opens new horizons for them in leadership positions.
Question: Gulf Bank announced that it will be organizing a conference on March 20, based on the achievements of women leaders. What are the details of the conference?
Al-Hajjaj: On the occasion of International Women’s Day, that is celebrated annually in March, Gulf Bank decided to celebrate women differently this year, by organizing the ‘Lead The Way’ conference on March 20, at Grand Hyatt Hotel – 360 Mall. The conference will address the achievements of women leaders, discuss, and analyze the efforts of empowering women in Kuwait, and the modern-day challenges they face at work.
Organizing this conference comes as part of Gulf Bank’s continuous efforts to support and empower women and help them reach leadership positions. Gulf Bank is one of the first private sector companies to sign the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), which aligns with the Bank’s five-year strategy for 2025 and Kuwait Vision 2035.
Question: What is the agenda of the conference? Who are the most important speakers?
Al-Hajjaj: The conference will be a mixture of interactive workshops, inspiring speeches, and thought-provoking panel discussions, which aim to shed light on women empowerment in Kuwait; as well as the role of institutions, and women themselves, in preserving their gains.
The conference consists of two workshops: The first one being exclusively for women, which will be presented by Kuwait University Professor, and Founder of SHORE Consultancy, Dr Amar Behbehani, who will discuss how women can remain emotionally and physically resilient as they progress to leadership positions. The second workshop will be presented by Global Brand Strategist and Reputation Risk Mitigator, Steve Brazell, who will provide deep insights and actionable strategies to develop, build, and grow a personal brand of value.
The conference will also be featuring a keynote speech by Gulf Bank Board Member, Ahmad Mohammad Al-Bahar, in addition to an open panel discussion with: The General Secretary of the Supreme Planning and Development Council, Dr Khaled Al-Mahdi, the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Program, Hideko Hadzialic, and a Representative from MasterCard.
Question: Why is it important to organize this conference for Kuwaiti women and Gulf Bank employees in particular?
Al-Hajjaj: At Gulf Bank, we believe that the issue of women empowerment in society, has witnessed remarkable progress in the last period. However, it still requires more effort – whether from the state, the private sector, or from the women themselves. Reaching leadership positions in our society is still difficult to some extent and obtaining leadership positions is even more challenging. The obstacles and difficulties do not end once leadership positions are obtained by females, and hence why we made it the key focus of the upcoming conference.
The ‘Lead The Way’ conference aims to develop a complete vision and a model to overcome the obstacles that women face in leadership positions, in order to preserve and build on their gains.
Women empowerment – An economic need
Salma Al-Hajjaj emphasized that empowering women has become an economic need – as recent research proved that there is an economic return for companies that provide equal opportunities for both genders. Companies that follow this standard have increased levels of profitability, productivity, and innovation; and this is reflected positively on their reputation and market value.
Supporting women to work in rare disciplines
She added: “As part of its efforts to establish itself as a Bank of the future, and its ambitious plans for digital transformation, Gulf Bank has been keen to support women to work in rare disciplines – such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The bank has already succeeded in attracting many female talents for these disciplines, some of whom currently occupy leadership positions in the Bank. This helps reduce the gap between the number of men and women leaders.”
Supporting the elimination of violence against women
Al-Hajjaj also mentioned that every year, Gulf Bank participates in the ‘Orange the World’ campaign – a global initiative launched by the United Nations to eliminate violence against women. The campaign begins on November 25, for a period of 16 days, and ends on International Human Rights Day, which falls on December 10. On this occasion, Gulf Bank lights up its head office building in orange throughout the campaign in support of eliminating violence against women and preserving their human rights.