Emaar Hospitality Groups' vision for Gender Parity

23rd Sep 2018

Hello Olivier, can you please tell us about yourself and your role at Emaar?

I am Olivier Harnisch, CEO of Emaar Hospitality Group. I joined the company on the 1st of March 2017 and have been in this role ever since. After having spent decades in Europe, Dubai is a very exciting and dynamic market for me.

First and foremost, can you tell us why you think gender parity in the workplace is very important?

Statistics from Hotel Management Institutes show that more women enroll and graduate every year as compared to men. Yet, when you look at the workplace, an overwhelming number of senior positions are held by men. Women start dropping out of the workforce, whereas men continue to climb the corporate ladder. Given these facts, it is important that as a responsible organization, we take the necessary measures to make the workplace friendlier and more inclusive.

Women empowerment in the workplace and promoting gender parity have an add-on effect, as they motivate more women employees to aspire and work towards senior leadership goals. Through our focus on all four key metrics of gender diversity – recruitment, retention, advancement and pay – we aim to build a strong talent pool of women professionals in senior roles across our group.

Can you tell us about Emaar’s vision for gender parity in the workplace and why it is such an important goal for the business?

The immediate goal of Hiya is to achieve 30% women in executive leadership positions, 50% women in general manager roles, 40% women in management positions and 32% women in supervisory positions by 2019. Our real ambition as a company is to truly embrace diversity and become “gender agnostic” when it comes to recruitment, development and promotion.

In line with what I have previously mentioned, guests want to be associated with responsible organizations, the best talent wants to work for responsible organizations, and investors are willing to bet their money on responsible organizations. And as a responsible organization, gender parity is an utmost priority for us.

We have read about the Hiya initiative that Emaar has put in place to support women in the business. Can you tell us further about this?

Our initiatives for Hiya span the pillars of recruitment, retention and development. Through favourable workplace policies such as enhanced maternity leave, provision for part-time work and by sharing the stories of successful women associates, we have been able to create an inspiring work environment. A Women Sponsorship Program has been implemented to recognise high potentials and develop them for the next stage in their careers. Similarly, a General Manager Development Program has been initiated to achieve our goal of having 50% women General Managers. Over the next few months, other concerted programs will be designed to help us achieve our objectives.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle for gender parity in the workplace today?

There are several challenges with an initiative such as Hiya - it requires the buy-in of people to be fruitful, and people are unpredictable. Also, the change in mindset so pertinent to the success of this program is slow to happen and often difficult to measure. With gender involved in the equation, the biases are unconscious, and as managers are unaware of these biases, there is often no action.

Whilst we see that the number of women in decision making positions is growing, there is still a long way to go. In your opinion, why are there generally few women in top positions?

There are multiple reasons why we do not find enough women occupying top positions in an organization. Let me start off by clarifying that this is not a question of competence or ability. The workplace is designed in a manner that puts women at a disadvantage. We often mistake self confidence for competence, and men are proven to have greater confidence in their abilities. We also overlook a woman’s role as a home maker and evaluate her for the number of hours worked in office. Women are likely to look at networking as a selfish construct, which often inhibits their development. They also suffer from the “imposter” syndrome and believe that their success is a result of luck or other externalities.

I think the reasons are many, and that is why any gender parity initiative must involve both men and women in the conversation.

In general, women tend to be the primary caregivers for children, and may require flexible working hours. Do you have any practices in place that would address this need?

We have created the provision for part-time work, for those who may not be able to commit to a full-time role. We also believe that men sharing in the responsibility is a step in the right direction. We have therefore introduced paternity leave and enhanced the maternity leave policy. We are trying to convey to women that it is indeed possible to have it all, contrary to what is believed, and we are with them on every step of this journey.

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