There is a new interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Saudi
Arabia. I was to present a joint session with Asya al Alshaikh, the founder and
president of Tamkeen, the country’s first CSR consultancy. We went together to
the conference hall to listen to the opening ceremony and then had to go our
separate ways. She was required to sit, with other women behind one-way glass
enabling women to observe the conference but not to be seen by its male
In spite of this conservatism, a new era seems to be beginning in Saudi
Arabia. From the King downwards, there is an opening up and a new recognition of
the valid voice of women.
My fellow speaker might not have been allowed to sit next to me to listen to
the Prime Minister of Turkey or the Queen of Jordan, but she took the same stage
from which they had spoken to challenge the men who run Saudi Arabia’s
companies. She challenged them to recognise the strategic importance of CSR
beyond charitable donation and it was a historic moment.
And so to Manchester, to interview one guru (Charles Handy) and listen to
another (Tom Peters). During Tom Peters’ session he declared the future is with
women. In support of this point he told us that 70% of all new jobs created
since 1970 have been filled by women; women take over 50% of purchasing
decisions; more than 50% of the managers in the USA are now women; and in the UK
girls are outpacing boys in educational attainment.
Never one for an understatement, Peters argues that ‘women do relationships;
men do transactions’. This is an absurd generalisation – rather like saying that
all accountants are introverts and all salesman like fast cars, but the
implications remain interesting.
The statistics make it inevitable that there will be more women leading our
businesses – not only in Manchester but also eventually in the Middle East. In
spite of the demands of the Blackberry, the skills associated with empathy and
long-term relationships will be more and more in demand. What does that mean for
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