The most powerful women in the Middle East according to Forbes

Forbes Middle East published its annual list, entitled "Middle East's 100 Power Businesswomen 2020" A list of the 100 most powerful Arab women in the world in 2020


The new 2020 list includes 100 exceptional women entrepreneurs at the helm of many of the MENA region's most influential and transformative companies, including women from 23 different countries.

According to Forbes, the list "highlights women in the MENA region who have broken through the glass ceiling to thrive in their respective careers, despite the obstacles that continue to keep women out of the labor market in the region.

Sixty percent of the most powerful business women hold executive management positions, and another 24% have worked their way to the top of their family business. Of the top 100 companies, more than half work in banking, investment and finance, as well as in diversified sectors, and there are 16 female founders, including Maha al-Ghunaim of Kuwait, who co-founded the Global Investment House in 1998, becoming the first Kuwaiti company to be listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The outstanding female leadership of the Middle East was reflected internationally in 2019 when the Forbes list of the world's 100 most powerful women included three women from this region, now among the top three in the world. Raja al-Gurg (84 on the Forbes list) heads the Easa Saleh al-Gurg Group, which is one of the largest conglomerates in the Middle East. The group consists of 27 companies ranging from retail to construction and metal casting, and is also a board member of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Dubai Women's Association and HSBC Middle East. She was the first woman from the United Arab Emirates to be appointed to the board of HSBC Bank Middle East Limited. Renuka Jagtiani (96 on the Forbes list) has built a retail empire in the UAE. And Rania Nashar (97 on the Forbes list) became the first female CEO of Samba Financial Group in 2017, the fourth largest bank in Saudi Arabia by assets.

In the 2020 list, there are 22 new women and 23 nationalities represented in 28 sectors. The Emirati is the most frequent nationality with 23 representations. There are also nine Egyptian, eight Lebanese and eight Omani women. The top 10 are dominated by Saudi Arabian women, with three of the country's top five names: Rania Nashar of Samba Financial Group, Sarah al-Suhaimi of Tadawul and Loubna Olayan of the Saudi British Bank. The public sector is also well represented, with 13 women listed as heads of government organizations, including Smart Dubai CEO Aisha Bin Bishr, who oversees the digital transformation of Dubai, or Sarah al-Suhaimi who chairs Tadawul, the region's largest stock exchange, which recently handled the initial public offering of the world's most valuable company, Aramco.

Most (79) of the 100 women have been self-made, 16 of whom have started their own businesses. There are 21 women in the banking and financial services sector, including 4 in stock exchanges and financial regulators. Another 21 women work in their family businesses, many of whom started when it was still almost impossible to find women in jobs. Like the seventh Moroccan in the region in terms of influence, Nezha Hayat, who has chaired the Moroccan Capital Market Authority (AMMC) since 2016. At 57, she manages a market capitalization of approximately $65 billion. An activist for women's participation in the Kingdom's highest economic bodies, she created and chairs the Club of Women Business Directors in Morocco.

Khuloud al-Omian, editor-in-chief of Forbes Middle East, said: "We at Forbes Middle East are very proud to have honored the successes and positions of the most powerful Arab women for the third year in a row. This highlights the incredible achievements being made throughout our region. The Middle East still has some way to go to achieve true equality in the workplace. As we celebrate the women who are breaking glass ceilings and paving the way for future generations, we give them our unwavering support and encourage all women to fight for their goals and aspirations, whatever they may be.

Forbes Middle East revealed three lists: two focus on business and government, to recognize those who make a difference around the world. Egypt continues to lead, with 18% of entries in all three rankings, including Nashwa al-Ruwaini, CEO of Pyramedia.  Followed closely by Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, both with 14% of the overall entries. Among them are Maitha al-Dossari, CEO of Emaar Retail; and Kawthar Makahlah, CEO of the BCI Group, a leading provider of wholesale beauty products with eight GCC-wide subsidiaries and 260 employees.

"These Arab women are not only driving the region's economic growth, but are also representative of the strong female leadership and influence in the Arab world in all areas of life, from e-commerce to financial services," said Khuloud al-Omian.

It is against this backdrop of pandemic that this list of "Women Behind the Brands of the Middle East 2020" has been published, listing the pioneering women who have managed to maintain their marks of success and push the boundaries despite the pandemic.  

Among them is Iraqi-American Huda Kattan, who was named among the wealthiest women in the United States by Forbes in 2019 with an estimated fortune of $610 million, heading this list. Her brand Huda Beauty has approximately 46 million followers on Instagram. Half of the list is headed by major companies, including Nadia al-Saeed, who runs Jordan's fourth-largest lender, Bank al-Etihad, and Pakinam Kafafi, CEO of Egyptian energy company Taqa Arabia, the only female leader in the oil and gas sector on the list. 

The Forbes list was built through nominations and through in-depth research based on criteria that include the size of the businesses these women run, their achievements over the past year, the initiatives they champion and their overall work experience. This list recognizes women's achievements in reaching the top of their fields in business and government. Beyond the impressive ambition, skill and ingenuity these women have demonstrated in reaching the positions they hold today, serving as important role models for women throughout the MENA region, and through their accomplishments, they are helping to create a more just and balanced working environment in the region.