Sameer Areff, Chief Operating Officer, SAP Middle East South speaks of about gender equality, in the work place and in the society for the future and well-being of the world.

We live in a world that is yet to completely empower all the wonderful human potential it is blessed with. Stereotypes and gender discrimination still constrain so many extraordinary and talented women from pursuing their dreams. As businesses, actively encouraging diversity it is a means for us to rouse a tremendous reservoir of untapped potential.

This is not merely a moral position. It is one of the smartest investments we can make in the transformation to a more productive, and inspired world.

Growing up in the South Africa of a few decades ago — with all its complexities — Sameer Areff, Chief Operating Officer, SAP Middle East South, witnessed the enormous challenges his mother endured, despite her intelligence and ingenuity. After his fathers’ death, his mother had no option but to earn a living to support and raise us. Her tenacity — against all odds — empowered him through example.

Life has come full circle and he is now a father to three young girls himself. He cherishes the opportunity to empower them as young women of substance and ambition, through an equitable upbringing and access to knowledge.

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and Susan Wojcicki the CEO of Youtube — in contrast to the historical gender imbalance of the IT industry. Mary T. Barra is the CEO of General Motors and Christine Lagarde the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. From Angela Merkel in Germany to Jacinda Ardem, Prime Minister of New Zealand (and, also incidentally, the world’s youngest female head of government), women heads of state are leading economic and social transformation in their nations.

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Apart from the compelling ethical argument for parity, he sees more gender diversity in workplaces as a best practice for purely business reasons. More women in industries in which they have traditionally been under-represented — such as computing — will bring their unique set of perspectives and strengths to bear on these collective endeavors. As businesses, it’s crucial to consider how we can become truly inclusive in our culture and adopt gender diversity in its totality.

An economic necessity for transformation

An inclusive culture is not just an ethical necessity, but also an economic one. Gender equality is the fifth of seventeen sustainable development goals of the United Nations, as of 2017. This indicates the magnitude of the problem and the significant impact that gender equality can have on the world as a whole.

Low levels of female education, employment and leadership can be crippling for women’s growth, but are equally weakening at a macro level.

With gender bias entrenched — especially at an unconscious level — how can societies and companies make this transition?

A balance for greater good

The path to creating equal opportunities has its roots in how we bring up our children, both boys and girls. Limiting stereotypes — starting with dolls for girls and mechanical toys for boys — cause serious harm and play a big role in establishing bias. Societies need to be conscious of this and emphasize on equitable upbringing, which does not discriminate based on gender.

For women to step out of this zone and break free of “stereotype-threat”, they need role models in non-traditional industries who can inspire others to unleash their creativity, and explore unchartered territories.

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There is, however, room to enact much more. There are several simple steps we can undertake immediately to enable a more empowered future for our women:

  • Equitable upbringing for boys and girls, not discriminated by gender
  • Breaking limiting stereotypes for women
  • Supporting, nurturing and encouraging female role models to inspire a new generation of women to take up in a non-traditional field
  • Eliminating unconscious-bias in the workplaces, by recognizing it and consciously learning how to overcome it
  • Encouraging empathy by active questioning such as trying to understand the other person’s point of view, listening carefully, to respond encouragingly and being flexible.
  • Inviting women to actively contribute and bring their unique perspective to workplace

Sameer grew up watching his mother’s generation constrained in their dreams and expectations. Since, he has witnessed so many extraordinary women break through those constraints in recent years — his wife, his daughters and all the women who have been his leaders, collaborators and colleagues through the course of his career.

In this article on Forbes, he wishes for an even better world to bequeath to his daughters and their peers, one that is inclusive and thrives on equality and diversity. And as a father and a responsible citizen, he believes it his duty to help create that world — a world where his daughters, and all women, have the opportunity to follow their aspirations, in spite of their gender.


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