How Muslim women can make it in business

Who is the world’s most high-profile Muslim businesswoman?

When asking the question, no obvious name springs to mind.

So are the elite levels of the business and corporate world falling behind when it comes to representing the diversity of women?

I spoke to Shaista Gohir, who runs BigSister.org, a UK-based website showcasing female Muslim role-models, who immediately pointed out that the dearth of top Muslim businesswomen is not as bad as I first thought.

“When I was looking for role models in the Gulf, most women doing well were in big business, owning banks, and occupying top corporate positions” says Gohir.

Arguably the most high-profile Muslim women in business is Nahed Taher, the founder and chief executive of Saudi Arabia’s Gulf One Investment Bank, who was ranked 24th in the FT’s Top 50 Women in Global Business last year

But the experience of businesswomen in Muslim countries is not always reflected in other parts of the world.

“In the UK and Europe, most prominent Muslim women work as activists or in non-business-related spheres,” says Gohir, who is also a board director of the Muslim Women’s Network, an organisation representing female Muslim voices in the UK.

“I often found that most women in Britain were frustrated, they wanted to go into business, even small business, because it is a career that can fit in with family life.”

“For Muslim women everywhere, barriers that may exist within their communities are amplified by the fact that first, women overall are underrepresented in boardrooms, and second, issues such as ethnicity or the fact they may wear the hijab can be a hindrance.”

Training and guidance for Muslim women looking to launch business careers is needed, adds Gohir, who sees the rise of Islamic banking as a possible catalyst in that process.

“There has been a drive to target women as customers [of Islamic banks], by providing them with credit. What I’d like to see is these banks giving back by providing entrepreneurial knowledge and training too. There are plenty of Muslim women trying to set up SME’s, but they just don’t know where to start.”

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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.