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.”