Cooper Fitch Dubai


March 12, 2017

Less than 1 in 5 Compliance Heads are Female in the UAE

Males continue to dominate leadership positions in compliance in the banking and financial services space. UAE Nationals account for just six percent of Heads of Compliance.

Compliance and the Gender Divide in the UAE
Cooper Fitch Dubai
Cooper Fitch Dubai
Cooper Fitch Dubai
Cooper Fitch Dubai

Organizations continue to cite the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Numerous studies have shown the many benefits of diversity and gender balancing at top level positions in the business. The advantages are numerous; increased engagement, enhanced productivity, differing skills sets and leadership style. Furthermore, the strategic vision of the company can be better achieved where there is greater input from a more rounded and diverse set of leaders. With this in mind, I decided to investigate gender diversity at the most senior level in Compliance in the UAE. I also looked at the number of UAE Nationals in these positions.


Focusing on Heads of Compliance and Licensed Money Laundering Reporting Officers (MLROs), I surveyed 50 Central Bank regulated onshore banks and 50 offshore firms regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA). The question was simple. Is it a male or female occupying the top job in compliance? Of those companies surveyed, I also noted the number of UAE Nationals overseeing the compliance function. The results below make for some interesting reading. 


Head of Compliance/MLRO’s – Banking and FS UAE

UAE Nationals at Head of Compliance / MLRO positions


Analysis and Trends

Males dominate their female counterparts at the Head of Compliance level for onshore banks in the UAE. For every five male chief compliance officers, there is just one female head of compliance. The position is slightly more balanced in the DIFC where the percentage of females leading the compliance function is doubled compared to onshore banks. However, males still outweigh females 3:2 in the financial centre. Interestingly, there is one international investment bank which holds the unique position of having female Heads of Compliance in both their onshore and offshore branches. Richa Goyal, formerly of the DFSA and who now heads up the compliance function at Banque International a Luxembourg in the DIFC, offered some advice to organisations to help females climb the corporate ladder,

“Compliance as a discipline has evolved only in last 10-12 years. During the initial stage, people from other divisions transitioned into Compliance. Financial services industry has primarily been male dominated and it is no surprise that Compliance is also a reflection of that. There is new generation of Emirati women who are taking up Compliance as a promising career. For women to climb the corporate ladder, organisations will have to offer conducive and flexible working environment to strike a work life balance."

Taking both onshore and offshore firms in the UAE, Emiratis account for just six percent of Heads of Compliance of those banks surveyed. Sara Galadari, a leading Emirati in compliance and regulation with the DFSA spoke to me on the changes she has seen with regards to females Emiratis working in the regulatory market.

“Regulation was still a relatively new concept in the UAE back when I joined the DFSA around 9  years ago. It wasn’t part of our education programs nor was it widely understood. However, I have seen it change over the years with more graduate training programs; day to day banking; and generally more education being made available around the subject. Over the years, I have seen a lot more Emirati females getting into the sector, and specifically in regulation as opposed to compliance departments within banks.  I believe that's partly due to their personalities and preferences for one; preferences are still maintained to work for government and semi-government entities, and second, due to more opportunities being made available to them to advance internally."

Ms Galadari joined the DFSA in 2008 as an associate in its graduate training programme called Tomorrow’s Regulatory Leaders (TRL). The TRL Programme is specifically designed to build up the pool of UAE nationals within financial services, and since its launch in 2006, has produced 33 managers of which some including Ms Galadari, have progressed up the ranks to become senior managers at the DFSA. 

Recommendations and Conclusions

While there is no shortage of females in junior and mid-level positions in compliance in the UAE, it is evident from the results that there is still a lack of females leading the function. Financial services firms who are serious about bridging this gap, particularly those firms who are onshore in the UAE, should explore policies to change this trend. These could include;

1. Creating a culture of inclusion and diversity from the top down. This starts with senior management and should be communicated throughout the organisation and embedded through gender-balancing policies that are re-enforced during the recruitment cycle and during internal promotion discussions.

2. Heads of HR and Recruitment need to put in place targeted recruitment strategies to identify leading females in compliance at the top level. A study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) showed that 85% of organisations in the UAE do view gender diversity as a top priority yet only one in five companies have targeted recruitment strategies for female talent. 

3. Setting up a rotation program at Head of Compliance level where a female should be next in line to succeed their male counterpart where a male had held the position consecutively over a number of terms.

4. To encourage more UAE Nationals into the Compliance function education and understanding is key. A recent report by Cooper Fitch Recruitment on Emirati Graduates and their understanding of compliance showed that 82% of students were unclear on what compliance meant as a core banking function.

Coming Soon…Next month we will continue our discussion on Compliance and gender diversity when we speak to leading females in Compliance in the 7th edition of Compliance Sit Down Series. 

About the Author

Alan Hynes manages the banking and financial services recruitment team at Cooper Fitch Recruitment UAE (formerly Morgan McKinley Recruitment). He has four years experience recruiting for banks, asset managers, private equity and brokerage firms in the GCC to identify leading talent. Alan can be contacted on


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