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Welcome to the Financial Times online web chat with Celia de Anca, who features in our Ten Questions Q&A.

Celia de Anca, professor of Islamic finance at IE Business School in Spain and author of Managing Diversity in the Global Organization: Creating New Business Values, will answer your questions on Thursday October 20, 2011, between 13.00 and 14.00 BST.

Email your questions now to ask@ft.com


Dear Celia,

What role can Islamic finance play in the global economy?

How will your experience in the Middle East impact how you teach Islamic finance?

Fatimah Iliasu

Celia: I believe we are witnessing one of the major transition periods in modern history, and one element that is going through a deep transformation is the financial system. In order for a financial system to be effective, it should channel the savings of the few into the business drive and economics needs of the masses. However, as we saw somewhat in the last financial crisis, the financial engineering of the last decade has produced a financial system that channels the savings of the masses into those of the few.

A key issue to getting back to a healthy financial system is to reconnect the financial institutions and financial instruments to the real economy, to link them to real operations that have to do with commerce and investments and less to do with financial speculation. In that respect, Islamic finance, together with other financial initiatives such as the sustainable finance movement, can influence moving the financial system to a more coherent system that is closely related with the real economy.

Regarding your second question, having firsthand experience of a culture is fundamental to understanding its behaviour and the rationale behind its customs – and that includes a culture’s economic behavior. I have had experience in the Middle East since early in my life, learning the language and living in different countries for short periods. I do believe that because of my experience in the Middle East, I can understand Islam better, the role of finance in an Islamic community, and the role of women in the business life of an Islamic community. In fact, I enjoy teaching Islamic finance because I hope to spread a better understanding of Islamic societies; its history, culture, and richness.

Is it more difficult to succeed in the Islamic world being an occidental woman?

Thank you,

Alicia Alvarez

Celia: Not particularly. In fact I believe that in many ways, it is easier. First of all, it is important to point out that in the majority of Islamic countries women do have full rights – just as in any western country. Women in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt can be and are successful businesswomen; many are very successful as executives in companies.

In other countries, it is true that there are perhaps more restrictions to a woman’s mobility. But, even in those countries in which women and men are more separate (for example Saudi Arabia), western women are able to enter both the world of women and the world of men. And that is not to say that the world of women is just the world of the home – it is full of business opportunities. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are also presidents of universities, doctors architects and have very successful careers.

Good morning. My question is: which do you think are the main difficulties for women to succeed and progress in the academic environment and in entrepreneurship?

Sofia Serena Carranza

Celia: Balancing a personal life with a professional life is still, even today, the major difficulty for women to progress in academia as well as in entrepreneurship. The period of the highest professional activity for women and men both is from 30 to 40 years old. Of course, this is when women are also focused more on their family life, therefore many women take some time off and have difficulties in finding their way back to the workforce.

However, there are many ways today to deal with these issues. Men are increasingly taking a substantial role in family matters, and universities are increasingly open to different rhythms in career paths. Moreover, technology facilitates work opportunities for many women entrepreneurs, and increasingly blended programmes that combine face to face education with online education help professors and students deliver and receive high quality management education in the type of flexible format that women need.

For example, a mother can further her education, or focus on an entrepreneurial endeavour while staying at home, thanks to technology today. Therefore, my recommendation for every woman is not to give up - pursue both your professional and personal dreams, because it is possible.

Dear Celia,

In your opinion, what is the current pulse of the business diversity initiatives in this time of crisis?

How do you foresee the diversity model and company initiatives evolving?

Alfonso Mostacero

Celia: More than ever, companies today must understand the diversity in their workforce because in times of crisis every market is a precious one. Diversity is what can save companies by acquiring new markets, or designing targeted products for a specific community.

Regarding your second question, diversity needs to be understood in a larger framework. It is not only about race and gender, but a whole set of different identities in which each individual feels he/she belongs. This includes race and gender, but also communities around a passion: nature, for example, or a sport.

Equal opportunities are still important, since each individual needs to feel included in a company with his/her difference, but taking full advantage of diversity is a question of strategy and survival.

Professor de Anca, much has been published about work / life balance and it seems like these discourses are always lead by and addressed at women. However, men also have children and families and a personal life. They should realise this debate also affects them. How can we get men more involved in these issues?

Celia: I am really glad you asked that question. In my opinion, the only way forward for women is to have men fulfilling their personal lives with the same enthusiasm that women do. Most men have the passion and would love to spend more time with their families, but are too afraid society will punish them professionally for doing that. Also, many women do not want to let go of some responsibilities, for instance feeding the family or educating the children. Women would like the men to help, but do not relinquish enough control to give men an equal say in the matter. Just as women need more respect in the workplace, men need more respect in the home. After all, it is a change of mentality that needs engagement from both sides.

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