Women’s participation in the UAE labour force is growing, according to a new study from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
The study, How Organisations in The Middle East Can Stretch Their Diversity Spend, found that women’s participation in the labour force grew by 12 percent between 2000 and 2014, reaching 46 percent - the highest level on record.
However, the rise in educated women looking to enter the workforce has also lead to an increase in women’s unemployment, due to employment opportunities not being able to keep up with the growing demand.
Gender diversity needs to be a core strategy
According to partner and managing director at BCG Middle East, Leila Hoteit, each and every company must make gender diversity a key goal within its strategy, in order to successfully employ more women.
“To develop and empower the female leaders of tomorrow, CEOs and senior leaders should integrate gender diversity as a core part of the organisation's strategic objectives and ensure organisation-wide communication and engagement,” she said.
BCG’s study also found that seeing role models in the workplace increases women’s interest in joining the labour force.
Female managers are more likely than their male counterparts to pay attention to women’s concerns and take their proposals seriously - making women feel more valued within an organisation.
“In particular, the commitment of middle management will be critical, as that is who engages every day with employees, and is responsible for performance assessments and promotions,” said Hoteit.
She noted that following the appointment of the UAE’s first female fighter pilot in 2007 and the first female judge in 2008, both fields saw an increase in female applications.
Flexible working for men and women
BGC’s report also recommends introducing flexible working hours as a strategy to retain female talent within an organisation.
However, rather than presenting it as a female friendly initiative, it should be made available for both male and female colleagues, in order to remove existing stigma surrounding the practice.
Flexible working could, in theory, encourage men take on more traditionally female roles, such as picking the children up from school, as well as helping women negotiate between their work and home lives.
“Retention, advancement and leadership-building are the key areas on which organisations should focus,” said Hoteit. “Applying best practices in retaining talent, ensuring fairness and equal opportunities, removing any conscious or unconscious bias, and promoting role models are the key tools.”
Women in GCC still face cultural bias in the workplace
Although the study found that women’s participation in the labour force had improved in all GCC nations, it noted that cultural bias is still deeply rooted in the Middle East and is often used as an excuse to restrict women’s opportunities.
The Middle East and North Africa currently have an income loss of 27 percent due to gender inequality, the highest in the world.
That number is more than double that of Europe, which suffers a loss of 10 percent, lower than the global average of 13.5 percent.
In order to minimise this loss, the UAE and GCC nations in general will have to work much harder to encourage and normalise women’s place in the workforce.