Diversity in the workplace plays an integral role in driving business sustainability and improving its financial performance. Governments and businesses around the world and in the region have begun to take action, but there is more to be done. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) collectively is losing an estimated USD 575 billion a year due to the legal and social barriers that exist for women’s access to jobs and careers.
PwC surveyed more than 3,000 women and men across the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Egypt. The ‘Women in Work Index – Insights from Middle East and North Africa’ report provides policymakers with insights on the regional workforce and makes the case for gender diversity.
Increasing gender diversity would expand and enrich the talent pool and is a vital requirement particularly for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries who are looking to move beyond oil and diversify their economies.
“Diversity is integral to business sustainability and overall success. Boosting the number of women in work is not just a moral imperative but also has a measurable impact on the bottom line. This is not going to be easy and there is no doubt that this will require a real commitment from the public and private sectors alike. We will need to work out what works for our region and how to implement it effectively, and at scale. But this pales in comparison to when we look at the cost of doing nothing and continuing as we have,” said Hani Ashkar, PwC Middle East Senior Partner.
Women participation in the workforce has increased dramatically in the UAE from 40.6 percent in 2018 to 29.2 percent in 1990. Today, women make up 66 percent of public-sector workers, with 30 percent in leadership roles. This substantial progress is reflected in the Women in Work Index – Insights from the MENA survey. When asked if they agree with the statement: ‘My employer treats females equally when it comes to promoting from within’, around 30 percent of women and 37 percent of men in the UAE strongly agreed.
In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, dramatic change has occurred just in the past year. Last year was a landmark year for women in Saudi Arabia with women getting behind the wheel in June 2018, the Saudi military taking applications from women and granting women the right to open their own businesses without a guardian’s permission.
Egypt, meanwhile, has a long history of legislative advances for women’s rights. But cultural attitudes and gender stereotypes take longer to change. Many men are still resistant to the idea of women working outside the home, which partly explains why female labour-force participation has changed little since 1990, when it was 21.3 percent compared with 22.3 percent in 2018.
Pay & Progression
Reducing the gender pay gap is one imperative, but the findings of PwC’s survey reveal that Middle Eastern respondents place an equally strong emphasis on equality in progression in the workplace and acquiring leadership roles.
The survey also shows that only 44 percent of women who return to work after a long career break experience support from their employer compared to 55 percent for men.
Governments Can Play Bigger Role
The three countries covered in PwC’s survey have varying histories of national programs to boost the number of working women. There is high awareness and support for such initiatives, showing that timely government intervention is often welcomed.
Interestingly, 66 percent of respondents believe that governments should intervene in private-sector companies and set targets for gender diversity.
Existing national policies included a draft law in the UAE last year to ensure men and women receive equal pay. The UAE also introduced three months’ paid maternity leave for government employees last year, increasing pressure on the private sector to keep up. The Saudi government’s goal to increase female participation in the workforce to 30% as part of its vision 2030 is underway.
“Advancing gender equality in the workforce brings opportunity for all and makes for a more prosperous and inclusive society. It’s also a critical business issue organisations need to address to ensure they have access to the skills they need for the future. Leaders have a key role to play by creating the right tone throughout the organisation, building a culture of equality and erasing gender stereotypes, as well as helping solve some of the challenges society faces and capture the opportunities within,” said Bob Moritz, PwC’s Global Chairman.
Call To Action
The main requirements for success are:
Raising awareness to alter mindsets, dismiss gender stereotypes and bias in organizations and encourage cultural change, with a change in tone that starts at the top.
Apply a data driven approach. Organizations need to track promotions to monitor progress and workforce surveys that track the career paths of high-potential individuals.
Accountability is needed. Organizations should appoint someone within the leadership team to be accountable for improving diversity and inclusion.
Flexible working is a growing trend around the world, and offers benefits for both male and female employees. Companies should also consider introducing paternity leave, which could boost their ability to retain talent – male and female.
PwC surveyed more than 3,000 women and men across the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Egypt. The “Women in Work Index – Insights from Middle East and North Africa” report provides policymakers with insights on the regional workforce and makes the case for gender diversity.