UAE women dominate GCC in workplace

A growing number of females in the Emirates, the highest percentage in the GCC, are joining the workforce

The UAE scores the highest in the GCC in terms of participation of women in the workforce, with a whopping 59 per cent of them being employed and contributing to the economy.

According to comparative figures released in a report by Booz & Company on Women's Employment in Saudi Arabia, 42.49 per cent of Kuwaiti women are employed, Qatar's is at 36.4 per cent, Bahrain is 34.3 per cent and in Saudi Arabia it is 14.4 per cent.

Explaining the factors that favour the employment of women in the workforce in the UAE, Debabrat Mishra, Principal, Consulting Business Leader, Hewitt Associates, told Emirates Business: "The business environment in the UAE is conducive for women to join the workforce. The services sector is typically more favourable for women, compared to manufacturing. The UAE has a thriving services sector – banking, retail, healthcare, hospitality, aviation etc.

"The UAE is also considered by many as more liberal than other parts of the GCC, thus encouraging women to explore opportunities in the workforce. If one were to go through a list of most influential Arab women leaders, you would find a large number of them to be from the UAE and Kuwait. The more women role models around, the more favourable is the employment of women in the workforce."

Sudeshna Mukherjee, General Manager, Careertunity, said several contributing factors have led to the increasing rate of women in the UAE's workforce.

"To begin with, the relentless support from the federal and local governments. Right from the time of the late Sheikh Zayed, the country's leaders have emphasised the empowerment of women and their education. Today, a significant percentage of students in universities across the UAE comprise women, and they are keen to make the most of their qualifications and skills by being part of the workforce," she added.

Another important factor for the high percentage of women in the UAE's workforce is the abundance of opportunities in the job market as a result of the country's impressive growth and progress in the past 20 years.

"It is also interesting to note that within the business sector, the UAE possesses the largest number of businesswomen in the region where entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly popular, providing desired social flexibility between a woman's traditional role in the home and widely emerging career aspirations," she added.

"In terms of government support, women in the UAE probably have a distinct advantage compared to their counterparts in other GCC countries. Likewise, I believe that the education system as a whole in the UAE is more conducive to women, which has been a factor in achieving a steady increase in the female literacy rate in the country. The UAE offers abundant job opportunities to women as a result of the country's position as a top business and leisure destination in the region. Career fairs also have 'only women' days, reinforcing the government's encouragement to career women."


Considerable gains

A report by the Dubai Women Establishment (DWE) on Arab women, Leadership Outlook 2009-2011, said that in the past 20 years Arab countries have made considerable gains, particularly in the health and education of females.

Today, Arab women are not only more assertive, but play a critical role in society. The women interviewed in the report reflect the hopes and aspirations of their nations: they want to have an impact because it is important to succeed, not only for themselves, but to enable and empower other women today and in future.

With the considerable gains made by women in the past decade, it is not surprising that most feel more strongly about their participation levels in the political and socio-economic sector compared to five years ago.

Crucially, Arab women leaders also feel positive about the next five years. A total of 82 per cent of those surveyed believe that the level of participation of women in the political and socio-economic agendas of their countries is moderately to substantially better than it was five years ago. And 86 per cent of those surveyed believe that the level of participation of women in the political and socio-economic agendas of their countries will increase over the next five years.

Most Arab women leaders attribute their success to a very strong support system, with 67 per cent citing their mothers as the most positive influence in the advancement of their careers, while 66 per cent consider their fathers to be of central importance to their career progression. Moreover, 61 per cent believe that the support of their husbands is critical, and 55 per cent emphasise the role of their educators.

Reflecting on the support and motivation provided by their mothers, Arab women leaders attribute their success not only to a strong support system based primarily on their mother's encouragement, but also, in many cases, to the traditional roles mothers play.


Top enablers

According to those surveyed, the top three positive enablers for women striving to reach leadership positions in the Arab World are: the economic environment (69 per cent), the perception of women leaders (59 per cent), and education (59 per cent).

However, much more needs to be done before women in the GCC can stand at par with their sisters in the developed world. The report by the Dubai Women Establishment said: "But even taking these strides into account, Arab women on the whole are still less economically and politically empowered than women in other parts of the world."

According to the 2008 Global Gender Gap Report, countries of the Middle East perform far below the global average. Tunisia, Jordan, the UAE, Oman, Egypt and Morocco have all shown improvement in their scores, while Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar have deteriorated since 2007."

The percentage of UAE women on corporate boards till 2007 was 0.8 per cent, for Saudi women it was 0.1 per cent, Qatar was 0.3 per cent, Oman was 2.3 per cent, Kuwait was 2.7 per cent and Bahrain was one per cent.

Talking about what more needs to be done to encourage even more participation of women in the UAE's workforce, Mishra said: "This is not just for the UAE. Universally, one needs to design careers, jobs and policies that are conducive for women in the local cultural context. Specifically for the UAE, there are many changes that are possible. Take any job or employment policy and ask 'Is this suitable equally for men and women?'. The answer will tell you if a change is required and what the change should be.

"A significant catalyst for women in the private sector would be to create and support more women entrepreneurs. Female entrepreneurs would contribute to a vibrant economy and at the same time, create organisations that at the very fundamental level are designed to be conducive to women. It would also help to inculcate commercial acumen through the educational system. These would be simple yet effective steps to enhance the role of women in the private sector."

Mukherjee said: "Organisations in both the public and private sector in the UAE can attract more women by making certain changes at the structural level and in terms of organisational policy. For instance, women, especially working mothers, expect greater flexibility in terms of work timings so that they can efficiently manage their responsibilities at home and work. Also, ensuring that there is no gender discrimination in terms of remuneration or career advancement opportunities could go a long way in encouraging more women to join the workforce."


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