Women key to Mideast growth, competitiveness

As governments in the Middle East and around the world debate the best policies, regulations, and practices to spur economic growth in 2011 and beyond, they would benefit from looking less at regions and industries and more at demographic information and the vital role women play in driving economic growth, according to a new report published by Deloitte, The Gender Dividend: Making the Business Case for Investing in Women.

“The message is that in the Middle East, as much as other parts of the world, the participation of women in economic activity has and will continue to spur economic growth,” said Rana Ghandour Salhab, Partner in Charge of Talent and Communications at Deloitte in the Middle East.

“Indeed, the report states the case that investments in women can yield a significant ‘gender dividend’, both from women as workers and as consumers.” 

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, since 1995, narrowing the gap between male and female employment has accounted for half of the increase in Europe’s overall employment rate and one-quarter of economic growth. In the Middle East, however, while women represent a significant percentage of the overall workforce as well as college graduates, they have not yet reached a proportional role in decision-making in some key industries.

Today, the Middle East is quickly catching up with the developed world in terms of women’s educational achievement. The World Economic Forum reports that, in 2010, the global gender gap in educational attainment within the region has almost closed. As an example, the UAE is among the developing nations where women are on the rise as part of the educated, potential workforce. In the UAE, 65 per cent of college enrollment/graduation is female, according to The Center for Work-Life Policy, placing it above the US, UK and Canada in this respect.

“Governments in the Middle East region need to seriously take into account the role that women can play in their future economic growth,” said Salhab. “The direct participation of women, in the public and private sector, will have a major impact on the competitiveness of Middle East economies and even sociopolitical stability.”

The importance of gender diversity to business is also inextricably linked to the growing role of women as consumers. Women control roughly $20 trillion of total consumer spending globally. As the spending power of women increases, they represent a growth opportunity for companies; but, because women tend to spend differently from men, companies need to understand women’s preferences in order to capitalise on this growth. Having both women and men in decision-making roles gives organizations the perspective they need to increase sales and fuel growth.

According to the report, 80 per cent of women feel that investment marketers don’t understand their needs, with 50 percent feeling the same about the marketers of healthcare and food products. Given the power of the female consumer, these levels of unease can decrease competitiveness.

Implemented correctly, the gender dividend can be reflected in increased sales, expanded markets, and improved recruitment and retention of key talent. To achieve the dividend, public organizations need to focus on the collective perspectives of both men and women, which can lead to better decisions and more effective leadership.

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