Cass Business School Dubai, home to the 10th best Executive MBA programme in the world according to the Financial Times, has released a research report, ‘Maximising Women’s participation in the GCC Workforce’, with findings of significant consequence for GCC economies. Figures indicate that the GCC population is 48 per cent female, yet the rate of female participation in the workforce across the Gulf states stands at less than 20 per cent. According to the Oxford Strategic Consulting (OSC) report prepared by UK and Gulf academics, including Professor Chris Rowley, Director of the Centre for Research on Asian Management, Cass Business School, London, home-working initiatives are the answer to involving the increasing numbers of well educated GCC women in national workforces and thus boosting local economies and increasing nationalisation rates.
Considering Bahrain specifically, the report acknowledges The Bahrain Economic Vision 2030, which aims to take progressive action for future generations to ensure sustainability and competitiveness in terms of the country’s social and economic development.
Tamkeen was set up as a part of the Vision 2030 to implement labour market reform through facilitating talent competencies amongst Bahrainis, enterprise growth, improving policies and standards as well as human capital investment. There have been recent collaborations between Tamkeen and the Supreme Council for Women (SCW) in Bahrain, which aims to synergise efforts from both organisations to assist the contribution of women in the Bahraini economy through attracting them to the field of private business management, focusing on increasing female efficiency and productivity, and integrating women into the labour market.
Professor Chris Rowley said, “Such initiatives show that at both a ministerial and social level, there is progressive thought with regards to improving rates of female economic participation in Bahrain. It is also important to acknowledge that the gap in female employment is not due to a gender gap in education, in fact the various Gulf governments have rapidly improved female access to higher education and Bahrain is no exception; the Kingdom has a record of high educational achievement with a female literacy rate of 85 per cent, very close behind male literacy at 91 per cent. Home-working schemes would be consistent with government programmes to enable sustainable development of women’s roles in the Gulf. These programmes are essential to accommodate rising levels of qualified female graduates from GCC universities ready to enter the workforce, and add to the Kingdom’s economic development and prosperity and better utilize human capital”.
There is also the fact that some 58 per cent of the GCC labour force is expatriate, with governments keen to reduce dependency on expatriate labour, investing heavily in nationalisation of respective workforces. The report suggests that GCC governments have the ability to reduce this dependency, which is detrimental in the long term, by establishing a new trend of home-working which will bring qualified females into professional roles. “Providing more jobs for GCC nationals has been an underlying goal in governments’ visions for the future and home-working can be successfully integrated into GCC economies, resulting in socio-economic benefits through increased employment of national women, and paving the way for sustainable growth and gender parity in line with current government strategies”, Professor Rowley continued.
The report highlights that compared to other GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia for example, cultural and organizational restrictions are much fewer in Bahrain, where men will work for women and women hold senior positions in organisations. As in other countries where home-working is popular, women often find that home-working offers a solution to the problematic balance of work and family commitments – especially as Bahrain is a market where alternatives to full-time positions, such as job-share and part-time hours, are uncommon. According to the report, by working from home these qualified women would be afforded a greater flexibility to take care of family commitments, and therefore able to participate in the national workforce and utilise their university educations. In Bahrain, some 30 per cent of unemployed females are university graduates.
OSC conducted a survey of 50 public and private sector companies across the GCC to assess attitudes to home-working for professional women. According to findings, 53 per cent of those surveyed expressed that the two major perceived obstacles to home-working for qualified women in the GCC were concerns over commitment / responsibility to independently work, and management style. Countering that these obstacles were common in all countries that have introduced home-working, the authors highlighted that the practice of home-working is largely accepted in Europe and the U.S. Professor Rowley acknowledges common concerns claiming, “There are certainly some people that are better suited to home-working; those that are self-managing, committed, able to work alone and good time managers, for example. Internationally, attitudes have changed so that both parties now see home-working as an accepted way of working where managers understand that they must trust their home-workers, and home workers generally understand that they must live up to that trust”.
In initial surveys on the potential success of implementing a company that offers home-working services employing female GCC nationals, 85 per cent of respondents indicated that they were open to the idea of using use such a service. Encouraged, Professor Rowley insists that initial investment is key, and that would be in the interests of GCC governments to help fund the formation of such a company. The report concludes that home-working is a well proven approach to work and will, if implemented correctly across the GCC region, add over 2 million additional highly qualified women to the workforce and potentially contribute up to 30 per cent ($363 billion) to GCC GDP (given a total GDP of c. $1,210 billion).
The report also addressed the other prevalent issue that seemed to concern employers regarding the use of home-working services: the perceived cost. The report insists that the cost of setting up an employee at home is normally cheaper than the cost of expanding current office space and installing new equipment to allow in-house employees to do the same job. Many women who could potentially work from home will already have access to computers and phone lines, which leaves training as the main cost of introducing such an initiative. Encouragingly, those companies surveyed identified numerous services that could be outsourced to women working from home, the top four roles in call centres, HR advice, recruitment and translation services. All of these services require minimal training and are generally roles that require individual rather than group work, making them ideal for outsourcing to qualified home-working female professionals. The formation of a company specializing in home-working is the most efficient way to implement such a service according to the report. A third party company would eliminate high-levels of initial investment required on the part of the organization wishing to outsource such a service.
Professor Chris Rowley, Director of the Centre for Research on Asian Management, is part of the Cass Business School senior academic staff in London, many of whom teach the Dubai-based Cass Executive MBA programme, travelling to the Dubai campus to teach the EMBA’s electives in weekend workshops. The Cass EMBA is a flexible part-time course aimed at managers in the Gulf region who want to accelerate their career development whilst remaining in full-time employment.