The GCC needs to attract more women to work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in order to smoothen the transition to diversified and knowledge-based economies , new research has found.
According to Tahseen Consulting, women in the GCC are less likely to study STEM fields despite governments’ efforts to attract women to such programmes.
“Technical vocational education and training (TVET) in the GCC currently faces an identity crisis in which people are unhappy with the name, the image, and reputation,” said Walid Aradi, chief executive officer of Tahseen Consulting and co-author of the report.
“GCC nations are particularly struggling with increasing TVET enrollment and employment of women in STEM fields.
“The success of females in accessing higher education, in which they now make up the majority of enrollments in nearly all of the GCC countries, to some degree, has masked the emerging regional challenge of attracting women  to STEM programs and emerging high skill, knowledge-intensive, STEM fields.”
Female labour market participation rates in the GCC are also among the lowest in the world, according to the report. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were found to have the lowest female participation rates in the region at 16 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.
Some of the barriers in attracting more women to STEM fields were ideas of culturally acceptable roles for female employment, difficulty in transitioning between jobs in the STEM industry and lack of other female employees in the industry, the report said.
In order to attract more female talent, GCC governments should formulate effective labour market policies  and offer more female friendly workplaces.
“However, regional employers remain resistant to offering more flexible employment modalities to attract and retain highly skilled female employees,” the report said.
“Increasing female employment rates in technical fields will require increasing employers’ demand for female labour in a way that overcomes existing preferences for public sector employment. 
“In several GCC countries policy experiments with training and wage subsidy programmes have proven effective in incentivising companies to hire more women.”