Dubai's well-earned moniker as a global trading hub is one of the stabilising pillars of the regional community. A robust economic environment not only helps create jobs and supports development but spreads technology and ideas, boosts productivity and enables cross-border communication channels and supply chains.
While entrepreneurship, the bedrock of a thriving society, is anybody's game, the rates of female entrepreneurship have traditionally lagged a far second to those of men. The tremendous economic impact of increased female entrepreneurial participation is significant and continues to be a major driver of growth across economies.
Women share an equal role with men in driving economic growth. Simply increasing women's labour force participation and eliminating discriminatory barriers could raise productivity by as much as 25 per cent in some economies, reveal statistics in the World Bank Report Women, Business and the Law 2018.
In light of these figures, it is easy to see the significant impact the continued increase of women-led businesses can have on domestic job creation and economic growth. A Harvard Business Review case study shows that on average, female-founded companies create over 60 per cent more value for investors than those founded by men. Therefore, investors continuing to seek opportunities to maximise returns on their capital would be wise to look towards female-led businesses.
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Yet, the Middle East has one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurship and female labour participation in the world. But things are looking up; according to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, released in November 2017, the Mena region is showing noteworthy progress and is closing more than 60 per cent of its overall gender gap for the second year running. Last year also saw the first Women's Economic Empowerment Global Summit take place in Sharjah where the focus was on sustainable development through gender equality.
Typically, the barriers that prevent women from running their own businesses range from a lack of access to funding to a lack of confidence in being able to balance work and home responsibilities, according to a US Senate report titled 'Tackling the Gender Gap'. In essence, women are held back from being entrepreneurs due to time, resources and confidence. Additional barriers include a lack of access to education or training, and limited access to information and communication technology (ICT), market information and finance.
We know that everyone benefits when women have the resources they need to fully participate in our economies and societies. While there are many challenges to women entrepreneurship, there has never been a more important time to make a concerted push for women to take charge.
UAE: A model example
Many countries in the region are taking steps towards more gender equity. The UAE has been a model example of a country that is driving female participation across all areas of society. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had publicly tweeted that women comprise 70 per cent of his work team. Around 70 per cent of university students are girls, the UAE's female participation rate in the workforce stands at 46.6 per cent, and 66 per cent of all government employees are women, according to Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, chairperson of Nama Women Advancement Establishment.
Given the government's impetus to transition away from its dependence on oil and look at innovative ways to both catalyse growth and create further jobs, it is key that the government focuses on supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as developing a highly-skilled workforce - including supporting women to finding and growing their own businesses.
While smart and inclusive policies can go a long way in encouraging women entrepreneurs and workforce participation, the development of new technologies is equally crucial. New business technologies can help all entrepreneurs - regardless of gender - manage time and resources better. Automation and artificial intelligence can help enhance productivity and streamline business operations. It can also help remove the burden of repetitive and routine administrative tasks, so entrepreneurs can manage their businesses with greater ease and have more time to focus on growing their core business.
Meanwhile, advancements in cloud-based technologies and the Internet of Things can also allow for remote working, which is an important factor for women entrepreneurs who might have to balance both commitments at work and at home. Technology can level the playing field for female entrepreneurs, even if they have limited access to funding.
As technology continues to spread and create a level playing field and governments continue championing female entrepreneurship and participation in the workforce, society as a whole could be wealthier, happier and more productive.
By Mansoor Sarwar
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