Totally on board: 50% of GCC career women eye senior positions

Published April 19th, 2015 - 12:27 GMT

Career women in the GCC are ambitious and want to lead in their organizations, with over 50 percent of those surveyed aiming at senior or board level position within the next seven years, according to a breakthrough report conducted by the Pearl Initiative, the leading independent private sector-led, not-for-profit organization working across the Gulf Region to influence and improve corporate accountability and transparency. 

Launched last Thursday at the inaugural Pearl Initiative and United Nations Global Compact regional Forum held in Dubai under the Patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, the report’s findings and recommendations are consistent with the Women Empowerment Principles, an initiative co-developed by the United Nations Global Compact and UN Women.

The report, titled ‘Women’s Careers in the GCC – The CEO Agenda’, follows a GCC-wide research program on women in senior management conducted by the Pearl Initiative in collaboration with United Nations Global Compact and the Sharjah Business Women Council. The report, supported by Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, GE, PwC, and Tamer Group, examines the position of women on the corporate ladder across the Region, and seeks to determine what can be done to increase equity in the workplace across all levels.  The report states that only 12 percent of CEOs around the world are female and women are lost from the career progression pipeline two to three times faster than men, despite global hiring rates being equal between genders.

In spite of the challenges, women in the GCC understand the importance of a good education and have high aspirations when it comes to their career with 62 percent of those surveyed aspiring to a management role in the next seven years while 86 percent think that education has been vital for their career progression. 

“Countries in the GCC have made significant strides in recent years by increasing the participation of women in tertiary education and in the workforce. Yet the number of women advancing to senior executive and board levels within organizations in the GCC remains low,” said Imelda Dunlop, Executive Director, Pearl Initiative. 

“Our report released today clearly shows that women in the GCC have high aspirations and ambitions. It’s aimed at the CEO’s agenda because it is the CEOs who have the business incentives and the power to drive the policies that can strengthen the pipeline of female talent through to senior levels, and thereby build more competitive and well-governed organizations across the region,” she added. 

The report, which polled more than 600 senior businesswomen across the GCC, makes five key recommendations for senior management: 

• Improve work/life balance: flexible working is key, with performance appraisal based on achievements rather than time spent in the office.

• Create a balanced culture: CEOs can play a vital role by visibly supporting women at work. The key is to ensure more women make it through middle management to more senior positions, and the ‘tone in the middle’ will take its cue from the ‘tone at the top’

• Invest in building career paths, not only more support and mentoring for talented women, but more diversity training for men.

• Adopt HR policies that ensure equity in the workplace, including policies on recruitment, maternity leave, pay and promotion, and targets for numbers of women at each managerial level.

• Be an advocate in the wider community, by using their own public profile to raise awareness of the value of a more diverse workplace, and the major contribution talented women can make to their organizations and economies.

While the report acknowledges the significant progress that has been made in the region for working women, it highlights several key areas of concern. Eighty percent of working women in the GCC feel that they are disadvantaged in the workplace simply for being women.  In the same way, only 25 percent of the women polled think they are treated equally in the workplace with 75 percent saying they cannot advance as quickly as men.

Juggling working life and responsibilities at home is one of the biggest challenges facing working women in the GCC. While 71 percent think their family has been vital to their career progression, 34 percent do not want to sacrifice other aspects of life such as the family. 45 percent believe that a good work-life balance is feasible and 64 percent believe that society thinks it is acceptable for married women with children to work. 

“GE focuses on empowering women by providing rewarding career opportunities, building their competencies with leadership training programs, and mentoring through our dedicated Women’s Network. This is particularly relevant for the region, where inclusion of women at the workplace is a top social development priority for the governments. The culture of empowering women at senior levels helps drive better governance and make the organization more competitive and profitable,” said Nabil Habayeb, President & CEO, GE Middle East, North Africa & Turkey. 

In a partnership announced last year, GE joined the Pearl Initiative as a partner for the research program to understand how regional organizations can strengthen the pipeline of female talent rising through the levels to executive and Board level roles. The findings of the report will be developed into practical programs designed to attract, retain and develop women into senior positions throughout the GCC region.  

PwC, a strong advocate for women in leadership, played an active role in the development of the report, including hosting focus groups and lending expertise to the research and development of the project.

Commenting on the launch of the survey Hani Ashkar, PwC Middle East Senior Partner said: “Our 2015 global research demonstrates that female millennials are becoming a larger part of the global talent pool and represent a new era of female talent – they will form approximately 25 percent of the global workforce by 2020. To compete effectively, organizations must better understand how to attract, develop, engage and retain female millennial talent.”


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