The UAE leads the GCC region when it comes to gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace, latest data shows.
According to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for 2018, the UAE leads the GCC nations on the global gender gap index, ranking 121 out of 149 economies. Kuwait follows at 126, in addition to Bahrain at 132, and Saudi Arabia at 141.
The report also found that the UAE has made progress on the parameters of number of women finding roles as legislators, senior officials and managers, as well as in raising the healthy life expectancy of women vis-a-vis men.
The UAE was also lauded for high literacy rate among women, with more than 66 per cent of graduates from public universities in the UAE being women. The contribution of women to the UAE economy currently stands at 44 per cent.
"Industries must proactively hardwire gender parity in the future of work through effective training, re-skilling and upskilling interventions and tangible job transition pathways, which will be key to narrowing these emerging gender gaps and reversing the trends we are seeing today. It's in their long-term interest because diverse businesses perform better," said Saadia Zahidi, head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society and member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.
Margot Zielinska, head of Diversity & Inclusion for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region at Korn Ferry, said that the UAE was on the right path towards attracting more women into the workforce and retaining them.
"The UAE has been a leader in advancing women in the GCC region. The country's 2021 Vision is to become one of the world's top 25 countries for gender equality by 2021; and its 20×21 Initiative aims to increase the representation of women on the boards of directors to 20 per cent in both the public and private sectors by 2021."
Records show that with a 41 per cent female labour participation in 2017, the UAE has almost reached a national average of 49 per cent. In addition, the UAE has placed more women on the Forbes Middle East's Most Powerful Arab Business Women 2017 list than any other nation, taking 18 out of 100 spots, as well as placing the number one most powerful women in government.
Zielinska noted that a major challenge for the UAE in the coming years would revolve around getting more women into leadership positions and empowering them to feel confident about managing their work and home lives. Women are also under-represented at the executive level of UAE companies, with Korn Ferry data showing that women represent only 10 per cent of executive positions in companies. It was also found that women at the executive level in the UAE are paid on average 15 per cent less than men.
She was quick to add though that this was a global trend that companies were keen to address. "Our research showed us that only five per cent of Fortune 500 company CEOs are women. In addition, only 20 per cent of board seats are taken by women, while 24 per cent of C-suite executives are women."
Desi Kimmins, head of Leadership Development Solutions for the EMEA region at Korn Ferry, said that there is plenty of research which shows that if companies have a more diverse and inclusive workforce, then they also boast a higher level of engagement among their employees.
"We have found that middle management tends to be the biggest blocker when it comes to having a diverse workforce," she said. "Our research has also shown that there are several key biases that play out - many times unconsciously - within an organisation that severely impacts their progress towards having a more diverse workforce. Many times, it starts with the traditions and work culture. You will have many senior officials that will say things like 'that is just the way we do things over here'."
"Also, there will be plenty of assumptions and stereotypes that women will have to face," she continued. "Many managers will say that women are very sensitive in nature, so it is their duty to shield them or not give them enough responsibility. There might also be some very strong cultural norms such as those regarding working women having a baby, which will affect their career progression."
Zielinska noted that women globally, and in the region, will most often struggle with a lot of biases when it comes to getting promotions. "Men tend to be promoted based on their potential, but women are mainly promoted based on their performance. If women are assertive, then they are seen as bossy; if they are reserved, then they are seen as submissive; as a result, women have to struggle with finding that balance in the way they interact with their peers. Companies that are looking to eliminate this gender bias have to concentrate on having clear judgement indicators and objectives in place to fairly determine who gets promoted."
Jonathan Holmes, managing director at Korn Ferry Mena, noted that there will be a global talent shortage of an estimated 85 million highly skilled workers by 2030 in 20 leading economic markets, including the GCC region. Jorn Ferry's research showed that while overall wage increases in the UAE are just keeping pace with inflation, salaries for in-demand workers could add as much as $5.9 billion to the total national payroll by 2030, a 9 per cent increase.
"Gender diversity will play a key role in helping to meet the demand for more skilled workers in the future," he said. "You cannot afford to neglect the potential that is offered by 50 per cent of your young workforce. This is especially true when you look at the fact that women university graduates outnumber their male counterparts. Having a diverse workforce will be the key to success in the future."
By Rohma Sadaqat
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