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Five ways to empower MENA women in the workplace

Taking these action points will improve women's careers and help economies grow

Closing the employment gap would add 57 percent to the region’s GDP – or $2 trillion Creative Commons
Closing the employment gap would add 57 percent to the region’s GDP – or $2 trillion

There’s still work to be done by employers and governments to expand on the progress already made when it comes to women and work across the region.

Women have made great strides in the past few years across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Policy changes resulting from national transformation programmes to build more diverse and sustainable economies have made it easier for them to live more independent lives.

Strategies such as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and Qatar’s National Vision 2030 have ushered in new legislations that make it easier for women to get a passport, or move house or get protection from discrimination.

Since 2018 women can drive in Saudi Arabia, enabling overall mobility.

The results have included a 64 percent jump in the number of women working in Saudi Arabia.

However, according to World Bank data, just 40 percent of working-age women across the whole Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region are employed, indicating there’s still more to be done.

Research by PwC Middle East found a significant gap between the hopes and aspirations of women in the region when it comes to what they want in an employer and what employers actually deliver. 

For example, 94 percent of respondents to the MENA Women in Work Survey 2022 said they highly valued a good work-life balance as well as training and development.

In reality, the women surveyed said just 62 percent of employers provided both.

In economic terms closing the gender employment gap could add 57 percent to the region’s GDP – or $2 trillion – according to PwC Middle East calculations.

Reforms that achieve pay equality and address the differences in employment conditions for men and women will also help accelerate these gains.

But it’s not all down to government policy. Here are five things employers can also do to close the gap, often working alongside governments and educational institutions.

  1. Create job links
    While MENA women are well educated – for example between 34-56 percent of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates are women depending on the country – more investment is needed in giving them the right skills and access to high-quality jobs. 

    We recommend developing training curricula specifically targeted towards women and creating links to enable talented female graduates to transition from university straight into a job to help jumpstart their careers.
  2. Dissolve ‘male allyship’
    Organisations also need to take steps to reform male-dominated workplace cultures. Start by working with women to understand the everyday biases that they face, and train men to spot these biases and challenge such behaviour. Do not underestimate the power of “male allyship”.
  3. Create policies
    Embedding equitable workplace policies and practices will encourage more women to join and remain in the workforce. Providing gender-equal access to mentoring and sponsorship programmes, as well as targeted support for working and returning mothers, are highly valued by women.

    One example is Keep in Touch (KIT) days during maternity leave, which have been introduced by a number of large employers in the region, including PwC Middle East.

    Paternity leave is also important, helping shift expectations around who cares for children and splitting the responsibility more evenly.
  4. Promote flexible working
    Employers need to respect personal time and promote wellbeing to address the work/life balance gap. They should offer flexible and remote working and managers should be trained to spot signs of stress and burnout including staff regularly working late into the night, exhaustion and lack of motivation.
  5. Quantifiable metrics
    Employers need a clear strategy and metrics to measure progress and hold senior managers accountable. Quantifiable progress sends a clear signal to prospective women employees that employers are committed to a diverse and inclusive work environment, and are serious about attracting the best talent.

    Women across MENA are keen to work and confident in their abilities – 86 percent of our survey respondents believe they have the right skills to be promoted but only 67 percent think they can go as far as they want to with their current employer. 

    Implementing these five policies will go a long way to putting that right, ensuring women reach their full potential for their own benefit, for the health of the economy, and for the success of the wider transformation underway in the region.

Norma Taki is inclusion and diversity leader at PwC Middle East

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