Women in Work

Insights from Middle East and North Africa

#womeninwork

Summary

Diversity in the workplace can drive financial performance. Boosting the number of women in work is not just a moral imperative but also has a measurable impact on the bottom line. This is the conclusion of a growing body of evidence that is persuading companies and governments around the world to act.

Our Women In Work Index - Insights from MENA survey of more than 3,000 women and men across the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Egypt provides insights on the regional workforce and where we can improve gender diversity. This information can help policymakers in the public and private sectors to create tailor-made initiatives to foster diversity.

The three countries we surveyed have varying histories of national programmes to boost the number of working women. There is high awareness and support for such initiatives, showing that timely government intervention is often welcomed.

Our research shows that 66% of all respondents believed that governments should intervene in private-sector companies and set targets for gender diversity.

While it’s encouraging to see governments putting in place initiatives to improve diversity in the workplace, leaders need to prioritise and take action to close the gender gap to make a real impact.

Global trends in diversity and inclusion

Key findings

Evidence shows that more diversity improves financial performance. PwC’s latest Women in Work Index estimates that improving female participation in work across the OECD to the level achieved in Sweden could boost total OECD GDP by US$6 trillion. (1)

Across the Middle East, and particularly in GCC countries, adding more female employees expands the talent pool for companies to tap into as they seek to accelerate their industrial diversification away from oil and gas.

There is growing evidence in countries such as KSA, UAE and Egypt that the gender-equality agenda is progressing, despite challenges including lack of support after a career break, deep-seated social norms, and gender stereotypes and bias.

Pay and progression

Pay equality is important, but it's only the beginning of creating a truly inclusive culture. Our survey shows that people across the MENA want gender equality in terms of opportunity and access to leadership positions, as well as support for employees. Organisations can provide this by openly discussing and raising awareness of both conscious and unconscious bias, ensuring the right tone is set at the top, for example, by tying diversity to business goals, and setting up mentorship programmes.

Our survey reveals important differences in perception between men and women. When asked about equal treatment for promotion, more men than women reported not seeing any problems.

Our survey also shows that many women who return to work after a career break feel a lack of support from their employer. Gender stereotypes as well as lack of flexible working policies contribute to this. We do see flexible working as a growing trend around the world as more people want to fit work around their lives rather than life around their work. The chance to work flexibly can benefit all employees, not just women returning to work after having children, however in Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) the crucial first step is to start with women.

Governments can play a mightier role

The three countries we surveyed have varying histories of national programmes to boost the number of working women. There is high awareness and support for such initiatives, showing that timely government intervention is often welcomed.

Our research shows that 66% of all respondents believed that governments should intervene in private-sector companies and set targets for gender diversity.

National policies include a draft law in the UAE last year to ensure men and women receive equal pay. The UAE also introduced three months’ paid maternity leave for government employees last year, increasing pressure on the private sector to keep up.

The Saudi government’s ambitious target to increase female participation in the workforce to 30% as part of Vision 2030 is already bearing fruit. Labour-force participation of women was 14.2% in 1990 and reached 22.3% last year, according to data from the World Bank.2

Call to Action

PwC can help stakeholders, private and public, to take the many small steps needed to create lasting cultural change. Based on our experiences and research, we have identified four main tactics:

Raise awareness

Raise awareness and transparency to alter mindsets, dismiss gender stereotypes and bias in organisations and encourage cultural change with the right tone that starts at the top. This can be done at many levels - when conducting annual appraisals, for example, or as part of the induction process for juniors, and by hosting workshops.

Flexible working

Flexible working should be embedded in all organisations, and offers benefits for male and female employees. While this is important for women returning to work after maternity leave, it is particularly important for the new generation of employees that are joining the workforce. Companies should also consider reviewing their paternity leave policies; having paternity leave policies closely aligned with maternity leave ensures companies are setting a level playing field for both genders. These policies could also be extended to help new or former employees who for personal reasons have been out of the labour market for many years, rejoin successfully.

Apply a data driven approach

Apply a data driven approach. Organisations need to track promotions to monitor progress and workforce surveys that track the career paths of high potential individuals. Exit surveys can also help to gauge why talent is progressing or leaving. Being transparent about the findings is another key cultural change.

Accountability is needed

Accountability is needed. Organisations should appoint someone within the leadership team to be accountable for driving the diversity and inclusion agenda, and ensure this responsibility cascades down through all tiers of the business. Accountability however should sit at each level of the organisations. It should be embedded in the culture.

Contact us

Norma Taki

Transaction Services Partner and Consumer Markets Leader, PwC Middle East

Tel: +971 4 304 3100

David Suarez

Partner, People & Organisation Leader, PwC Middle East

Tel: +971 4 304 3981

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