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.
Our 2022 survey of the professional experiences and ambitions of women aged 18 to 35 reveals both high expectations but also frustration. We surveyed 1,500 women aged 18 to 35 across Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. In total, these countries are home to around 81 million people and have a combined GDP of around $2 trillion.
In recent years, women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have made unprecedented gains as a vital part of the region’s workforce. A pioneering generation of younger women are more likely than ever to go to work and remain in employment to fulfil their career ambitions. Typically, they are highly educated and motivated, and are increasingly visible across the public and private sectors, from roles in policy making and diplomacy to entrepreneurship and corporate leadership.
Their progress is momentous, but the region has yet to reap the full potential of women in the workforce.
US$ 2 trillion
Estimated GDP increase across MENA a larger female labour force could lead to
of working-age women in the GCC are employed
value employers who help them to achieve a work-life balance
agree their employers provide work-life balance
Young MENA women are more likely than ever before to be in work. The greatest advances in labor force participation in recent years have been achieved in GCC countries, particularly the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia
This progress is closely connected to the fact that MENA women are more highly educated than ever before. They are especially well represented in higher education in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) disciplines. For example, between 34% (Egypt, Saudi Arabia) and 56% (Oman) of STEM graduates are women, a much higher proportion than in the US (22%) or Europe (34%).
However, there remains significant room for improving the employment prospects and career opportunities for young MENA women.
Their increasing access to higher education is not yet matched by a proportionate rise in workforce participation and female representation at senior management levels remains low, because many women exit the labor market after marriage or having children
While young women are highly motivated and keen to make their mark in the workplace, their experiences of employers are falling short of expectations. Too often, the assurance that they will be treated the same as their male colleagues and given equal training, development and career opportunities, is not reflected in their actual experience
Almost all of the survey respondents (94%) say they value employers who help them to achieve a work-life balance, while 80% feel it is important to play a leading role in looking after their families. This suggests that young women value their time outside of work, whether it is to maintain their own wellbeing, cultivate personal interests and their own development, or to fulfil their roles and responsibilities within their families.
However this does not mean that the women are not ambitious and want to progress their career - 84% of respondents aspire to become leaders in their field, 80% are confident about their ability to lead others, and 86% believe they have the skills and experience to progress to the next level of their career.
While 93% of the survey respondents value employers who offer them training and development opportunities, only 62% say they currently work for an employer that offers training and development opportunities which are tailored to their needs.
Mentorship and leadership is also important to them -with 91% of the women surveyed highlighting this, however the proportion drastically drops to 68% regarding whether their own workplace has this kind of supportive culture.
Of equal concern is the fact that 86% believe they have the skills and experience to progress to the next level of their career, but only 67% think they can rise as far as they want with their current employer.
There definitely seems to be room for improvement since currently the training appetite is not matched by corresponding suitable opportunities and the required support for career development could be enhanced.
The diversity of the countries, economies and populations across the MENA region calls for a targeted approach to address the barriers holding so many talented young women back from deservedly achieving professional success and fulfilling their career ambitions.
The benefits of getting it right though when it comes to young MENA women in the workplace cannot be overstated since it will not only benefit the women themselves realising their full potential but also the employers, as well as wider society.
Releasing the pent-up talent of the next female generation is a strategic and economic imperative to ensure the region can compete on equal terms internationally in a rapidly changing world.
Transaction Services Partner and Consumer Markets Leader, PwC Middle East
Tel: +971 4 304 3100
Senior Manager, Consulting , PwC Middle East
Tel: +971 56 247 6819
Middle East Inclusion & Diversity Director, PwC Middle East
Tel: +971 56 418 9962