Women are the agents of development and their contribution to a nation’s progress is as important as that of the men. Despite that, the gender gap in the workplace is a global issue. According to the United Nations Statistics Division, globally, only 50 percent of women of working age were in the labor force as compared to 77 percent of men in 2015. If we talk about the Gulf region alone, the number of working females is quite low too. According to the Staff Discussion Note (Women, Work, and the Economy: Macroeconomic Gains from Gender Equity) published by the International Monetary Fund staff in 2013, the female labor force participation recorded between 1990 and 2011 for the MENA region was just 21 percent.
One of the reasons behind such low participation can be attributed to the various challenges women professionals face at the workplace. However, there are many Arab women who have fought against all odds and made a name for themselves not just in the region, but also globally. Some of the women leaders worth mentioning here are:
1. Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of International Cooperation and Development
2. Reem Al Hashimy, Chairperson of Dubai Cares (an NGO working towards Children’s education)
3. Raja Al Gurg, Managing Director of Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group (a multi divisional conglomerate)
4. Zainab Mohammad, Chief Executive Officer of Wasl (a Dubai-based real estate company)
5. Noura Al Kaabi, Chairwoman of twofour54 (an Abu Dhabi-based media group)
While these are just a few names, there are many more Arab women who are triumphing over the everyday challenges life throws at them. Taking inspiration from these strong role models, let’s first understand the top challenges faced by the women in the Gulf. Only then can we move on to think of possible solutions.
Also Read: 10 Global Female Role Models in Tech
Top Challenges a Working Women Faces in the Gulf
The large gender gap in the labor force participation can be attributed to the following challenges faced by the women working in the region:
1. Stiff competition:
The Gulf countries, especially the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar are considered to have some of the most competitive job markets in the world. Finding good jobs in the Gulf is difficult, particularly in the present scenario of the region when the number of job seekers is much higher than the jobs available. Therefore, standing out at the workplace has become absolutely necessary for the female employees to prove their worth. Become indispensable at the workplace so that employers don’t think of replacing you with someone else.
2. Research what skills are in demand:
Despite being highly educated, women still face difficulty in finding employment in the region. One of the reasons is the lack of awareness regarding what skills are in demand in the job market and this is true for the male professionals also. Therefore, if you want to advance your career, it is important to research the skills that are deemed desirable by the employers. Even the skill requirements for performing the jobs you have been doing for many years keep changing with time. One way to ensure you stay at the top of your game is to keep identifying these changing requirements and work on expanding your skill set.
Having to commute to work is another major reason that discourages women from taking up good jobs in the region. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive vehicles, female professionals find it extremely difficult to commute to their workplaces. There are some employers who provide transportation facility to their employees and we can only hope that more and more organizations will start providing this facility soon. Those who don’t get such facilities should seek help from their spouses and family members or if your pocket allows, hire a driver or carpool with another working woman who may have means to commute.
4. Employers perception:
There are many jobs that are considered as male jobs, especially those which require field work and physical strength. Moreover, it is also seen that employers prefer to hire people of the same gender they themselves belong to. With more males already placed in jobs holding good positions, the chances of a woman grabbing a job offer become bleak. Finding work is especially difficult for those who have just gotten married or are about to start a family. However, there is definitely a visible shift in the attitudes of the employers, particularly, in countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc. With more women coming out of their houses and joining the workforce, there is hope for the gender gap to decrease in the future.
Additionally, unequal pay and balancing family and work are also big challenges that women professionals face in the Gulf. Although these challenges are global in nature, they take a toll on women’s motivation to work when combined with all the difficulties faced by them.
There are very few organizations in the Gulf that offer flexible working hours, work from home option or daycare facility in the office premises. Hence, balancing work and family becomes extremely challenging for women. However, many employers in the region are starting to understand the importance of female workforce and their contribution to the business. With time, we can expect to see more women-friendly policies being adopted by the employers in the Gulf.
As far as pay equality is concerned, there is still a long way to go. However, the good thing is that many women in strong positions are voicing their views and pointing out the issue to change it for better. The fight may be long, but equal pay for women does not seem impossible to achieve anymore.
Career Tips for Women Working in the Gulf
The challenges faced by the women professionals are many; however, to overcome these challenges, it is important to fight against all odds. Outlined below are a few tips women working in the Gulf must apply in their professional lives to ensure they succeed at their workplaces:
1. Confidence is the key:
You cannot go too far in your career if you lack confidence. Employers look for strong female leaders who are not intimidated by the bias present at the workplace as well as the everyday work challenges thrown at them. Confidence comes when women stop doubting themselves, do not hesitate from speaking their minds and are not afraid of calling out the bias they face. Remember that it is only your confidence that will help you move up the ladder.
2. Add value:
Simply coming to the office every day and completing your daily work responsibilities is not enough. You need to think of new ways of adding value to the project(s) you work on. Employers value candidates who possess great analytical skills and a problem-solving attitude. If you know a better way of doing the same job more efficiently and effectively, don’t hesitate in suggesting it to your boss. Good ideas that yield results are always appreciated by the employers.
3. Learn new skills:
To stay desirable in the job market and to the employers, it is important to expand your skill set. Modern-day jobs are ever-evolving and require you to keep yourself updated with the latest knowledge of performing the job even better than how it was being done before. So, keep learning new skills to stay ahead of your competitors. There are many online learning tools available that can help you learn new skills and sharpen the existing ones. No matter how good your technical skills are, as you climb the ladder, soft skills become equally important. Hence, make sure your soft skills are as strong as your technical skills.
4. Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’:
Understand that in a professional setting you may not be able to please everyone. Also, it is not your job to please people at work. Your job is to do your work in the best possible way. There is nothing wrong with working hard and making a difference to the project you are working on. However, it is not always a wise decision to do somebody else’s work. Whenever somebody (whether a supervisor or a subordinate) asks you to do something for them, take a moment to think about this–
– Will it add value to the project?
– Whether you will get the credit for doing the work or not?
Women play a crucial role in building a nation and in the economic progress of a country. Make sure to play your part of contributing not just to the nation, but also to the organization you are associated with as well as your family.
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