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Tahseen Consulting’s Wes Schwalje Leads Panel on Female Retention in the GCC workforce at the 4th Arab Women Leadership Forum

Schwalje outlines 5 key challenges that GCC countries must overcome to keep women in the labor force

One of the most widely reported challenges that GCC countries and companies now face is the retention of highly qualified female employees. Retention can be particularly problematic as women try to strike a balance between familial responsibilities and succeeding in the workplace. Schwalje asked the panel to reflect on five key challenges: overcoming social perceptions about occupations traditionally dominated by males, implementing female-friendly workplace policies, enabling work-life balance, developing family-friendly facilities, and articulating clear career trajectories for women.

Panel members included Khawla Al Mehairi, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communication, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Khaled Al Khudair, Founder, Glowork, and Deborah Gills, Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst. A copy of Tahseen Consulting’s analysis supporting the criticality of addressing the five panel focus themes is below along a with video that captures Schwalje’s thoughts on the way forward.

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Tahseen Consulting’s Wes Schwalje Leads Panel on Female Retention in the GCC workforce at the 4th Arab Women Leadership Forum

  1. 1. Fourth Arab Women’s Leadership Forum Session on Retaining Women in the GCC Workforce
  2. 2. | In some cases, female labor market participation rates in the GCC are amongst the lowest in the world Country Labor Market Participation Male Nationals (%) Labor Market Participation Female Nationals (%) Bahrain 68% 33% Kuwait 61% 30% Oman* 45% 20% Qatar 65% 35% Saudi Arabia 63% 16% United Arab Emirates 58% 20% OECD Avg. 69% 51% 1 Sources: (Kingdom of Bahrain Central Information Organization, 2013; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Central Department of Statisticsand Information, 2013; Qatar Statistics Authority, 2012; State of Kuwait Central Statistics Bureau, 2005; Sultanate of Oman National Center for Statistics and Information, 2012; United Arab Emirates National Bureau of Statistics, 2009; World Bank, 2013) Notes: * Based on working population age 20 to 60 with the remaining participation rates based on the working age population aged 15 to 65. Labor market participation rates as indicated by national statistics can significantly diverge from estimates by international organizations which include expatriate populations in calculations. For example, in Qatar non-Qatari women have a labor market participation rate of 58%, while Qatari women have a labor market participation rate of 35%. World Bank estimates of female labor market participation aggregate these two rates to arrive at 52% which substantially overestimates true participation rates of female nationals in Qatar. National Labor Market Participation Rates in GCC Countries by Gender
  3. 3. | When entering the workforce, women encounter perceptions and barriers concerning what types of jobs they should hold which leads to segregation 2 Bahrain Qatar UAE Saudi Arabia Employment Sector Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female Agriculture, forestry .2% .2% .1% 0% .6% .4% 1% 1% Mining and quarrying 4% 1% 12% 3% 3% 2% 7% .8% Manufacturing 18% 11% 2% .4% 2% 2% 13% 9% Electricity, gas, steam .7% .2% 2% .5% 2% 1% 3% .1% Construction 11% 10% 1% .3% 1% .5% 35% 34% Wholesale and retail trade 17% 17% 2% 1% 2% 2% 22% 22% Transportation and storage 11% 6% 6% 3% 6% 6% 3% 2% Accommodation and food 4% 3% .7% .7% 0% 0% NA Financial and insurance 9% 11% 2% 5% 3% 11% 6% 4% Real estate activities 8% 10% 1% .3% 4% 2% Public administration .2% .2% 65% 37% 71% 32% 11% 28% Education .4% 2% 3% 33% 2% 27% Human health and social work .5% 1% 2% 13% 1% 8% Arts, entertainment 0% 0% .6% 2% 2% 4% Other service activities 1% 2% .1% .06% .3% 2% Extraterritorial organizations 0% .1% 0% 0% .1% .2% Not Specified 25% 25% Female Employment by Occupation and Gender in Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia Sources: Oman Ministry of National Economy. (2011). Omani Women in the Labor Market. Muscat: Oman Ministry of National Economy,Qatar Statistics Authority. (2012). Labor Force Sample Survey 2012. Doha: Qatar Statistics Authority, State of Kuwait Central Statistics Bureau. (2011). Annual Statistical Abstract 2011 Kuwait City: State of Kuwait Central Statistics Bureau, United Arab Emirates National Bureau of Statistics. (2009). Main Labor Force Indicators for Nationals. Abu Dhabi: United Arab Emirates National Bureau of Statistics
  4. 4. | Socio-cultural perceptions concerning female employment and what types of jobs women should hold limit employment options (1/2) 3 Occupational segregation puts specific demands on employers, and they are often unwilling or unable to provide separate facilities for females Gender segregation can also perpetuate labor market segmentation by decreasing the number of jobs available to women Women are likely receiving implicit messages –from their families, media, and the educational system – that work does not need to be a central goal in their lives Socio-cultural beliefs about female employment often encourage women to pursue certain types of jobs, namely professional and administrative positions, in the public sector GCC populations associate occupations requiring manual labor, such as agriculture or crafts, with lower class status Cultural preferences that shun manual work continue to make it difficult for women to pursue positions both in the private sector and technical fields Cultural Ideas of Appropriate Work Occupational Segregation 1 2 3 Status of Physical or Manual Labor
  5. 5. | Socio-cultural perceptions concerning female employment and what types of jobs women should hold limit employment options (2/2) 4 Professional and administrative positions in the public sector are considered more prestigious, which means that women interested in technical positions will likely be exposed to negative social pressure to avoid technical professions The social desirability of the public sector in many GCC countries is also further perpetuated by significant wage differentials between public sector roles and salaries offered in technical fields There is often a lack of female role models in technical professions, the private sector, and in leadership roles in the GCC Lack of cultural models of women in leadership positions, particularly in the private sector, makes it difficult for younger women interested in technical positions to envision themselves in such roles and may act as a disincentive for females interested in technical careers GCC women balancing family commitments with work are unable to work on flexible schedules due to employer resistance to part time employment modalities Women increasingly view work as vital insurance against the breakup of marriages and a source of respect Cultural Models of Women Occupational Prestige 4 5 6 Marriage and Divorce
  6. 6. | Women also encounter difficulties finding employment due to structural labor market features which serve as constraints on the fields they can enter 5 Economic Structure and Planning Limitations Predominantly reactive methods of defining workforce skills lead to skills gaps and shortages Women selectively apply to “appropriate” jobs while employers believe women are not well qualified Lack of Diversification The male-dominated extractive industries remain the major economic sector in GCC nations Diversification has not led to significant job creation in fields that are acceptable and offer sufficient wages Foreign Labor High percentages of foreign males in the private sector may deter female participation High concentration of male workers encourages women to seek employment in fields with more women Salaries and Reservation Wages Due to the attraction of relatively high wages, permanent employment, and status females prefer the public sector Private sector employers remain hesitant to hire nationals 1 2 3 4 Favorable Conditions of Public Sector Employment The public sector is perceived as female-friendly and tends to have fewer working hours, better pay and benefits, and greater job security 5 Female Unemployment and Labor Market Transitions Females face gender-specific barriers to school to work transitions Women utilize very few strategies for finding employment and rely primarily on government assistance 6
  7. 7. | Although recently reformed in several GCC countries, labor market and social policies continue to influence the career decisions of females 6 Family and Labor Laws Limit the Decisions of Women Family and personal status laws do not ensure that women will have the opportunity to work outside the home if she wishes Family codes broadly emphasize that the husband is the head of the family and give the husband power over his wife’s right to work and travel Nationalization Initiatives Focus on Male Dominated Industries While nationalization initiatives may open up new avenues to female employment, they may not have the intended effect if nationalization efforts are focused on male-dominated fields Helping women transition to the labor market in the private sector on their own terms will be critical to reducing unemployment rates Labor Laws and Constitutional Protections Are Insufficient GCC labor laws fail to adequately assert the rights of women or limit women’s rights to engage in certain types of employment Women often face difficulty due to discriminatory workplace practices that are not fully accounted for in existing labor laws
  8. 8. | Gender based wage differentials reflect significant inequity in compensation policies that serve to promote early exit from the labor market 7 Source: Qatar General Secretariat for Development Planning Age-income Profiles for Qatari Males and Females
  9. 9. | In addition to being confined to employment in only a handful of industries, women are much less likely to work in senior management positions 8 UAE Kuwait Qatar Oman Occupation Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female Legislators, senior officials, managers 10% 7% 21% 8% 12% 6% 7% 4% Professionals 9% 34% 20% 38% 19% 51% 11% 30% Technicians and professionals 17% 21% 26% 25% 17% 15% 8% 27% Clerks 10% 28% 16% 24% 25% 26% 10% 14% Service and sales 24% 7% 11% 2% 8% 1% 20% 16% Skilled agricultural and fishery .3% 0% .6% .7% 0% 0% 4% .6% Craft and related trades .9% .4% 1% .4% 8% 0% 2% 2% Plant and machine operators 2% 0% 2% .2% 2% 0% 18% .4% Elementary occupations 2% .5% 3% 2% 9% 1% 0% 0% Armed forces 26% 2% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% Not Stated 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 20% 2% Employment by Occupation and Gender in UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman Sources: (Oman Ministry of National Economy, 2011; Qatar Statistics Authority, 2012; State of Kuwait Central Statistics Bureau, 2011; United Arab Emirates National Bureau of Statistics, 2009)
  10. 10. | Limited studies in the GCC provide evidence on the factors women value in the workplace and in selecting particular types of employment 9 Reasons for Not Working in Private Sector % of all women who listed each reason as one of the factors affecting unwillingness Social Status 50% Mixed Work Environment 32% Low Wage 20% Hours Of Work 18% Long Distance Between Residence And Work Place 12% Timing Of Work 5% Others 48% Source: (Qatar Statistics Authority, 2012) Note: Percentages add up to more than 100% because women were asked to list up to three reasons for not accepting private sectorjobs.
  11. 11. | Based on the diversity of GCC labor markets, female retention is now a challenge that is of concern to both public and private employers 10 Country % of Female Nationals Employed in Public Sector % of Female Nationals Employed in Private Sector Bahrain 50% 50% Kuwait* 94% 6% Oman 65% 35% Qatar 88% 12% Saudi Arabia 63% 37% UAE 89% 11% Sources: (Kingdom of Bahrain Central Information Organization, 2013; Qatar Statistics Authority, 2012; Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, 2012; State of Kuwait Central Statistics Bureau, 2005; Sultanate of Oman National Center for Statistics and Information, 2012; United Arab Emirates National Bureau of Statistics, 2009) Note: * Shah (2011) suggests that in 2010 79% of females now work in the public sector. Employment of Female Nationals in the Public and Private Sectors
  12. 12. | The GCC faces two broad challenges: keeping women in the labor force and implementing corporate programs to retain women and ensure progression 11 Overcoming social perceptions about the status of certain occupations and industries to ensure sufficient employment opportunities for women Many of the high growth industries which have fueled recent GCC growth, including construction, wholesale and retail trade, transportation, financial services, petrochemicals, the extractive sectors, are fields which are dominated by males Creating female-friendly workplaces Accommodating segregated work environments if desired Support groups that raise issues of importance to women in the workplace Enabling work-life balance to prevent early labor market exit Job flexibility and allowing for different modes of employment such as part-time positions, permitting flexible work- day scheduling, telecommuting Family friendly facilities Implementing facilities improvements such as priority parking for soon-to-be mothers, onsite childcare, post maternity flex policies, mother-to-be relaxation and lactation rooms, extended maternity leave 1 2 3 4 Creating career pathways for women Addressing glass ceiling that prevents women from attaining leadership positions Training to ensure that women have upward mobility within organizations Nationalization programs that ensure employees move out of entry-level positions Supporting women through career coaching and mentorship 5 Solving these challenges will involve addressing several issues:
  13. 13. Interested? Have Questions? Everything you read here is only meant to give you a brief overview. You are encouraged to ask questions. Please contact Wes Schwalje, Chief Operating Officerwes.schwalje@tahseen.ae Tahseen Consulting’s National Education and Skills Systems Practice More information on our education and national skills systems work is available at: http://www.tahseen.ae/educationandskills.html
  • malefranji

    Nov. 28, 2015

Schwalje outlines 5 key challenges that GCC countries must overcome to keep women in the labor force One of the most widely reported challenges that GCC countries and companies now face is the retention of highly qualified female employees. Retention can be particularly problematic as women try to strike a balance between familial responsibilities and succeeding in the workplace. Schwalje asked the panel to reflect on five key challenges: overcoming social perceptions about occupations traditionally dominated by males, implementing female-friendly workplace policies, enabling work-life balance, developing family-friendly facilities, and articulating clear career trajectories for women. Panel members included Khawla Al Mehairi, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communication, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Khaled Al Khudair, Founder, Glowork, and Deborah Gills, Chief Executive Officer, Catalyst. A copy of Tahseen Consulting’s analysis supporting the criticality of addressing the five panel focus themes is below along a with video that captures Schwalje’s thoughts on the way forward.

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