More must be done to narrow GCC’s gender gap, says report

Author: Criselda Diala-McBride | Date: 23 Mar 2016

Women still have a long way to go to break the glass ceiling, despite efforts to promote equality

Female participation in the GCC’s workforce remains one of the lowest in the world, despite public and private sector efforts to promote gender equality.
A new study by global management consultancy A.T. Kearney suggests countries across the Gulf region have yet to unlock women’s full potential to contribute to economic growth. The female labour participation ratio (FLPR) in Saudi Arabia and Oman, for example, is still below 30 per cent.
“In Qatar, with a 51 per cent FLPR, only half of the female population over 15 years of age is economically active,” the study noted. When compared to the rest of the world, the 9 per cent ratio of women in senior management roles in the GCC is dwarfed by the 35 per cent recorded in the Americas, 29 per cent in Africa, 26 per cent in Asia and 21 per cent in Europe.
Isabel Neiva, principal at A.T. Kearney, says continued implementation of initiatives that attract and retain women in the workplace is essential – especially in today’s challenging economic climate. “Women in the workplace bring [numerous] benefits to organisations and society that are well acknowledged,” she says. “The B20 Employment Task Force, in collaboration with A.T. Kearney, assessed that closing the gender gap would add 12 per cent to the size of the total Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economy by 2030.”
However, more needs to be done to narrow the gender gap in the GCC. The study showed that at board level, the gulf between the GCC and the rest of the world is vast. “In 2014, 17 per cent of board members at Fortune 500 organisations were female. Shares of board seats held by women in the GCC countries in the same year ranged from 0.01 per cent in Saudi Arabia to 1.7 per cent in Kuwait.”
A.T. Kearney also found that 44 per cent of respondents identified cultural barriers and lack of support as the major challenges faced by women in the region, while 17 per cent said lack of opportunities was behind women’s low labour participation.
The study acknowledge the measures introduced by GCC policymakers to level the playing field for the female workforce and empower women in business, politics, and education. Among these initiatives were the introduction of a 60-day maternity leave in Qatar; the appointment of 30 women to Saudi’s top advisory Shura Council in 2013; and women’s participation (both as voters and candidates) in the 2015 municipal elections – a first in the kingdom’s history. In the UAE, the government created the UAE Gender Balance Council in 2015 to encourage women’s participation in nation building.
When looking at the issue of pay equity in the region, Neiva believes that eradicating gender pay gap – as in other topics related with gender equality – requires a concerted effort by all key stakeholders.
“On one hand, policymakers should incentivise a regulatory framework that advocates equal pay for an equal job. For instance, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Labour is working on legislation to penalise employers in the public and private sector that fail to offer equal pay to men and women, because, in KSA, the law prohibits salary differences based on gender,” she explains.
In addition, organisations should implement a range of policies and processes to ensure promotions, raises and other compensation decisions are free from gender bias.
“However, it is also up to the individuals, and to women in particular, to address pay discrepancy, as it is generally acknowledged that many women lack willingness to enter wage negotiations or to ask for pay increases,” says Neiva.