Human resources leaders from prominent GCC companies and governments called for expansion of the female workforce through the continued professional development of staff and flexible work policies to facilitate growth, while highlighting reforms that are already increasing gender parity.
However, companies should be careful of instigating exclusive, gender-specific policies that could inadvertently subjugate women, delegates at a human resources summit in Abu Dhabi heard.
“We need to re-code [this notion that women are different or inferior to men] within the company culture.”
HR policies should present career development opportunities “irrespective of gender”, tailored to an individual’s skills and ambitions, added Joanna Reed, executive director of talent management at Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), the country’s investment promotion agency.
Despite impressive higher education rates among women, the region has lower rates of female labour force participation than the global average. Women make 49% of the Mena population and, in some countries, up to 63% of university students. Yet they represent 28% of the labour force, according to the World Bank.
However, some governments are working to increase female labour market participation. In the UAE, female workforce participation exceeds the regional average at 46 per cent in 2014, according to Boston Consulting Group.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic roadmap aims to increase female participation to 30% over the next 15 years from 22%.
Bahrain EDB has increased the proportion of female employees, to 62% of the total of 140 staff, Ms Reed said. It has done this by hiring educated women and providing professional development in order to retain them.
The organisation also encourages secondments and flexible working, which is the future of business, Ms Reed said. “GCC countries have to get on board with this if they’re not already there.”
Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s state oil giant, wants to help change the make-up of a traditionally male-dominated industry, Lamah Al Khayyal, head of Aramco’s women, diversity and empowerment division, told the summit.
Her department runs outreach programmes to primary and secondary schools, and other initiatives to spark an interest in science and engineering among girls from an early age.
Source Credit: The National