In all aspects of life, balance is key as swaying too far to any extreme can have unintended negative consequences. This certainly holds true of the workplace and businesses are increasingly recognizing the value of diversity and equality. It’s no surprise then that the forward-focused leadership of the UAE recognizes this and that the country’s Ministry of Finance identifies gender balance as a “high priority” and has devoted itself to “promoting gender equality and prosperity in the UAE”.
As a result of these efforts, The World Bank has acknowledged the UAE as a regional leader on gender balance. Its 2021 WBL Index (Women, Business, and the Law) awarded the nation 82.5 out of a possible 100 points, up from 30 points in 2019. The Middle East and North Africa is a consistently low scorer on the WBL index, but the UAE has strived for change. Its female workforce-participation rate was 57.5% in 2020 — one of MENA’s highest, although still far below the UAE’s male rate of 92%.
As the UAE continues its efforts, and other countries in the region try to replicate its progress, some employers will do better than others. For those that stumble, it may be that they have established blind mandates without due regional context. In the UAE, there are a lot of first-generation females entering the workforce, so we will see greater imbalance in gender as we look higher on the corporate ladder. Today, there are not enough women to fill senior management roles. And if 80% of the resumes recruiters receive for a given position are from males, placing a woman in that role (assuming you are mandated by policy to do so) will be difficult. Here are three ways regional organizations can overcome such complexities in the furtherance of gender equality.
- Promote internally
Organizations should start by promoting internally. Take responsibility for developing the first line of managers to populate the talent pipeline of the future. This can only be accomplished by recruiting and nurturing female talent. Work with schools, universities, and colleges to create a flow of qualified people that you motivate, mentor, upskill, and promote. These are the leaders of the next generation.
- Cater to women’s unique requirements
Next, embrace the emerging culture of flexible work. Many of the excuses given for not offering home-based roles have evaporated in the heat of the pandemic. This is the time to cater to women’s unique requirements. Allow them to craft a schedule that makes sense for them. We are already seeing employees demanding this freedom, and organizations that fail to listen risk losing their best talent to competitors. An employer that respects a woman’s ongoing battle to balance work with family obligations will earn her respect in return. And her loyalty, increased productivity and her innovation.
Regional businesses looking to address their talent gaps should get out in front of this issue. They can sell themselves to the female workforce by assuring a woman that she can design her own schedule and that her performance will be judged based on her output rather than her input. The new breed of digital HR management platforms support such initiatives, enabling far more flexible and effective approach to performance management and attendance tracking. If her children need a lot of attention because they are falling ill a lot, for example, she will have the opportunity to adjust her routine, where she would not have the same freedom under rigid, legacy, office-only cultures.
And there is the keyword: “culture”. Firms that have enjoyed success in gender parity and diversity and inclusion (D&I) have dedicated themselves to internal shifts, such as from being input-oriented to being output-oriented. Such shifts will form a strong foundation for dealing with a range of issues unique to women, such as the return of mothers to the workforce. Compassionate and empathic environments with extensive support structures are critical to this transition and should be focused on rebuilding the employee’s confidence through a gradual ramp-up in her schedule.
- Don’t forget the role of men
Some fathers would volunteer to be more involved in the early days of parenthood if workplace flexibility allowed it. Better paternity benefits allow this involvement and relieve the pressure on women to bear the entire burden of parenthood (and to tolerate the reduced workforce participation this entails). Employers should keep in mind the socioeconomic advantages gained by encouraging women to stay in the workforce and further develop their talent. Flexible paternity practices go hand in hand with balanced hiring policies that do not focus on hiring women for the sake of their gender, meaning male employees do not feel threatened and are less likely to become hostile to the empowerment of women.
Stay the course
Change takes time. When we discuss D&I, we often use the phrase, “Bring your whole self to work.” As a society, we must bring our whole selves to the issues of gender diversity we collectively face. The right moves will see us on a track to attracting and retaining the world-class talent we need to overcome skills gaps and usher in a protracted economic boom. Those that take decisive steps towards supporting women in the workforce will be a part of this boom.
Author: Tania (Tetiana) Mykhailiuk