For working women in the 21st century, conditions have never been better and the opportunities never greater.
However, while there are many success stories demonstrating how things have improved for working women, there remain many challenges, and women worldwide face ongoing barriers and inequalities when building and developing their careers.
For women in the Middle East, things have arguably progressed at a faster rate than in the West over the past few years.
As recently as two decades ago, few local women in the region held managerial or leadership positions. It was rare to have even one woman attending development programmes. However, within the past five years, the proportion of women has grown dramatically and they now often outnumber the men.
Our conversations with these women drew our attention to some of the key issues they have come up against – many of which are similar to those experienced by women the world over. We call these issues “career multipliers” and “career derailers”. Here are the key issues that relate to women in the Middle East:
Having a good boss. Good bosses come in many guises but the most important aspect is that they will offer you support.
Demonstrating determination and tenacity. Giving your all to the job and delivering on your goals and objectives.
Being energetic and enthusiastic. Energy and enthusiasm tend to be infectious and people with these qualities are an asset to any team or organisation.
Having a mentor or coach. We all need help to build our careers.
Career sacrifice to prioritise children and other family members. Balancing a career with other family responsibilities is by far the most frequently mentioned derailer or barrier for any working woman.
An unsupportive or bad boss. They can do more harm to a woman’s confidence and career than any other relationships you have.
Male-dominated working environments. A male-dominated environment can affect women’s working practices, promotions and morale.
Being a square peg in a round hole. Disliking your job or feeling that it’s not the job you thought it would be when you were recruited undermines performance.
So what can women in the region do to help themselves thrive and survive? Here are three areas that we can all work on:
Investing in education and personal development is time well spent and is invaluable for building a successful career and working life. Studying for formal qualifications, attending short programmes and workshops that focus on skill development will undoubtedly contribute to your overall knowledge and ability.
Additionally, searching out career advice, either inside or outside of your company, and joining relevant professional associations, women’s networks and attending appropriate conferences, will give you access to people and events that can assist your personal development.
But, more than this, the investment in your personal development will also help build your self-confidence, reputation and credibility.
Circle of support
We all need support in our careers and it’s important to understand who it is that supports you and how they achieve it.
You should take a little time to think about the people who provide you with support and identify their roles and the sort of support they give you.
Working smarter not harder
Hard work helps you meet your career goals, but in the end, it is also about being smart and career-savvy – having self-belief, demonstrating your confidence, speaking up when it counts, contributing, choosing your battles, knowing when to say no, stepping up to take on challenges and, above all, having a plan for your career.
A lot of women don’t plan their careers or press fast-forward on their career journeys, but these are crucial skills to develop.