Women in the GCC
Women account for 41% of the population across the GCC, but just 16% of the workforce, according to the International Labor Office (2012).
Meanwhile 73% of employable women in the GCC are jobless, compared with just 17% of their male counterparts. Female economic participation is growing, but progress is slow.
Women represent an under-used talent pool, and given the notable shortage of national talent, there’s huge return in encouraging more women into employment or running their own businesses. There are some women in GCC countries who have achieved leadership positions in both the public and private sector, but these are still few and far between.
So why aren’t more women attracted to work, particularly in the private sector? Most commonly, they cite barriers to being able to care for their families, such as a lack of flexible working practices, as well as insufficient basic facilities like separate cloakrooms and prayer rooms. Social and cultural constraints are a factor too, in particular, women not wishing to work closely with unknown males and dealing with the attitudes of their families and husbands towards certain occupations. A key challenge for employers, particularly in the private sector, is how to attract more women and help them develop to their full potential.
Waha Capital playing in a different talent pool
Ergham Albachir, head of HR and administration at Abu Dhabi-based investment company Waha Capital, believes many companies focus on ‘meeting the numbers’ when it comes to Emiratization. She says: “Our people approach is to implement a strategic and effective Emiratization plan that adds value to the UAE economy through developing financial talent and opportunities”.
The organization’s recruitment and development strategy includes targeting two ‘raw talent’ pools. The first of these consists of young people who have dropped out of the education system, but have the right attitude and mindset towards work and their future. Albachir explains: “Every organization is chasing the Emirati with high GPA and perfect English. Employers tend to overlook the 90% who are less fortunate but nonetheless talented.”
The second talent pool is UAE national females open to starting a career for the first time after raising a family. One recruit started her first job at the age of 36 after raising four children. After attending Zayed University, her future direction was unclear until Waha Capital hired her. “She’s a great asset, hungry to learn and grow, modest, and has excellent soft skills,” says Albachir. “She seeks feedback on how to improve and really embraces her development needs”.
To help women enter the workforce, Waha Capital focuses on providing on-the-job mentoring and training, particularly in building confidence, enhancing communication and related skills. Albachir is hands-on with her protégées, providing personal guidance and support, ensuring their progress both professionally and academically.
Albachir’s experience in the government and private sector has provided a good grounding in what works and what doesn’t. Her tip for success? “Manage employees’ expectations at the start by providing a clear career path about what they can expect and what they need to achieve, by when. Some companies shy away from this as they are concerned they may lose people who think they should progress more quickly. We believe in clarity and transparency.”
Strata developing female aircraft technicians
Wholly-owned by Mubadala Development Company, Strata designs, develops and manufactures major aerostructures’ components for commercial aircrafts, including the A380. The organization has enjoyed success with a program to transform young women with no technical background into highly skilled aircraft technicians.
A bold initiative which reflects Mubadala’s ethos of supporting diversification of the UAE by investing in social infrastructure, Strata set up its operations in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, in part to target its untapped labor pool. Today, Strata’s 600-strong workforce, over a third of whom are Emiratis, comprises 100 Emirati women performing skilled technician roles. By placing job adverts in the local press targeting high school leavers without previous work experience, the company has attracted hundreds of applicants.
The women learn their trade through a rigorous training program consisting of four months’ theoretical training, six months at a UAE university and 12 months on the job, which includes technical training in aircraft plants outside the UAE. As Dr Leslie Thurogood, senior vice-president at Mubadala explains, by the time they graduate, these young women have been transformed into highly skilled aircraft technicians, rivaling the best in the industry.
“We worked with the parents and relatives of these women, to gain their trust and confidence that we were offering a suitable work environment for young UAE national women,” says Thurogood. “For example, the women can wear what they feel comfortable wearing, providing it poses no health and safety risk.”
Noura Al Khaili, one of the first women in the Emirates to become a Strata aircraft technician, trained for three months in a manufacturing plant in Brindisi, Italy. The opportunity has given her a chance to learn about different products and manufacturing techniques that she can take home to the Emirates. However, Al Khaili’s development has extended well beyond her new found trade: “I’ve learned how to depend on myself, interact with others and deal with projects on my own.”
Initiatives like this epitomize the ‘sweet spot’ of sustainable business practices that contributes to Abu Dhabi’s 2030 vision: developing a skilled and productive female workforce to deliver revenue while helping diversify the economy.
Ooredoo developing women leaders
Buthaina Al Ansari, senior director for HR at telecommunications provider Ooredoo, is known for developing rising female talent in the organization, as well as more widely in Qatar. For Al Ansari, Qatar’s 2030 vision and the importance of empowering women, major initiatives from oil and gas projects to hosting the 2022 World Cup – plus investment in Europe – all point to the need for Qatar to continue building a pipeline of skilled, knowledgeable and capable talent. “Women are critical to our future, and yet so few have reached senior levels in Qatar. This makes women’s leadership development a top priority for me,” she says.
“We have some very talented women with potential – they just needed a bit of extra help to develop the right skills to reach the highest levels in the organization.” To combat this, in March 2013 Al Ansari implemented Al Jiwan – a bespoke leadership development program for Qatari women which is accredited by the UK’s Chartered Management Institute. To date, 10 women have participated and they are looking to extend the program in 2014.
It begins with individual strengths-based coaching, followed by a first training block of two days, a gap of six weeks for the women to work on their action plans identified in the first session, then a final two-day session with follow-up action plans.
Part of the program is focused on helping the women identify their natural strengths. Participant Fatima Sultan Al Kuwari, Ooredoo’s head of public relations, says: “I learned how to use my strengths consciously at work – not only to be an authentic leader using my innate talents and beliefs, but to excel at what I do. Other programs focus on trying to improve weaknesses, ignoring the fact that no matter how hard you try, you’ll only ever be mediocre in these areas”.
Practical hands-on exercises such as structuring effective communications by studying video footage of successful female Qatari leaders, and peer coaching sessions, helped her implement a personal action plan focused on achieving goals and aspirations.
As a result, Al Ansari says the women are visibly more passionate about their work, more focused and more creative.
Raja Easa Al Gurg changing mindsets
A leading businesswoman in her own right, Raja Easa Al Gurg has carved a niche for herself in the GCC supporting and encouraging Arab women entrepreneurs.
“Women are capable of being as successful as men in business,” says Al Gurg. “Emirati women are educated and often demonstrate a stronger work ethic than their male counterparts. In the UAE, we have visionary leaders who emphasize the role of women in the development of our economy who have encouraged women to reshape their traditional roles. Today we see a large number of women in the UAE, both nationals and expatriates, in leading roles in virtually every business.”
Despite progress, Al Gurg believes more change is needed – cultural constraints need to be removed through women’s education and raising awareness among the wider population.
To further these goals, Al Gurg is active in the Dubai Business Women’s Council and the Dubai Women’s Association. “The Council is committed to nurturing the next generation of Emirati women leaders,” she explains, “enabling them to continue breaking new ground, as their predecessors have done, while being role models to younger women in Emirati society.” By developing its members’ skills through monthly conferences, seminars and workshops, known as Network Majlis, the Council supports women who are setting up their own business, whether in the private or public sector.
The Council also partners with international and regional organizations that offer knowledge-sharing and business networking opportunities to female entrepreneurs.
To achieve greater economic participation, Al Gurg suggests that employers need to introduce family-friendly arrangements, such as flexible hours, parental leave, workplace nurseries and childcare facilities. When it comes to women themselves, she feels personal development is key: “We operate in a knowledge-based economy. Women today can shape their destiny by being aware of and taking advantage of all opportunities for personal and professional growth, whether it be active networking, mentoring or on-the-job development. Key skills for success are communication, critical thinking and leadership – all of which increase women’s confidence and help them make a bigger impact.”
Al Gurg advises aspiring businesswomen to do everything in their power to fulfill their goals and dreams: “We are all at different stages in our development, but it is important for us all to raise the level of our performance by stretching ourselves and striving for excellence.”
Buthaina Al Ansari
senior director of HR, Ooredoo – Qatar
Buthaina leads the development and implementation of Ooredoo’s HR strategy. She is listed as one the 100 Most Powerful Women by Arab Business magazine in 2012 and 2013, and is a board member of the Qatar Business Women’s Association.
Dr Leslie Thurogood
senior VP – competence assurance – Emiratisation, Mubadala Development Company, UAE
Leslie’s responsibilities include implementing and supporting Emiratisation activities across Mubadala’s assets.
Raja Easa Al Gurg
managing director, Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group LLC
Raja is ranked top of Forbes Middle East’s Most Influential Arab Women in Family Business for 2013 and fifth on the list of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2012. She is also named one of the world’s 100 most influential Arabs in the Arabian Business 2012 Power 500 listing.
head of HR & administration, Waha Capital – UAE
Ergham leads HR, business administration and executive leadership programmes for Waha Capital.