Gender diversity can help advance the Gulf's petrochemicals industry

Written by
Kenan Nouwailati

03 Aug 2015

03 Aug 2015 • by Kenan Nouwailati

Building new jobs in petrochemicals

For people living in the Middle East, the rising challenge of declining oil prices, which have dipped more than 50% in the last year, is an unescapable reality. It jumps out at you from every newspaper, it’s on your social media news feed, and perhaps even part of your daily conversation. Declining revenues, low profit margins and delayed projects are the new normal for the oil exporting economies of the Middle East that have relied on the revenues from this resource. 

At the same time, governments in the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) have devised ambitious plans that focus on job creation, education and talent development in the region. Gender diversity in the workplace, in particular, plays a major role. 


Women in the workforce

In the last two decades, women have been steadily joining the workforce in greater numbers in the Arabian Gulf, according to data from the International Labor Organization. In fact, women make up more than half of the workforce in Qatar, and 47% of the total employees in the United Arab Emirates are female.  

But, a recent study by Accenture at the Gulf Petrochemicals & Chemicals Association (GPCA), found that companies in this sector are not taking full advantage of the benefits of gender diversity. 

The study, which looked at the supply chain function specifically, found that while women account for up to one-third of the workforce at some GCC petrochemicals and chemical firms, they are still under-represented across the board and very few hold leadership roles. 

According to the report, there are a number of clear benefits for companies that have a higher number of women in their workforce. For example, companies with women in leadership roles tend to outperform those without and, specifically in supply chain, women perform better than men when placed in customer-facing roles.


How female workers can improve business stability

In addition, female employees tend to have a lower turnover rate than their male counterparts. Employing women, therefore, can improve stability in the workplace, resulting in skills retention within organisations and lower human resources overhead costs for training or recruitment. 

It is well-known that oil and gas runs through the very fabric of this region’s economy, bringing in valuable revenues and creating jobs throughout the Arabian Gulf. The petrochemicals industry, which manufactures its materials from the very products of the GCC’s oil and gas fields, is earmarked for impressive growth. 

The GPCA forecasts the sector to produce 190 billion tons of products by the end of this decade. This means that the petrochemicals industry has the potential to be an equal opportunity employer for thousands of people. In fact, the GPCA estimates the multiplier effect for the industry to be 1:3, meaning that every direct job created by the sector creates three additional employment opportunities in the supply chain.

 While it is evident that the petrochemicals supply chain has the potential to be an influential employer, one question lingers: what exactly does the industry need to do to attract more women? 


Solving the gender problem

The solutions are far from straightforward. Both women and men alike have few options in terms of technical degrees available in the region. Companies could look into collaborations that enable access to education, either at universities or through professional certifications. In addition to this, employers should focus on attracting talented women, and building their experience in functions that have lower rates of female participation – typically in roles at the managerial or director level. 

What is noteworthy is that these strategies are universal enough to be applicable to industries outside the downstream sector and can be used in upstream oil and gas, the sciences and even technology. 

At the end of the day, women play a crucial role in the development of any economy. In the Middle East, the promotion of the petrochemicals industry as a viable career option has the potential to get more talented women into the workforce. Indeed, we have some good examples of wage parity already, with Qatar and the UAE assuming the 3rd and 7th ranks respectively in terms of gender wage equality worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum. 

Looking ahead, what public and private stakeholders in this region’s petrochemicals sector need to do is to grant women better access to education in the region, as well as the jobs and opportunities that will help them progress from executive to director, and on to the boardroom.