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The changing role of women in the workplace

The changing role of women in the workplace

Achieving greater female participation in leadership roles is the equal responsibility of both women and their employers, writes Imelda Dunlop

In the 12 years since I started working in the Gulf, I have witnessed dramatic changes in the way women approach their careers and the way corporates address working women. While some are taking up ‘untraditional’ roles such as those in the military, others are striving to get positions on family boards and even working in dockyards. In earlier years, these roles would have been much less likely career options. There is still a considerable way to go in achieving workplace equality but the progress made so far is certainly a step in the right direction.

In 1977, Nobel Prize-winning medical physicist Rosalyn Sussman said: “We still live in a world in which a significant fraction of people, including women, believe that a woman belongs and wants to belong exclusively in the home; that a woman should not aspire to achieve more than her male counterparts and particularly not more than her husband. These are real problems which may never disappear or, at best, will change very slowly.”

Almost four decades later, the Gulf is proving Sussman’s prediction wrong. Anecdotally, the business women I meet on a daily basis are well educated and aspirational. Nearly twice as many are entering into tertiary education than men.At a rate of 68 per cent to 32 per cent region-wide, according to the World Bank. That said there is still some way to go. Only 30 per cent of the Gulf Cooperation Council workforce is comprised of women, according to the World Economic Forum 2014 Gender Gap report.

This suggests that something, somewhere, is working against women. But what? The Pearl Initiative report Women’s Careers in the GCC – The CEO Agenda found that while 25 per cent in managerial positions considered themselves to be treated equally, 80 per cent felt that simply being a woman put them at a disadvantage at work. In addition, 67 per cent believed that gender bias had negatively impacted their career progression. This represents a challenge in changing the mindset that must be overcome, if we are to see gender equality in the workplace.

It is my strong belief that the next generation of leaders is more skewed towards gender equality. Many millen- nials grew up in households that, for the most part, saw an equal contribution from both mum and dad. What this has not yet led to though is the incorporation of more women in leadership roles and I think that a lack of role models plays a part. We are lucky here in the Gulf to have the likes of United Arab Emirates minister of inter- national cooperation and development HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the UAE’s first female pilot to fly an F-16 fighter jet Major Mariam Al Mansouri and Qatar’s HE Sheikha Hanadi bint Nasser Al Thani to look up to. But I do believe more women can play a greater role in terms of mentoring and providing advice to the younger generation.

Understanding the role that women can play in the workplace is just as important. Fortune 500 companies that have at least three female directors, for example, have seen their return on invested capital increase by at least 66 per cent. As such, companies across the region need to be more inclusive when it comes to female employees and promotion, as they adhere to increasingly strong principles of corporate governance and accountability.

The corporate side is making the effort and now we need to ensure that women do the same to reach for the stars. With the millennial can-do, ‘no is not an answer’ attitude, it is easy to anticipate that the glass ceiling will start to shatter. And the hope for decades to come is exciting too as this attitude is passed down to the next generation, creating future leaders who are empowered with the knowledge that anything is possible.

To pave the way for a future in which workplace equality is a reality rather than a notion, achieving greater participation in leadership roles is the responsibility of both women and their employers. Both should play their part, for the benefit of company, community and economy alike. Women today can successfully balance their working and home lives, and they can do so without sacrificing time for the family or their children. In short, it is not simply up to women to make a difference. If we want to see a more diverse work- place, it is everyone’s responsibility.Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 11.51.22 AM

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