Why eliminating gender bias must be a priority for all
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Why eliminating gender bias must be a priority for all

Why eliminating gender bias must be a priority for all

Recruitment is key to making sure all positions are filled with a range of people that reflects the diversity of our communities

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – it’s a familiar quote, often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.

And it’s a sentiment I am mindful of while reflecting on International Women’s Day and how I can help #BreakTheBias this year.

As a business leader in the UAE, I know there are many impactful national and corporate initiatives already driving change where it is needed. But I’m also acutely aware that creating lasting change needs each of us as individuals to double down on our efforts to tackle anything that disadvantages women in the workplace.

Creating the right culture
I believe that expectations around behaviour and attitude come from the very top. One of Amazon’s leadership principles is that leaders should seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their own beliefs. That’s something I continuously aim to do through dialogue, active listening and empathy. I like to speak last in meetings. This allows other team members to express their opinions before I do, and allows me to come to a better and more informed point of view.

One female leader who inspires me, personally, is Indra Nooyi, who overcame significant bias to become CEO of PepsiCo back in 2006. One of her mantras is to assume positive intent when hearing feedback from colleagues. That’s something I’ve tried to emulate over the years. And, in my multicultural work environment in the UAE, I am constantly mindful of the gap between the intent of my messages and how they may land with people from different cultures.

Nevertheless, there is always a risk that unconscious bias can appear at both an individual and a corporate level. It’s entirely possible to be fully signed up to gender equality but unwittingly have conversations that are not inclusive, or unconsciously exclude people from networking opportunities. Indeed, 25 per cent of entry-level women in the Middle East say they seldom or almost never interact with senior leaders, according to McKinsey’s Women at Work report. That compares to 17 per cent of men.

Interrupting bias
There is a lot companies can do to disrupt this sort of organisational bias. Recruitment is key to making sure all positions – from delivery drivers to coders and team leaders – are filled with a range of people that reflects the diversity of our communities.

But recruitment is just the start. Unconscious bias training and increased flexibility will help as we seek to create the right culture and opportunities for women to reach their full potential. It’s also vital to have female senior leaders who can mentor new hires and nurture more women leaders. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it’s crucial to listen to our employees and act on the candid feedback they provide.

Reaping the demographic dividend
Being a great employer means enabling each individual – whoever they are – to reach their full potential. But it’s also important to mention the economic reward of increased gender equality. A report from the World Bank suggests a potential gender dividend of $172tn if we can close global gaps in lifetime earnings between women and men.

The rewards will be especially high in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, given that its gender gap is wider than those of other regions, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Just 40.9 per cent of the economic participation and opportunity gap has been closed in MENA, despite progress of 94.2 per cent on eradicating the gap for educational attainment.

This high level of educational achievement represents huge potential, and perhaps one of our greatest assets. As I look across the region, I see different markets are at various stages of development when it comes to equal pay, anti-discrimination laws and maternity leave.

But knowing there is a huge talent pool – much of which remains untapped – is perhaps my greatest motivation this International Women’s Day, as I recommit to help bring about the change we all long to see.

Prashant Saran is the director of operations for Amazon MENA

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