While the recognition of the importance of women in the workplace has been steadily growing, inequality persists and remains a hot topic. According to a report from the US Census Bureau, women in 2019 earned around 80% of what men were paid, even when other factors like job allocation were roughly equal. Many other countries deal with the same problem.
“Diversity is integral to sustainability and overall success. Boosting the number of women in work is not just a moral imperative but also a measurable impact on the bottom line,” said Hani Ashkar, PwC Middle East Senior Partner, during a “Rise of Arab Women” panel at the World Economic Forum in April 2019. “We will need to work out what works for our region and how to implement it effectively, and at scale, but this pales in comparison to when we look at the cost of doing nothing and continuing as we have.”
According to a PwC report, “Women in Work Index”, MENA is losing a total of $575 billion per year, due to the existence of legal and social barriers when it comes to women entering the workforce. Yet, a 2019 study by McKinsey indicated that Fortune 500 companies with a significant number of women on boards managed to outperform, financially speaking, companies with lower representation. Gender-diverse teams reported higher sales and profits when compared to teams dominated by males.
However, MENA countries are making big changes. The last 12 months were a landmark year for Saudi Arabia. Women there are now allowed to drive, apply to the military, and start their own business, without the permission of a male guardian. More than 60 female entrepreneurs have received direct support from the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women for their own business projects in 2019.
Countries in the Middle East are working together to diversify their economies and their workforces to accelerate industrial diversification. Between the boost to employee morale, increased availability of potentially viable candidates, and alignment with public expectations, companies that have stood behind this movement have already seen good results from their stance.
Studies indicate that various companies like General Motors and L’Oreal have reported an increase in the quality of the talent they attract on average and have even been able to reduce some of their expenses, due to factors like decreased employee turnover and lower recruitment expenses.
Ruth Hoffmann is an entrepreneur, strategist, and philanthropist.
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