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Business Home > Opinion Analysis
Untapped workforce potential

Oksana Tashakova (MAXIMISE YOUR POTENTIAL) / 29 July 2012

How diverse is your workforce? Are you following the trend of putting the UAE’s economy back in the hands of natives? Of highly educated locals? How many women does your business employ? What work practices do you utilise to support their employment? How much discrimination does the average woman in your company encounter?

Gulf women have made huge gains on the educational front in past decades. Today, the average literacy rate of women in the Gulf is 84 per cent and women in most of these countries are better educated than most men. Ninety-one per cent of women in the UAE are literate and women in the UAE now make up 59 per cent of the labour force. That’s an amazing leap forward but just 26.9 per cent of GCC women overall are employed.

The UAE is one of the region’s leaders in realising that educated women represent an enormous untapped pool for the labour force. In 2008, a five-year plan was launched to find and develop future female leaders and the Dubai Women’s Establishment (DWE) has created training programmes to help women contribute, rise and lead in the business world.

Women are easier to integrate into organisations in the UAE than many foreign-sought employees because they share cultural norms with their colleagues. When executives across the region were asked what groups of people should be better represented on their payrolls, 79 per cent said women.

UAE women are ambitious, committed, loyal and work harder than many of their male counterparts. Research has determined that what motivates Arab women most to work is because they have love for the work, they’re intellectually challenged by it. The desire for self-dependence and the desire to participate in their society’s development also motivates Emirati women more than economic compensation.

Arab women want to grow and develop. They want to be recognised and feel that they are contributing to something larger than themselves. What better prototype for the model employee could there be?

Diversity is being recognised as a must-have in many multinational companies and the forward-thinking UAE. The Gulf countries recognise that they must empower their own countrymen and women rather than relying on a foreign-sought workforce. They recognise that in order to compete successfully in the globalised marketplace they need to draw on the vast resource of ambitious, committed and educated workers they have in women, that their own staff roster must better reflect the global consumer base.

Even though many leaders recognise these needs, change doesn’t come easily. Many things need to be in place for women to get the cultural support they need to contribute. Traditional roles are ever present and acceptance of women working with men requires educational initiatives both by the government and individual companies themselves.

Most Middle Eastern companies haven’t set firm goals in place in terms of diversity. More than one-third of these companies have no medium-term diversity goals in place. It takes dedication to balance native and local customs with a global and long-term view in terms of employing women in the business world. Flexible work scheduling, child care and telecommuting are all wonderful options for Emirati women. They’ve been shown to increase worker engagement and productivity while saving companies money.

In 2009, of the top-ranked best places to work in the UAE, seven offered employees flex time, job sharing, telecommuting and unpaid leave and eight had active anti-discriminatory education and policies and procedures.

This is the year that legislation started changing in the region to allow hiring of part-time local employees, pregnant women and flexible scheduling. The National Childcare Standards Initiative also moved to create childcare facilities in government offices. DWE research has found that 84 per cent of women believe they could be more productive if such facilities were available to them and 92 per cent said that they would use such facilities.

In 2011, the National Early Childhood Development Childcare Study began outlining a rating system for childcare facilities in the region. Ninety-two per cent of the UAE’s nurseries are privately owned. There is still a huge shortage of government and workplace-sponsored creches in the region.

Providing such resources or helping them to develop with the government’s help can greatly increase your staff retention rate, employee productivity and employee morale. Dubai Islamic Bank and the Dubai International Financial Centre have both recently opened child care facilities on their worksites. Do you offer professional development for female employees? Do you have a solid anti-discriminatory policy? Do you offer flexible work practices in order to gain from this talented pool of workers? 

The writer is an executive coach and HR training and development expert. She can be reached at oksana@academia ofhumanpotential.com or www.academiaofhumanpotential.com. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy



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