Women offer untapped economic potential for the MENA region, ILO report finds

A new ILO study showcases practical solutions on how the MENA region, which has the lowest global representation for women in management and leadership positions, can capitalize on the potential women offer for the region’s economic development.

خبر | ٠١ فبراير, ٢٠١٦
MUSCAT (ILO NEWS) - Women in the MENA region have been progressing in the economy, following similar global trends, and have been positioning themselves at more prominent business and management levels. But their full potential remains underutilized, resulting in significant missed opportunities for economic development in the region, a new ILO report finds.

The report, Women in business and management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and North Africa, presents practical solutions for businesses to attract and retain qualified women in business and management in the MENA region, which has the lowest global representation for women in management and leadership positions in the world.

“There is increased evidence and recognition that gender balanced and diverse management teams at all levels of hierarchies produce positive business outcomes,” said Deborah France-Massin, Director of the Bureau for Employers' Activities at the ILO.

“Yet, gender stereotypes across all social and cultural contexts limit women’s economic contribution and benefits. Thus, the enormous talent pool that women represent with their ever-higher levels of education goes largely untapped,” France-Massin continued.

The report was launched at a conference in Muscat, Oman on 1 February. It provides a regional follow-up to the ILO Global report on “Women in Business and Management: Gaining Momentum," launched in 2015. The conference was held under the patronage of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and attended by global and regional business leaders and representatives from employers’ organizations.

The new regional report notes that the top-ranking countries in the region in terms of women holding management and leadership roles - the occupied Palestinian territory and Tunisia - registered a 15 per cent share of women legislators, senior officials and managers. In contrast, globally, more than half the countries for which data is available reported that women accounted for more than 30 per cent of all managers.

Further up the leadership ladder, women executives accounted for 23 per cent in Morocco out of all executives, 17 per cent in the UAE, 16 per cent in Egypt and 7 per cent in Qatar. As for women Chief Executive Officers (CEOs,) the MENA region reported a share of 13 per cent as women CEOs out of the total, versus a 21 per cent similar share in all developing countries regions.

Women still rare on company boards

Women as chairpersons or presidents of boards are an even smaller minority across all regions. According to the ILO, no more than 7 per cent of companies surveyed had women as board presidents in the MENA region.

Women in the MENA region face similar barriers as other women in the world to reach top positions in business and management, the report notes. One of the key challenges women face globally is the double burden of work and family-care responsibilities. A 2015 study conducted by the Pearl Initiative in the GCC countries indicated that women considered balancing work and family life as the single most important obstacle to their career aspirations.

The ILO MENA report notes further that cultural stereotyping and inadequate self-perception also hamper women’s career advancement. In addition, gender biased legislation, as well as limited access to finance and networking, can act as disincentives for women to enter or exit the labour market and to pursue careers.

“Women’s advancement in management is challenging, as multiple obstacles block their access to top leadership positions in companies and organizations,” said Shauna Olney, Chief of the Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch, ILO.

“The MENA region has the lowest representation globally for women in management and leadership positions, and this conference is an opportunity to look at solutions towards maximizing women’s contributions at work,” Olney added.

Despite their low numbers as employers, women’s representation in chambers of commerce is increasing, especially as many chambers have set up women’s business committees (as in the GCC countries, as well as in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, the occupied Palestinian territory and Yemen). Their aim is to support women entrepreneurs and respond to their needs.

“Companies can play a major role in promoting women’s participation in the labour force by focusing on the gains such participation would bring to their businesses and to social and economic development,” said Redha Bin Juma Al Saleh, Vice-Chairman for administration and finance affaires at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry which hosted the conference.

“Practicing equity, building gender-sensitive human resources management systems, creating enabling environments for women in the corporate world, establishing an accommodating social infrastructure and endorsing work-life balance arrangements for both women and men are all vital elements for successfully advancing women’s careers,” Al Saleh added.