Norma Taki, Middle East Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) Leader at PwC Middle East, has shown commitment to driving transparency, reporting, and investment in diversity and inclusion within the Middle East region. She has been in charge of implementing the I&D strategy at PwC for over 3 years.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day (IWD), Economy Middle East had the following interview with Norma, where we asked:
New technology and artificial intelligence are changing the dynamics of work and the skills required. Does this represent an opportunity or a challenge for creating gender-equal openings for women?
- Technology and innovation help narrow the gender gap through data to advance gender equality discussions.
- Data equips policymakers with planning by identifying gaps or flagging females in underrepresented groups
- Technology provides women with access to job opportunities and job searches
- It gives them access to a network of communities that helps empower them and provide them with development and mentorship
- Easy access to online learning and a variety of training opportunities
According to PwC’s MENA Women in Work Survey 2022, the Middle East has the lowest female labor force participation globally. What reasons lie behind these low figures?
- There remains significant room for improving the employment prospects and career opportunities for young MENA women. Although women form the majority of students at tertiary education institutions, women lag behind male workforce participation due to several reasons – our survey identifies.
- Employers also face the challenge of a leaky pipeline – Women are more likely to leave the workforce, for various reasons, including not having access to roles that enable them to maintain work-life balance, workplace bias, lack of training and development opportunities, lack of policies that support women’s career advancement, etc.
- Face an “expectations vs. reality” gap between their ambitions and their experiences of employers
- Female representation at senior management levels remains low due to the leaky pipeline – Women are more likely to leave the workforce as they get older, for various reasons, including not having access to roles that enable them to balance their professional and family responsibilities, workplace bias, lack of training and development opportunities, lack of policies that support women’s career advancement, etc.
What innovative initiatives do organizations need to look at when it comes to creating a strategy for gender diversity? And what actions should they take to empower the growth of women in leadership roles?
Organizations can ensure they embed equitable workplace policies and practices that help women overcome the barriers that they face. This includes the following:
- Many of our MENA Women in Work Survey 2022 respondents feared that they would return to lower-paid roles after maternity leave or the “Motherhood Penalty”. The corporate world can support women throughout their career lifecycle, including women who go on career breaks and want to later return to work. According to our research, 85% of respondents say “returnship” programs are one of the top three factors that would encourage them to go back to work after a career break. By easing the transition back to work through networking opportunities and skills support, returnships can help women regain their confidence and professional self-belief.
- Sponsorship and mentoring programs that provide tailored support and equal access to opportunities also enable women to grow their professional networks and take their careers to the next level.
- Measures such as gender pay gap analysis can help to diagnose this and help guide targeted interventions to achieve pay parity. Increasing paternity leave policies would also support new mothers while changing attitudes towards the onus of parenthood falling on women.
- Flexible working hours (and the ability to work remotely) and a good work-life balance to manage time and health are highly desirable characteristics in employers. Companies should address these needs, for example by training managers to spot signs of stress and burnout such as consistent late-night work, evidence of exhaustion, and lack of motivation. Female employees should be offered support through counseling, rebalancing workloads, or encouraging well-being practices.
- Businesses should invest the necessary time and resources to establish a brand and corporate profile that champions diversity, to retain and attract female talent. This must also be backed by action throughout the organization. KPIs and targets should be developed for all senior leaders and managers that measure their progress in supporting young women to advance their careers against clearly defined metrics at each stage of their career path. Leaders and managers need to be held accountable to ensure that everyone plays their role.
- Employers, policymakers and academic and training institutions should collaborate to identify skills needs and training curricula that can be targeted toward women to ensure that they develop future-ready skills. Building on the successful drive to boost the number of young women studying STEM subjects in university, employers can also create local pipelines of female talent who can join companies directly after graduation and jump-start their careers
- Set diversity KPIs to measure change in areas such as parental leave and equal career progression opportunities, and incentivize organizational change
- Leadership commitment ‘tone from the top’
- Creating and maintaining connections with a talent database of women on career breaks as potential returnees
Can an increased female employment upsurge GDP across the MENA and why?
- Diversity in the workplace can drive financial performance. Boosting the number of women in work is not just a moral imperative but also has a measurable impact on the bottom line. This is the conclusion of a growing body of evidence that is persuading companies and governments around the world to act.
- Increasing female participation increases the supply of available labor that employers can tap into. By bringing new skills and perspectives, the increase in female participation in the economy can also deliver productivity benefits.
- For MENA countries, PwC analysis of World Bank data suggests that increased female employment participation could increase GDP across the MENA region by 57%, or as much as $2.0 trillion. Reducing the barriers to female participation is therefore critical to realize these significant economic benefits.
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