I'm heading to Abu Dhabi next week to continue my MBA education with INSEAD and explore possible opportunities in nuclear energy in the UAE. When I tell people that I'm interested in working in the Middle East, their reaction usually involves questioning the ability of women to effectively work there.
One thing that I've learned from other people (women and men) that have worked in the region is that the women's issues don't really differ from the Middle East region (especially in the UAE) to the rest of the world. Things like not having a women's bathroom on job sites or lack of women in upper management still exist everywhere. Of course, there are bigger women's issues, but within larger corporate settings, they're pretty much the same, whether you're in the Middle East or United States.
I also recently attended a women's networking event at the McKinsey & Company office in Paris and was pleased to learn about their Women Matter initiative. Their research has "explored the role women play in the global workplace, their experiences and impact in senior-executive roles, and the performance benefits that companies gain from gender diversity," and has found that companies greatly benefit from gender diversity in leadership positions.
The Women Matter report focusing on women in the GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) found that a few key women have made it top leadership roles in companies and that it needs to go "from the first to the norm."
An action plan for doing this includes:
- Top management commitment to gender diversity by making it a strategic priority
- Leadership development programs that support women in finding their path towards leadership
- Providing training in recognizing and overcoming biases
- Collective enablers and policies that formally reinforce this change
While the path to changing women's influence and status in the workplace is long and difficult, we are well on the way and need to keep building the momentum to facilitate change. We recognize the need and now we need to implement concrete steps within organizations and make sure that they are fully realized.