Women in MENA happier in the workplace despite enduring gender inequality

Gender inequality remains a major concern in the region
Sunday 28/01/2018
Vital role. A Tunisian woman pharmacist (R) works at a drugstore in Tunis.  (AP)
Vital role. A Tunisian woman pharmacist (R) works at a drugstore in Tunis. (AP)

BEIRUT - Working women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region say they are more satisfied with employment conditions as employers become better engaged and committed to workplace equality, a survey by Middle East job site Bayt.com and global online market research company YouGov indicated.

However, gender inequality remains a major concern in the region, which has the lowest female economic participation in the world (27% of females in the region participate in the workforce, compared to a global average of 56%). The International Labour Organisation (ILO) underlined that even though women’s education in the Arab world has increased dramatically, this has not led to higher levels of employment.

While this is partly due to women being primary caregivers in their families, it is more a result of policies that have not provided women with opportunities and incentives to enter the labour market. Laws, regulations and economic and fiscal policies pose obstacles to realising Arab women’s full economic rights, the ILO said.

While educated women in the Arab world are seeking more employment opportunities, they have their reservations about working conditions, which in many contexts fail to include a safe environment and protection from harassment.

Despite the challenges, the Bayt.com and YouGov “Working Women in the Middle East and North Africa” survey indicated that an increasing percentage of working female respondents said women and men are treated equally in the workplace across a variety of areas, including working hours (68%), training and development (68%) and receiving advice and support (60%).

“By comparing the findings of this year’s Bayt.com ‘Working Women in the Middle East and North Africa’ survey with last year, we can note several areas of improvement that may suggest the region’s progress on workplace gender equality,” said Ramy Labaky, Bayt.com director in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

“For instance,” Labaky noted, “56% of respondents said female [and] male treatment in the workplace regarding recruitment and selection is equal, up from 44% in 2016.”

“A similar trend was noted for several other factors such as career progress, with 51% in 2017 versus 38% in 2016, advice and support, 60% in 2017 versus 50% in 2016, training and development, 68% in 2017 versus 58% in 2016 and benefits, 55% in 2017 versus 44% in 2016,” Labaky said.

There are many areas in which women say improvement needs to be made. When it comes to salary, 46% of women asked said they perceive that they are on a par with their male counterparts. “A similar trend but with lesser skew is observed for promotions and career progression, where 29% perceive they have a lower chance of being promoted than their male counterparts,” the report noted.

The survey said Lebanon ranked highest in the Middle East in terms of women’s integration in the workplace.

It showed that 88% of respondents in Lebanon reported having a mix of men and women in the same workplace, the highest in the region. A large majority (82%) said they were comfortable working in a mixed-gender environment, with two-thirds (66%) claiming to be extremely comfortable; 15% were neutral and 2% said they were uncomfortable.

The top three challenges cited by working MENA women in the survey were “less opportunity for job promotions — 44%, stressful work environment — 37% and insufficient training & coaching — 30%.”

Working women in MENA cited top five reasons for seeking employment as seeking financial independence (59%), being able to support and financially contribute to their households (50%), broadening their perspectives on life (46%), making use of their education (42%) and securing a future for their family and children (40%).

“It is a given that women play a vital role in the workplace today and we are glad to see that in the MENA region, organisations are doing much more to accommodate women and promote workplace equality,” Rania Nseir, director of business development at Bayt.com, said in a statement.

Data for the “Working Women in the Middle East and North Africa” survey were collected online from 4,053 female respondents in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and the UAE from October 26 to November 26.