Thoughts and observations on the labour market situation for females in the United Arab Emirates

Professor Chris Rowley, Director of the Centre for Research on Asian Management, was recently interviewed in the media in the Middle East on the important research undertaken on the unusual topic of maximising women's participation in the GCC workforce. The focus of the interview was in terms of the context of increasing levels of female education and growing numbers of female graduates. Professor Rowley was asked to consider the following questions particularly in relation to the situation in the UAE.

If the gap in female employment is not due to a gap in education, what is it down to?
This gap is down to both macro and micro level barriers. There is gender discrimination stemming from a set of institutional and cultural (social) factors, at both national (country) and corporate (organisation) levels; Lack of role models of women in society and work. Other reasons include barriers such as a wish to care for children/families, lack of facilities in workplaces or inappropriate working conditions, as well as difficulties with commuting and distances from centres of employment, poor careers advice and a lack of flexible working.

How can the percentage of women working be increased?
The macro and micro barriers and issues noted need to be addressed. The discriminatory national and corporate cultures would need tackling, while successful role models would also help. Also, the government and companies could introduce more supportive legislation, training and policies. These would help educate both women and companies on not only the costs, but also the benefits.

What figures for the UAE about the percentage of women in the workforce are there?
In terms of the percentage of the UAE workforce who are female, this is approximately 15%. While this is a poor, low figure when compared to the contemporary situation in the West, in comparison the historical situation locally, it is an improvement, such as from the approximate 3% in the 1970s. In terms of the percent female participation rate, a critical point is that this varies greatly across the GCC. For instance, while this participation rate is approximately 59% in the UAE and 42.5 % in Kuwait , 36.5% in Qatar and 34% in Bahrain, it is just 14.4% in Saudi Arabia, according to a 2010 report.

Whose responsibility is it to introduce more home working? Companies?

Yes, companies (otherwise we could create 'moral hazard'), albeit there is also a role for government. This is as both an employer and role model ie of best practice, publicity of such matters, favourable employment/tax incentives/legislation, investment in suitable vocational and attitudinal training and facilities.

If so, how can they do that?

Companies could publicise/emphasise their pro-female, work-life balance and family friendly policies and structures as well as career paths and supports for such working.