Increased women's participation in Mena workforce could raise GDP by $2tn, PwC says

Greatest advances in women's labour force participation in recent years have been in GCC countries, report finds

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Increasing the number of women in the workforce in the Middle East and North Africa could raise the region's gross domestic product by up to 57 per cent — or up to $2 trillion — a report by PwC showed.

Employers should support the professional aspirations of women by establishing better diversity strategies and reinforcing supportive workplace cultures, which are critical steps to effectively attract, recruit and retain talented young women, the MENA Women in Work Survey 2022 found.

“Identifying, developing, promoting and retaining women is essential for the success of our business and our region more broadly,” said Hani Ashkar, senior partner at PwC Middle East.

“Key takeaways [from the report] … include encouraging employers to create a strategy that includes investing in skills, reforming cultures, embedding equitable workplace policies, respecting personal time and well-being as well as developing metrics to actively track the progress in supporting female employees,” Mr Ashkar said.

PwC surveyed 1,500 women aged 18 to 35 across Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in January. In total, these countries are home to about 81 million people and have a combined economy of roughly $2tn.

In recent years, women in the workforce have made “unprecedented gains”, but the Mena region has yet to reap the full potential of their participation in the economy.

The greatest advances in women's labour force participation in recent years have been achieved in GCC countries, particularly the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the report found.

However, while 40 per cent of working-age women in the GCC are employed, 64 per cent are employed throughout the countries the make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the consultancy said, citing data from the International Labour Organisation.

In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the region’s three largest economies, less than 20 per cent of all senior managers are women, PwC said.

While 84 per cent of those surveyed across the Mena region aspire to become leaders in their fields, women employees said work is not their only priority. About 80 per cent said that it is important to play a leading role in looking after their families.

About 94 per cent of the surveyed women said a “work-life balance” and “training and development opportunities” were their most valued employer characteristics — but only 62 per cent of women felt their employers satisfactorily fulfil their needs in these areas.

“We welcome all initiatives in the Mena region that aim in advancing women’s careers, which requires a multi-party approach in order for any progress to be sustainable,” said Norma Taki, inclusion and diversity leader at PwC Middle East.

Identifying, developing, promoting and retaining women is essential for the success of our business and our region more broadly
Hani Ashkar, PwC Middle East senior partner

“Governments should continue to support women on a policy level and companies should take a more proactive approach in creating workplace environments conducive to women’s success,” Ms Taki said.

Employers must offer a good work-life balance, flexible working hours and the option to work remotely to encourage the participation of more women, the report said.

They should also engage with women employees to identify problem areas and reform workplaces dominated by men.

Employers, policymakers and academic institutions should collaborate to identify skills and training aimed at women to ensure that they develop future-ready skills, the report added.

The availability of role models at senior levels is also an important form of “motivation and encouragement for young women”.

The survey found that 72 per cent of those surveyed said there is adequate representation of women at senior levels in the region.

Updated: June 09, 2022, 7:19 AM