Omani women are currently entitled to 50 days of paid maternity leave in the private sector and 60 days in the public sector. Eric Feferberg / AFP
Omani women are currently entitled to 50 days of paid maternity leave in the private sector and 60 days in the public sector. Eric Feferberg / AFP

Omani women call time on workplace discrimination

Women are calling time on workplace discrimination in Oman and demanding better treatment from men in senior positions.

Women make up about a quarter of the total workforce in the Omani private sector, but just less than five per cent of them occupy management positions. This is despite a huge leap in their academic qualifications in the last decade.

Out of 240,063 Omani employees currently working in the private sector, 61,048 are women nationals, according to the country’s National Center for Statistical Information (NCSI).

Women say they are often overlooked for positions, with younger and less experienced men handed promotions before them.

“Are we treated as second class citizens? Yes, we are, or at least we feel that way. I have been working for 12 years and I am still an accounting administrator, not even a section head,” Ahlam Al Shehi, 37, who works for a pipeline engineering company in the capital Muscat, told The National.

“This position was taken by a man who I trained 8 years ago when he joined the company”.

In the last ten years, female higher education graduates have outnumbered men by 12 per cent from various subjects, according to the statistics from the Ministry of Higher Education. Yet, they still lag behind when it comes to getting the nod for prized senior management positions.

Salma Al Kaabi, despite joining her workplace with a degree in marketing management, says she is still a junior manager after more than 14 years at the same company.

“I have the same qualification as the man who is heading the department I am in”, Ms Kaabi, who works as assistant marketing manager for Salaam Enterprises in Muscat, said. 

She says he has “less experience in years, but he is my boss. Why? Because he is a man,” Ms Kaabi, who works as assistant marketing manager for Salaam Enterprises in Muscat, said.

At the recent Oman Economic Forum held in Muscat in March, Omani Minister of Trade and Industry Ali Al Sunaidi urged the private sector to “address the gender discrepancy” and push forward the ambitions of the private sector to prepare for future business challenges.

“Women can contribute a lot to senior management positions as equally well as men, and there should be no doubt about it. All we have to do is appoint them in the top positions more often than we do now and they will excel themselves”, Mr Sunaidi said.  

Women’s rights advocates blame male bigotry for the lack of equal rights opportunities in the office for working women.

“Men appoint their own ‘buddies’ in higher positions because they hang out a lot in coffee shops where they decide on office matters”, Maryam al Shuaili, 62, a retired accounts manager in a banking industry, told The National.

“This coffee shop attitude must stop because we know what we are capable of when it comes to make good business decisions”.

Another gave an example of the retail and banking sectors, where women have a bigger representation in jobs than in other areas of employment. Official statistics from the Ministry of Manpower show that about 40 per cent of the workforce in Oman’s financial institutions are women. They also show nearly half of retail workers in the country are women.

Yet, they remain snubbed when it comes to management positions.

“These two sectors have a high number of females working in various positions, but the majority of these companies do not give women a chance in senior management jobs”, said Raisa Al Haremy, who is working as a junior executive in a major shopping mall in Muscat.

“If women slug it out like slaves to make more money for their companies then they need recognition to lead their departments, and not play second fiddle to men”.

But not only women feel that they are sidestepped when it comes to the senior executive jobs. Some men sympathise and support women’s drive to get into top positions as well.

“In the private sector, women must be seen, heard and their efforts recognized all the time. The male prejudice must stop and allow our women chances to prove themselves. I think a change is needed in this respect. It has to start now”. Mohammed Al Junaibi, a proprietor of Al Junaibi IT Engineering Company, told The National.

“This issue is not much spoken about and I think men are responsible for it since they dominate the management positions in all companies in Oman”, Mr Al Junaibi said.

First Person
Richard Flanagan
Chatto & Windus 

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