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Closing the Gender gap in the Workplace

 

A widely-discussed report into the representation of women at every level of organisations from the US by McKinsey & Co. – Women in the Workplace – found that they were underrepresented at every level and faced greater barriers to senior leadership positions. The report from September 2015 surveyed almost 30,000 participants from 118 companies, and found that, if the rate of progress towards senior positions continued at the same rate as the last three years, it would take nearly 100 years for gender parity in the boardroom and leadership positions.

 

Among the key findings of the report was a disparity between the 74 per cent of companies reporting a CEO who was highly committed to diversity, and the less than half of employees who believed the same. Only a third believed that it was a key priority of their immediate manager.

 

It also found that employee initiatives – such as family leave, flexible hours, and development opportunities – were highly prevalent but under-used in practice. A fear that using such programmes might impact negatively on a career was cited by many, with over 90 per cent of women and men stating that extended family leave would hamper their position at work.

 

The study reflects the annual report findings of the World Economic Forum, which benchmarks countries’ gender gaps each year. The 2015 report found that the best performing country – Iceland – still had 11 years to go until it achieved gender parity if it continued at its present rate of progress. Meanwhile, both the United States and Germany were found to still have more than 60 years of work ahead.

 

The business case

 

One aspect of the discussion that is often cited is the need to underscore the rationale behind the hiring and promotion of women in the workplace. This means going beyond viewing them as units of labour that suffer – by way of family commitments – an assumption of a greater likelihood of disruptions to their employment. This might mean, for example, emphasising the need to better reflect the gender balance of a business’ customer base, or the benefits gained from the specific skill areas of female employees – organisation, innovation, or increased decision-making, for example. It also means, of course, a business benefiting from a much-increased talent pool, helping it recruit the very best from a much larger group of talented individuals.

 

Companies that have already benefited from these advantages have done so through many initiatives – from being determinedly transparent about pay scales and career trajectories, or focusing on developing managers’ awareness of the issues involved, through to demonstrating the leadership’s firm commitment to the concept.

 

The UAE, for its part, has made some leading moves in this direction through the establishment of the UAE Gender Balance Council in October of last year. Established by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the Council is set to take responsibility for specific policies and initiatives aimed at empowering Emirati women with skills and opportunities. Already, Emirati women constitute some 66 per cent of public sector employees, and make up 71 per cent of the country’s graduates.
 
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