Mercer: Women's success in workplace crucial to economic, social development in Middle East

Tom O’Byrne, head of Mercer’s market development arm for the GCC
Tom O’Byrne, head of Mercer’s market development arm for the GCC

Following a report that predicted female representation in the professional and managerial ranks will reach only 40 percent globally in 2025, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) expert for Mercer said ensuring women thrive in the Middle East-North Africa region is critical to the region’s economic and social development. 

Mercer's When Women Thrive global report offered a 10-year forecast on global workforce equality. The human resource consulting firm's report shows Europe and North America struggling to keep gender equality in professional settings, while Asia and the Middle East land at the bottom of the rankings.

“There are a range of barriers that slow down the representation of women in work spaces in these regions,” Tom O’Byrne, head of Mercer’s market development arm for the GCC, told Gulf News Journal. “In some cases, women might not want to chase a career when their priority is to manage a family. In others, an organization might not have the programs or practices in place to welcome and be comfortable with women supervisors, managers and leaders. Also, academic pathways and career counseling might not be in tune with tomorrow’s business or labor market needs. Women also sometimes prefer sectors like banking, retail and professional services over others like manufacturing and resource extraction.”

O’Byrne said his opinion is that business owners, boards of directors and leaders can work on a few key areas to help improve the situation, especially in the Gulf region.

“They need to study their own internal workforce data alongside the external labor market trends to understand where they are today and see where they want to be in the years to come,” O’Byrne said. “They need to develop processes and programs that recognize that women are different, that they lead and manage differently, that they bring different skills and approaches to the workplace and they have a range of different requirements – from compensation and benefits, to work style and contribution. It’s about getting the mix right in time.” 

The report revealed that women's representation within organizations drops as career levels rise - from support staff through the executive level.

O’Byrne said there are a range of reasons for this situation. A few of them are about the need for passionate leadership and perseverance. Organizations with leaders who are not actively engaged in driving diversity have fewer women at the top; and they hire, promote and retain women at lower rates relative to men.

“Organizations are not making progress in building their future female talent pipeline,” O’Byrne said. “Although focus at the top is necessary given that women today hold only 20 percent of executive-level positions, the failure to focus further down the pipeline means that women will still represent only 40 percent of the workforce at the professional level and above by 2025.”

He said that organizations need to focus on systemic, supporting practices to build the female talent pipeline that will sustain gender equality in the long term.

“Addressing and overcoming this challenge will take time and effort for sure,” O’Byrne said. “But this is also about individuals, groups and organizations taking daily, weekly, monthly and permanent steps to realize the value we can create when we leverage our most important human resources.”