How can companies improve gender balance in the workplace

The issue of gender equality is a poignant one in the UAE. On the one hand, the World Economic Forum ranks it as a leading country in terms of gender equality. According to the General Women’s Union, women in the UAE rank highly in the sciences, constitute 66 percent of state employees, and account for 70 percent of school and university populations across the country.

On the other hand, there is still some work to be done to achieve true gender parity. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has called for businesses to do more to promote women’s participation in the workforce. His vision is that by 2021, the nation will be in the top 25 countries for gender equality.

So what can local companies do to play their part? A good starting point would be The Gender Balance Guide: Actions for UAE Organisations, a document released by the UAE’s Gender Balance Council in September 2017. The guide provides a list of actionable steps that private and public organisations could take to achieve gender balance in the workplace.

Some of the suggestions include considering more gender-sensitive employment policies, such as better parental leave and flexible work options, to improve the ability of parents to balance work and family without having to leave the workforce, thereby improving employee retainment. Other aspects of the guide focus on the importance of the representation of women in leadership roles, to support and encourage other women to climb the corporate ladder.

One company that has embraced its role in advancing gender equality in the region is Emaar Hospitality Group. The homegrown hospitality brand has recently launched ‘Hiya’, a new initiative to improve gender balance in the workplace at every level of the company.

The ultimate goal of this leadership development programme is to achieve gender parity across the group. In the short term, the aim is to have 30 percent of women in executive leadership positions, 50 percent in general manager roles, 40 percent in management positions and 32 percent in supervisory positions by 2019.

To achieve this ambitious goal, a strong focus will be on recruitment, and headhunting talented women for senior roles. A clear success programme is also being put into place with the aim of recognising and retaining women, in order to develop their talents and promote them to more senior roles in the company. Part of the Hiya initiative will also involve sharing the stories of successful women associates to highlight in-house role models and motivate others in the company.

Equally important, if not more so, is the introduction of women-friendly workplace policies, such as enhanced maternity leave — currently, the UAE standard for paid maternity leave is just 45 days in the private sector and 90 days in the public sector — as well as provisions for part-time work and external learning facilities. These measures will go a long way to improve employee satisfaction by providing the support female employees need to help them balance their careers with their families.

It’s hoped that not only will the Hiya initiative improve gender parity across the UAE, but that it will also establish Emaar Hospitality Group as an excellent place for women to build their careers. 

Olivier Harnisch, Chief Executive Officer of Emaar Hospitality Group, believes that it’s important for the homegrown UAE brand to take the lead in supporting the government’s vision of gender parity.

As one of the largest providers of employment in the hospitality industry, we can bring a positive change through our credible action plan with clear times,” Harnisch said.

Empowering women in the workplace and promoting gender parity has an add-on effect, as it will motivate more women employees to aspire and work towards senior leadership goals. Through our focus on all four key metrics of gender diversity – recruitment, retention, advancement and pay – we aim to build a strong talent pool of women professionals in senior roles across our group. In this, we place top priority in identifying and building the careers of Emirati women,” he added.

Jen G. is a Dubai-based journalist who specialises in economic trends

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