Why Prioritizing Gender Balance is Good Business - A UAE Perspective
When it comes to improving the presence of women in the workplace, I often hear, "It’s just not a priority for our budgets," or, "We’ve done a few events for International Women’s Day and breast cancer awareness," or my personal favorite, "Some of the women internally set up a group to empower women at our organization."
Building female equity and prioritizing gender balance is good business. Why?
1) The government says so.
The UAE government launched the Gender Balance Guide 2017 to highlight the reasons why gender balance and equality are country-wide priorities and provide a framework and reward system for easy implementation.
Vision 2021 aims for the UAE to be in the Top 25 for gender equality globally, far from the current standing of 120 out of 144 countries. 2021 isn’t far away, so while the public sector is practicing what it preaches with women in 30% of decision-making roles, the private is dragging its feet with just 5.5%.
All the government wants to see are plans: plans for gender responsive budgets, plans for learning and development, plans to get more female talent distributed across management roles at every level.
Why is the government so keen to make gender balance and equality a priority?
[Related: Can We Count You In?]
2) Women are an economic accelerator.
The OECD knows it; Iceland, Norway and Finland know it; and soon enough, the private sector in UAE will know it.
The benefits to doing this have wider-spread impact on an organization from an employee level through to bigger societal impact.
- The OECD estimates that legal and social barriers hampering women’s access to jobs and careers in the Middle East and North Africa cost the region an estimated $575 billion a year.
- Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in their executive teams are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.
- Companies in the MSCI World Index with strong female leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1% per year versus 7.4% for those without.
- Women tend to encourage a more participatory decision-making process. Research shows a strong correlation between the organizational health and financial performance.
- Offices that have a “fair” gender split have greater social diversity, which results in a greater spread of experience, adds to the collective knowledge of office workers, and makes the unit perform more effectively.
Of course, this relies on more women being present at every stage and level in a business. Having executive diversity doesn't mean having one woman; it means having multiple women so the diversity of skills and thought are balanced and loud enough to be heard and implemented.
3) Managers and consumers of the future expect it.
Older millennials are approaching their mid-30s and taking the reins in more senior roles. Soon they will be running the majority of companies globally, and will comprise 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Millennials have changed the game; they’re looking to rewrite a rulebook that no longer serves society as the best way of doing things.
Following them is Gen Z. Getting the basics of good business right is a no-brainer to them, as they grew up in a global recession. If increasing women’s role in the workplace helps the bottom-line and improves society as a whole, then that’s what they'll do. This is a group that will make up 25% of the workforce by 2020.
The rise of e-commerce and social media has provided consumers with more choice and competition to the brands that serve them. Loyalty is harder earned and goes beyond great products. Consumers want to know how a company operates, who runs it, that it exists for a purpose beyond profits, and that their moral fibre is respectable enough to avoid consumer guilt.
CSR is no longer simply a nice-to-have. “Oh, you pay workers fairly for the work they do, provide paid maternity leave beyond a couple of months, and recycle where possible to encourage a circular economy?...Well, duh."
- Gender balance needs the buy-in and appreciation from ALL employees, male and female. Bring men into training programs and ensure they are aligned with requirements and benefits.
- Company policy documents and materials often encourage gender bias. Using the pronoun "he" to be inclusive of men and women is not inclusive at all.
- Women in leadership initiatives are well and good, but the bigger problem is the high number of women who don’t get the opportunity to make it that far. Gender balance initiatives need to stretch from new employees/graduates to the boardroom.
- Cultural and historical gender inequalities have impacted the access and encouragement of skills necessary for career success. Focus on improving skills like assertiveness and networking, offer tools to crush imposter syndrome, and utilize emotionally intelligent training for returning from maternity leave, child-rearing, and stress management.
- The Gender Balance Guide 2017 implored the private sector to allocate annual budgets for gender balance programs to ensure prioritization and reduce minimization due to other spending requirements/excuses.
One size does not fit all and there are many ways to start improving the status quo, but the above are key threads in any gender balance/equality program.
Countries and companies around the world are realizing the untapped potential of women and taking strides toward change. This is what the smart people are doing. Let’s be smart and do good business for a greater place to live, because this is a game-changing time to be alive in the UAE.
After twelve years of agency life in strategy roles across advertising and research agencies, Callie Dickens created and launched a Gender Balance and Diversity Consultancy with the ambition to drive active participation of women in the workplace.
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Managing Director + Founder
ORENDA and Bloom
Following 12 years of agency life in strategy roles across advertising and research agencies, I have created and launched a Gender Balance and Diversity Consultancy, with the ambition to drive active participation of women in the workplace, created in UAE for the women of UAE and GCC. Inspired by the growing achievements of women all over the UAE and around the world, I recognised a need to create a platform that brings likeminded women and the... Continue Reading
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