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‘Gender diversity is real progress’

Rania Abu Shukur copy

Sunaina Rana / EMIRATES BUSINESS

Women are under-represented in the workforce globally, and if organisations maintain the current rate of progress, female representation will reach only 40 percent globally in the professional and managerial ranks in 2025, according to Mercer’s second annual When Women Thrive global report.
One key trend revealed in the report that women’s representation within organisations actually declines as career levels rise — from support staff through the executive level.
As per the report, women globally, represent 33 percent of managers, 26 percent of senior managers, and 20 percent of executives.
The research — the most comprehensive of its kind featuring input from nearly 600 organisations around the world, employing 3.2 million people, including 1.3 million women — identifies a host of key drivers known to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.
Rania Abu Shukur is Mercer’s Practice Leader for Talent Strategy in the Middle East Region, based in Dubai. Having over 20 years of experience in corporate, she has lead talent consulting engagement for many clients in different sectors and markets in the region, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar.
Rania being experienced in formulating HR function and talent strategy for companies she talks to Emirates Business about women’s position in the corporate world.

Are women being under-represented in the workforce globally?
Yes, I think women are being under-represented in the workforce globally. Our Mercer’s research ‘When Women Thrive, Business Thrive’, which is the largest study of its kind, shows that globally women continue to be underrepresented in the workforce at all career levels.
As per our research women make up only 35 percent of the average company’s workforce at the professional level and above. Most regions of the world continue to face challenges in increasing women’s representation at all levels. Asia is projected to have the lowest representation of women in 2025.
European organisations are not on track to make any improvement in female representation at the Professional level and above and although women make up more of the mid- and senior-level workforce in North America than in any other region, current talent flows will yield virtually no gain in women’s representation at the professional level and above over the next decade. Lower hiring and retention rates for women at the executive level, relative to men in Australia and New Zealand mean that women will hold only a third of top jobs by 2025.

According to Women Thrive global report, women will reach 40 percent globally in the professional and managerial ranks by 2025? Can you share few pointers that can help the organisations achieve this number?
Women make up 33 percent of managers, 26 percent of senior managers, and only 20 percent of executives which means that female representation declines as career level rises. In order to increase women representations by 2025, organisations need individual and organisational alignment to advance women in the workplace.
Hiring and promoting women into executive ranks is great but it is not extending to lower levels.
Organisations need to focus on systemic improvements in good practices that will support long-term success in building future female talent pipeline. Female hiring, promotion, and retention on all levels need to be sufficient to create gender equality over the next decade. Witnessed improvements in hiring women at the highest levels of the organisations seem to result from ad hoc actions and not systemic processes.

Do you think the awareness programmes on the issue can contribute to the progress?
Definitely, awareness programmes, studies, researches and communication will contribute to the process. Today most regions are talking about their commitment to improve gender equality and its profound implications for women, their economies, their organisations and their families.
But, researching, studying and talking alone won’t lead to change and won’t achieve gender diversity and equality. Organisations need to strategically address the deep-rooted inaction that has held organisations and leaders back from real progress on gender diversity and equality.

How can the GCC region achieve gender equality? What are the challenges women facing ?
I think that women in the region face similar challenges to the ones faced by women globally in addition to some social and cultural challenges depending on the region. The percentage of women holding a university and higher education degrees are increasing yet their participation in the workforce is not advancing especially in leadership positions.
Women have the responsibility of taking care of their families and raising children, not many organisations have leave and flexibility programs that are actively managed to support women. Also, not many organisations give their managers training so they can effectively support women through the maternity leave and return to-work processes and effectively counter any unconscious bias in rewards and promotion decisions that might be triggered by leave.
Leadership competencies is another challenging area for women, they are often more closely aligned with the relative strengths of men. Competencies should be updated to reflect what companies need to be successful in a changing economy. Our research finds that women have different and unique skills relative to men and women thrive when their unique competencies are leveraged in high business impact roles. For example women rank higher than men on inclusive team management, emotional intelligence, flexibility & adaptability and networking with other groups skills.
Women need to be given the opportunity and the support in profit and loss roles; higher representation in such roles is linked to greater gender diversity.

As we notice the government sectors are taking the initiative, what are the activities or strategies the private sector needs to adapt to promote women empowerment?
True, the government sectors across the region are taking great initiatives in empowering women. Making women visible to the public helps women to be more confident in their leadership capabilities and generate confidence in the young generation whether men or women to be led by women.
However, still many of these initiatives are driven by regulations and not the norm.

Mercer’s report states that women are 1.5 times more likely to be hired at the executive level than men. Still the declining percentage of women at workforce can you share the reason behind it?
As I mentioned previously, our data show a recent improvement in hire rates for women relative to men at senior levels. There is an increased focus onhiring and promoting women intoexecutive ranks, apparently drivenby regulation and heightenedmedia attention.
However organisations are not enforcing strategies to build future female talent pipeline. Current female hiring, promotion, and retention are insufficient to create gender equality over the next decade. On the other hand, men continue to be hired into and promoted from mid-level positions at higher rates than women.

Despite the challenges, women have great opportunities to advance and excel in the corporate world; we have witnessed many examples in the region both in the public or the private sectors.
Women need to accept that change takes timeand implementations of the above suggested strategies are not going to happen overnight, women can play a pivotal role in driving diversity andinclusion on all levels by understanding that professional equity, take charge of their own career development, be bold in seeking leadership positions, take the profit and loss roles challenge and support other women in leadership positions.

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