18 Nov 2014

Women Between Family and Career Choices

Samira Saleh Usman

Gender gap research study investigates the women’s advancement and career placement in all fields; it’s particularly noticeable that the gap gets wider on issues of women’s access to top positions and high powered career opportunities worldwide. Gender discrimination is a global dilemma; many women still report hiring discrimination and working conditions that do not serve them as family care givers. The International community of gender equality and women empowerment organizations intensified global efforts to improve the statistics and educate corporate managements about the importance of not only having females on board but also to retain them in high managerial and leadership positions.
Study published by the American Journal of Sociology found that actual employers discriminate against mothers but not against fathers (Bernard and Correll 2007). Despite many efforts to bridge the gender gap and attract more women to be part of the workforce, females remain underrepresented in leadership positions and the gender inequality in representation due to historical, cultural, socioeconomic, and institutional are all factors contributing to this gap.
The United Arab Emirates made great advancement in women issues like education and health but women still are not fully effective and are not given an equal opportunity in the work place or equal access to leadership or political positions.


Why women are important in the work place?

In a study by The International Monetary Fund ‘women, work and the economy’ shows a stalled progress despite of the little improvements. Larger female employment contributes widely to the country’s per capita GDP and for example: In Egypt if the number of working women is raised to the number of males in the job market an expected overall growth up to 34% in the country’s GDP. United Arab Emirates GDP would expand by 12% if the number of female employees expends and enabled to contribute fully to their economy based on data collected by the International Labour Organization (Christine Lagrade 2013). Report by McKinsey & Co, The Business of Empowering Women, shows that gender-balanced executive committees have a 56% higher operating profit than companies with male-only committees. Data from various studies show that Companies with more women in leadership have outperform others by more than a third. Stronger representation of women at the work place contributes to advancement on organizational health, competitiveness and responsiveness in addition to a better public image. Females in executive and board positions will encourage other women to get to such positions, female role models help other women envision themselves advance, and that will accelerates change.

What are the problems women face as part of the workforce?

Hurdles facing women at the work place are attributed to social discrimination, lack of legal protection and advocacy for women. For example many women are discouraged to join the workforce after maternity leave facing obstacles at work like discrimination, lack of flexibility at work, less growth opportunities and advancement within an organization.
Women struggle with economic gaps due to family and childbearing, in the United States women suffer at least a 5% wage penalty due to maternity leaves and childbearing and makes it impossible to the have the same opportunity (Budig and England 2001, Anderson, Binder and Krause 2003). Employers view mothers as less committed to their jobs and less promotable although these differences in wage difference and job promotions seems to diminish if we are comparing unmarried sample of males and females (Denise Venable 2002).
Women employment choices are impeded by the fact that most women prioritize their family and their availability to work and travel is not equal to their male counterparts. Women are found to place family first while men with families seem to disconnect from their responsibilities in favour of their career.
Women Taking a longer maternity time to take care of family should not be penalized and halted from seeking leadership positions when they re-join the work force and those who make the decision to stay at work should have a national policy that encourages and forces business to support these women by giving them the flexibility, the equal opportunity for training courses needed to help them develop their careers and be able to advance at the workforce.

Where does The UAE woman stand on issues of gender discrimination and access to leadership positions?

‘Like men, women deserve to occupy high positions if they have the qualifications and the ability’ Sheikh Zaid Bin Sultan Al Nahyan The late president of the UAE
Women in the UAE holding leadership positions had increased in the past few years. Among the progress being made, Emirati women have now joined the political sphere, gaining 18 per cent of the total seats in the latest parliament but unfortunately like other women America and in the world seem to reach a stalled stage. Climbing the corporate ladder is hindered making access to positions in corporate boardroom, political offices is subject to social and cultural and religious barriers. Many National women voiced their frustrations of issues of gender discrimination and reported that many men are intimidated when it comes to highly educated women and their opportunities for a promotion is not equal to their fellow male employees.
United Arab Emirates ranked 115 out of 142 countries on overall issues of gender gap statistics released in 2014. According to the Global Gender Gap report, UAE made major improvement on economic and political participation. UAE scored ’below average on the economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment sub-indexes, but above average on the educational attainment and health and survival sub-indexes,’ the report said.
In an article about The Dubai women, an organization established under the leadership of HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid “empowering women to become a driving force in the UAE” it was noted that one of the real problems facing Emirati women in their careers is balancing work and family life which the government had helped through allowing maternity leaves for a longer period so women can fulfil their duties as Mothers.
Women are expected to be available to work long hours to meet the business demands or travel part of the job, and that is why some business owners choose a man for a job rather than a women who has to meet the family needs.
UAE laws allow 45 days of maternity leave which is considered to be very low and in sufficient. Nordic Countries are leading the way, one year leave is given to women in Denmark and 39 weeks in the UK in addition to parental leaves are given to dad to share the burden. New mothers in the UAE are challenged and faced with a great obstacles which force them to choose between family and work.

What can be done to close the persistent gap dealing of unequal opportunity for women in the work force and advancing to leadership positions?

Our focus should be on a national development of policies that support women and help them be better contributor to the nation’s economy. Empowering women through continuous opportunity of training and support to become highly skilled and able to compete in the job market on both public and private sector. Actions against work and job opportunity biases should be countered by an affirmative action backed with strict policy in addition to spreading awareness among CEO’s and leaders through training and workshops.
Issues like hiring practices, creating family friendly work environment, importance of women contributing to the economic prosperity and the social wellbeing of the country all should be included on the professional growth agenda of any public and private work place.
The critical issue of women leadership has some countries reform and introduce gender quotas to close participation gap between genders. Principles of Gender equality can be implemented if corporations move towards no discriminatory hiring practices including practices against women with families, kids, married or not. According to the basic human rights which views men and women to be equal then they should be equally represented at the top posts.
Pathways to empowerment of women through Women’s organizations who have access to institutional politics or ties to professional unions, proven to have the most success in promoting gender earnings equality and social justice for women.
Women Leaders are able to represent the UAE and stay active and hold on to their posts regardless of family and childbirth only if given an equal opportunity and support through policies that views their role as mothers is as equal as their role as leaders in the nation’s economic growth.

Achieving high goals in the UAE when it comes to women employment, leadership and retaining them at a job we need to look at changes like career choices and guidance, private sectors adapting by offering flexible work hours and ability to work from home in addition to a major change on maternity and family leaves.
Both private and public sector will encourage women to come back after a maternity leave if onsite facilities for child care are offered and family friendly policies that allow women to be able to fulfil their duties.
Talented women should be able to stay on the way of success and they should not have to choose between establishing a family and career advancement. Women being part of the job market is a national interest because it contribute to the growth of our economy. Work place should provide women with choices that encourage them to stay at work and be able to cater to their families without the threat of losing their jobs and their opportunity to climb the ladder of success.


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