Written by Vaishali Phatak, Head – Technical Learning Services and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Tech Mahindra
A culture of equality has a powerful multiplier effect on innovation and growth. Gender diversity shouldn’t merely be considered an ethical imperative but a business priority to drive an all-inclusive growth agenda. I am of the firm belief that optimizing the capabilities and leveraging the strengths of women are and will always be a strategic differentiator for companies.
Various studies, that have been carried out on the gender diversity front, have been equivocal of the fact that greater levels of gender diversity lead to a positive impact on corporate performance and economic growth. Additionally, greater gender diversity is also high on ESG and the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the past few decades, the gender diversity agenda at the workplace has been reverberating from all fronts.
While companies have been working towards enhancing the gender balance, especially at corporate strategic levels, we still have a long way to go. The good news is that the green shoots of progress have started seeding lately at the boardroom level. According to a World Bank report, over the last couple of years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have emerged as the region’s leaders in this effort. Along with Bahrain, they have introduced groundbreaking reforms that are allowing women to participate in economic activities.
Looking at these reformative agendas, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is also fast catching up to the cause and is all set to tap into the productivity of 50% of their populations. In order to offer equal opportunities to women in the corporate world, the GCC region is making significant efforts in the right direction in exploring opportunities for women to utilize their capabilities to achieve the developmental goals that they set for themselves.
As a matter of fact, recent studies have revealed that in September 2020, the UAE became the first country in MENA to introduce paid parental leave for employees in the private sector. This historic reform was part of a broad package enacted by the UAE to support women’s labor force participation, which, at 57.5%, is one of the highest in the MENA region. The 2020 reform package builds on work the UAE has engaged in since 2019 to prioritize gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which started this drive more recently, has set an ambitious target of 30% female participation in the labor force by 2030 as part of its National Vision 2030. In Saudi Arabia specifically, a June 2019 royal decree founded the Women’s Empowerment Committee, including representatives from a wide range of ministries with a strong mandate to achieve women’s empowerment through legal reforms. We must all acknowledge that the governments can’t drive this agenda alone.
The ONUS is upon us to create equal opportunities for female professionals across all industries. I am highly influenced by a famous saying, ‘If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude’. This fits in perfectly with the gender diversity norms in corporate strategy as well. Being ‘Intentionally Diverse and Naturally inclusive’ means inclusiveness in all aspects of diversity – gender, generations, abilities, cultural diversities, and nationalities. Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) at the workplace is an instrument for growth.
To celebrate the uniqueness of every individual an environment of inclusion and empowerment needs to be deliberately fostered, policies and practices need to be gender-agnostic and disability confident. If we go by historical insights, we will find women’s critical role in economic recovery following global crises. As the world continues to grapple with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, several legal reforms have been taking shape in the GCC region to enable women to contribute more effectively towards economic recovery.
Encouraging and supporting the implementation of gender-neutral laws will go a long way in ensuring sustainable growth. The pandemic has been a great eye-opener for companies around the world. We all must change our stance from “why do we need gender diversity” – to “why don’t we have gender diversity on board.” Now, it is up to us to decide whether we want to ignore these lessons or leverage them as opportunities to drive change. Now is the time for corporations to act and start introducing forward-thinking changes to the workplace.