As progressive organisations in Saudi Arabia begin to passionately pursue stronger female inclusion in their workforce, they increasingly find that making this shift in the workplace is also dependent on deep-rooted societal perceptions.
As part of Aon Hewitt’s Qudurat Wave III research, we asked Saudi males whether they faced any challenges while working with their female colleagues. Approximately two out of every five (39%) males reported that they experienced some challenge or the other, such as difficulty in communication with women, and women being more conservative than men. They also struggle to build trust with female colleagues. By the same token, Saudi females too reported similar challenges with their male colleagues, albeit to a lesser extent (33%).
How can organisations manage gender diversity?
Organisations, on their part, are designing and implementing practices to ensure stronger gender diversity ratios. Findings from Qudurat Wave III indicate that an overwhelming 91% of the organisations in the GCC make efforts to provide an environment that respects and values women and 82% provide more work/life balance for women. Efforts of organisations in Saudi Arabia also seem to be bearing fruit with 62% Saudi women reporting high satisfaction with work/life balance and 59% reporting high satisfaction with the level of support received from their direct manager.
Making the shift: From ‘Managing Diversity’ to ‘Sustainable Inclusiveness’
While workplace practices and measures may help organisations in attracting and retaining Saudi females, enabling a workplace culture and environment that allows both genders to be equally engaged and work cohesively with open communication and mutual trust is key to sustainable inclusiveness. There are three ways organisations can do this:
1. Develop a gender diversity strategy and roadmap with clear measures of success.
A critical starting point is to develop a holistic diversity strategy, targeted towards driving gender balance across (especially in senior levels) the organisational hierarchy and building internal capability and accountability through communication, training, and measurement.
2. Institute workplace practices that drive stronger attraction and retention of female talent.
While practices such as providing flexible working hours and allowing women a preference for work locations closer to home are not yet prevalent in Saudi Arabia, Saudi women say these are their top criteria when selecting their jobs. Sooner rather than later, organisations in the kingdom must consider implementing these proactively in order to effectively attract and retain female talent.
3. Drive cohesion and communication between both genders.
A pragmatic approach to resolving routine diversity issues is to identify the competencies required for fostering sensitivity and inclusiveness towards the opposite gender and taking a focused approach to develop them through training, coaching, and mentoring. Competencies that are discrete, observable, and trainable not only provide clarity on the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors at work but also afford employees the language and tools for addressing and navigating the perceived differences.
As the drive towards achieving gender diversity in the workplace gains traction in the Middle East, women now have more opportunities than ever. As a result, the future of work in Saudi Arabia will transform significantly in the coming years—and only the most forward-thinking of organisations can be ahead of the game in attracting the best female talent in the kingdom.
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