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Emirati women such as Maryam Al Shakili have found work in the private sector, helping the Government in its Emiratisation bid. Delores Johnson / The National
Emirati women such as Maryam Al Shakili have found work in the private sector, helping the Government in its Emiratisation bid. Delores Johnson / The National

Emirati companies have everything to gain by employing women

Despite being more educated, women's employment lags behind that of men. Putting more of them to work has many benefits, including better addressing the needs of female consumers.

As the UAE continues its transition from a country dependent on oil revenues to a knowledge-driven economy, one of the most valuable - and untapped - resources available are the economic energies of its women.

The nation's leaders have made it a priority to get more women into the workforce, and they are well represented in the public sector.

Women participate actively in the political sphere, in bodies such as the Federal National Council, local councils, and as ministers in the federal Cabinet and local government bodies.

Yet despite the fact that many women in the UAE are more educated than their male counterparts, they are more likely to be unemployed.

In 2008, 43.3 per cent of Emirati women with a university degree were unemployed, compared with 6.8 per cent of men. They are especially absent from the private sector.

Private-sector companies that can successfully integrate women into their workforces can help the government to achieve its goal of Emiratisation. More important, however, these companies can fill their own talent gaps, tapping a cohort of women that is well-educated and eager to join the workforce.

This will give them a long-term competitive edge in a market where the war for talent gets fiercer every day. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence that shows how companies can benefit when women are an integral part of the talent pool.

Companies can also target female consumers more effectively when they have women making decisions in areas such as research and development, marketing and sales - and companies cannot afford to miss such a crucial opportunity as GCC women's spending power continues to grow.

One Saudi consumer goods company found that increasing its market share among women in each region where it operates would grow total customer volume by more than 2 per cent and annual revenues by US$36 million (Dh132.2m).

But to realise these benefits, companies must take a comprehensive approach to managing their employees - and not just their female employees.

The ideal approach to talent management begins with hiring, seeking out the most promising female candidates from women's colleges and vocational institutes, sponsoring promising candidates in their studies, and partnering leading technology training institutions and high-tech companies with training programmes.

Once companies have hired the best candidates, they must continue to invest in their development with training programmes to impart necessary skills. In particular, many companies feel that women lack sufficient language skills, technical training, and interpersonal skills.

Dedicated training within companies and reform within regional education systems can help to bridge this gap.

Companies should also consider a mentorship programme that pairs less experienced staffers with more experienced women.

Another key part of managing talent is evaluating employees fairly and objectively. All performance scores should be based on specific outcomes, such as sales numbers, and the evaluation process should include multiple sources of input, including managers, colleagues and subordinates.

The last element of talent management is retention. Once the company has taken measures to recruit, hire, develop and evaluate the women in its workforce, it should devote equal effort to retaining women employees and ensure they stay motivated.

Doing so requires fairly traditional human resources levers, such as compensation and benefits, opportunities for career advancement and work-life balance, as well as the intangible elements that make employees feel motivated to work hard each day - recognition, a sense of purpose, trust, and a connection with colleagues and the organisation.

Overhauling talent management in this way is not easy. It requires flexibility and change from all members of the organisation. It is not sufficient to simply prepare women to join the labour force; management must prepare the rest of the employees to make the integration of women a company-wide success as well.

Introducing women in larger numbers into the GCC private-sector workforce will not be easy, and there is a risk of moving too fast.

But in the long term, this change is inevitable. Women have the education and - more important - the desire to play a more central role in the region's labour market.

Companies that adopt an intelligent strategy to manage this transition will gain a competitive edge, through a workforce that is more engaged and better reflects the GCC population at large.

Dr Kamal Tarazi is a principal and a member of Booz & Company's IT practice; Abdulkader Lamaa is a senior associate and a member of the IT practice; Dr Leila Hoteit is a principal and a member of the public-sector practice

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