x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

If we’re to plug the brain drain, we’ll need a complete change of culture

The drain of women to entrepreneurship might pose a serious threat to countries and companies that rely on capable and talented leaders to thrive, writes Rana Askoul

Amani is a 32-year old woman who completed her medical training abroad. On top of that, she’s also managed to obtain an MBA from another top university. She is fluent in three languages and has enrolled for yet another graduate degree in public health. She is also a new mum.

She loves her career and, when you speak to her, you can sense the pride she takes from her achievements. Beyond a strong desire for personal success, Amani wants to leave a mark on the region’s health care landscape.

As she tells me this, my mind wanders, imagining Amani in a decade’s time as someone who has been transformed into a great leader. But her enthusiasm abruptly subsides as she shares with me that she is about to quit her mainstream job to start a small consulting business.

There is a sense of loss in her voice as she shares that with me. “At least I can manage my hours so I can see more of my little one,” Amani says. “It’s much better this way.”

Internationally, there has been a surge in the number of women entrepreneurs. Regionally, we have been experiencing similar trends:   35 per cent of tech entrepreneurs in the region are women, beating the international average of 10 per cent.

Women are jumping onto the entrepreneurship bandwagon for a reason. It allows them an opportunity to work, be financially independent, make an impact and, more importantly, it gives them flexibility over their hours.

In the past couple of years I have met countless women from various walks of life, and almost every single one of them is considering opening up a small business when the “time is right”. That timing is often linked to marriage and motherhood. The time is usually right when mainstream jobs become inflexible.

At no point am I discounting the fact that there are women out there who genuinely are more entrepreneurially orientated. Nor do I believe that entrepreneurship is not as crucial to the wider economy than mainstream jobs.

But it does seem that entrepreneurship is becoming an escape route for many talented women who would prefer to advance their careers in more conventional corporate environments.

Some of these jobs offer huge learning and growth opportunities for women and provide them with stronger platforms to impact change. It seems, though, that these same environments are not adapting at the required pace to retain female talent.

 Today, the demographics of our best and brightest are shifting. Not only are women surpassing men in educational attainment and matching their years of work experience, but they are also bringing diverse attitudes and versatility to the environments of which they are part.

This pool of talent is precious. Companies that are able to attract, develop and retain them will fare better today and in the future.

However, it seems that there is another issue of which we need to be aware.

The drain of women to entrepreneurship might pose a serious threat to countries and companies who rely on capable and talented leaders to thrive. This reliance will only increase in the future as we face new challenges and rapidly changing business landscapes.

Changing the working conditions for women in mainstream jobs has required urgent attention for some time. It is now an absolutely crucial factor if we are to curb this women drain.

As I browse through magazines and newspapers, I seem to stumble upon women-related articles every day. But beyond press releases, conferences and events, it is time for us to put our money where our mouths are. Change is about the creation of real part-time job opportunities that allow for job-sharing, that are committed to quality investment in training and development and push towards a cultural shift in attitude.

And this needs to happen today, so Amani can lead her revolution on women’s health initiatives. 

Rana Askoul is the founder of Changing Pink and a Dubai-based writer