Women At Work In The UAE Private Sector

'Women at Work' survey reveals key challenges and motivations in the United Arab Emirates private sector.
  • Financial reward is top motivator for women in UAE – 78% prioritize it over flexible work 
  • Female leaders in UAE are twice as likely as men to lead gender-balanced teams
  • Women in the UAE want sponsors or mentors at work – 29% cite lack of this as a barrier to career progression
  • Tackling exclusion is key to motivating a diverse workforce – 63% of UAE women have experienced it

Dubai, March 06, 2024 — Oliver Wyman, a global management consulting firm and a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), has issued a groundbreaking report today titled Women at Work: Advancing Gender Equity in the UAE Private Sector. This comprehensive study, based on a survey of 500 women and 300 men working in the UAE private sector, offers unique insights into the motivations, challenges, and recommendations for improving gender equity in the workplace.

One of the key findings is that, while the UAE is the best-performing country in the Middle East, scoring 71% on the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, there is still work to be done in advancing efforts towards gender parity and inclusivity, particularly in the private sector.  

By surveying hundreds of men and women in the UAE, the report provides much-needed data on people’s lived experience in the workplace around gender representation.

Motivations and confidence: The Oliver Wyman report points out some of the differences in patterns of behavior in the UAE compared to other parts of the world. For example, the prime motivator for women working in the UAE private sector is financial incentive (33%), followed by praise and recognition (30%). In total, 61% of women in the UAE believe that their company ensures fair pay — a perception that increases as women become more senior in their organization.

This picture is very different in the US, where a Gallup survey of 13,000 employees revealed that 66% of women considered greater work-life balance as the most important factor when considering a new job.

Women in the UAE are also twice as likely to lead gender-balanced teams as their male counterparts, and more willing to advocate for themselves compared to their global peers. The report shows that two-thirds of women in the UAE have argued their case with their employer for promotion, and 80% have been successful. These statistics are significantly higher than numbers seen in other parts of the world: research on 4,600 working professionals in Western countries found that only 15% of women who requested a raise were successful.

However, this confidence in self-advocacy does not appear to translate into confidence in meetings, with only 57% of women feeling comfortable speaking up in meetings in the UAE, versus 69% of men. Also, only 76% of respondents have male managers, and only 40% work in gender-balanced teams: but teams led by women in the UAE are twice as likely to be gender-balanced than those led by men.

Investing in gender equity, investing in success: The message is simple — when women thrive, everyone thrives. In a survey by the International Labor Organization of almost 13,000 enterprises across 70 countries, 57% said that initiatives to promote gender equality had helped to improve their business outcomes.

The Oliver Wyman report cites some crucial policy areas where the UAE has promoted gender equality, including the establishment of a Gender Balance Council (GBC) in 2015; HH Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Women on Boards 2011 initiative to increase the number of women on boards of directors to a minimum of 20%; and the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority’s (ECA) Parent-friendly Label, established in 2022.

There are also clear recommendations for companies, individuals, and policymakers. For example, to increase the perception and reality of pay parity, the report’s authors recommend that pay scales must be tightly defined and clearly communicated for each job role — for example, median +/-10%, with placement along the pay scale determined by objective metrics articulated before the interviewing process.

As a key step to improving self advocation by women, the authors suggest that employers train team leaders to foster an environment of psychological safety and that they are intentional about creating a meeting culture that is inclusive of all employees. The report also recommends providing women with more opportunities to showcase their expertise. 

Unveiling unique insights: The Oliver Wyman report offers a fresh perspective on the experience of women and men in the UAE private sector. Through surveys, personal interviews, and global research analysis, Oliver Wyman reveals several key findings that are likely to be unique to the UAE. These insights form the foundation of actionable recommendations for businesses seeking to advance gender equity and unlock its proven benefits.

Read the full report here.

About Oliver Wyman

Oliver Wyman is a global leader in management consulting. With offices in more than 70 cities across 30 countries, Oliver Wyman combines deep industry knowledge with specialized expertise in strategy, operations, risk management, and organization transformation. The firm has more than 6,000 professionals around the world who work with clients to optimize their business, improve their operations and risk profile, and accelerate their organizational performance to seize the most attractive opportunities. Oliver Wyman is a business of Marsh McLennan [NYSE: MMC]. 

For more information, visit www.oliverwyman.com. Follow Oliver Wyman on Twitter @OliverWyman.