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Women at work in the Middle East

Job opportunities in the Middle East are set to double with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. New research lays out how that will affect women.

Advancing the role of women in society and the economy is a key driver for change in the Middle East. Increased female participation in professional and technical jobs can turbocharge economic growth in a region that will be significantly affected by the Fourth Industrial Revolution—making their participation all the more critical. That’s the focus of our new report, Women at work: Job opportunities in the Middle East set to double with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The share of women in professional and technical jobs is set to more than double by 2030 through digitization, online platforms, and entrepreneurship. Capturing this opportunity would put women in the Middle East at parity with global peers.

Women in the Middle East can go further and aim to achieve parity with the region’s men in professional and technical jobs. We identified four indicators that have relatively higher correlation with women’s participation in professional and technical jobs: (1) education; (2) financial inclusion; (3) digital inclusion; and (4) legal protection. The report looks at how these indicators affect women and their ability to actively participate in the labor force.

Some interesting facts emerged from our research:

  • Levels of literacy and enrollment of women in primary and tertiary education is on par with men, and girls tend to outperform boys in school. However, women prefer tertiary fields of study such as arts and education and are not sufficiently integrated in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
  • Digital inclusion is a critical catalyst for boosting female participation in professional and technical jobs within the region as technology begins to reshape the workplace, offering more job opportunities and greater flexibility for women who work. Increased digital inclusion would further support women’s active participation in the jobs of the future.
  • High inequalities persist, most notably in legal protection and financial inclusion with a significant number of women remaining unbanked. Introducing new legal frameworks is one important enabler for ending the gender-based inequalities prevalent in the Middle East region.

Beyond these dimensions, we found that the key to empowering women in the Middle East is not only to equip them with access to jobs but also to ensure they have the right support, experience, and opportunities once they are working. Personal grit and a supportive environment play a critical role.

We conducted a survey across the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and Egypt, to understand women’s journeys in the workplace.

First, we found that women face the highest level of challenges—having few interactions with seniors, subpar support from colleagues, and limited experiences with committed role models. Second, as women grow in tenure, they report higher levels of satisfaction than men. And third, select policy changes could have significant positive implications on women’s overall experience in the workplace.

Three types of interventions are necessary to bridge the gender gap. Stakeholders, including policy makers and business leaders, have a responsibility to drive female participation in professional and technical jobs through (1) tailored education and training to upskill and retrain women; (2) an enabling structural foundation with a support system and an enhanced regulatory and policy framework; and (3) an environment conducive to women’s growth. In addition to these interventions, the importance of self-empowerment and grit cannot be ignored and will need to be driven by women.

Download Women at work: Job opportunities in the Middle East set to double with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the full report on which this article is based (PDF–937KB).

About the author(s)

Rima Assi is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Dubai office, where Chiara Marcati is a partner.

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