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Up The Career Ladder: Empowering Women To Lead Women employees have to fight their way uphill towards a promotion or a leadership role.

By Suha Mardelli Haroun

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We are half of your workforce, if not more. We have the capacity to fill just about every position in your company, from technology and engineering, to marketing and sales, and all the way to finance and management. We are often tasked to juggle numerous roles and responsibilities between our professional and personal lives. And, as far as we all know, we are equally valuable and productive as our male counterparts.

Yet, research consistently shows that women in our region are still significantly behind when it comes to opportunities for career advancement and promotions as well as several other factors such as salaries and benefits. We conducted the Working Women in the Middle East and North Africa Survey, in which the gender gap at the workplace was still reportedly wide. Although many companies and startups may not intentionally adopt discriminatory policies, they often do not provide their female employees with the resources and tools to help them excel and achieve the business goals as well as the employees' own professional objectives.

Women employees have to fight their way uphill towards a promotion or a leadership role. Indeed, moving up the career ladder is a competitive process regardless of gender and everyone has to work hard and show true commitment for it. Nonetheless, there are many ways to ensure that advancements and promotions as well as the overall work environment is free of discrimination or bias.

Companies that are interested in maximizing the productivity of their entire workforce and ensuring employee satisfaction and retention must give the same value and attention to their female employees, as to their male counterparts. You can help your female employees who possess the drive and the leadership potential to find their opportunities in-house, instead of having to quit their jobs and search elsewhere.

Image credit: Infographic.

Adopt an equal opportunity environment

This is one of the most essential elements to securing higher productivity, satisfaction, and even retention for all employees. Adopting discrimination-free policies starts as early as your strategy for sourcing and hiring talent.

Every company that is truly interested in finding the best employees should hire based on the job requirements, as well as what is most likely to improve the performance of the company in whole. This means looking at and evaluating skills and competencies, relevant work experience, and past performance. Gender should play little to no role when it comes to these essential objectives.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the opinions are nearly split. The Working Women in the Middle East and North Africa Survey revealed that less than half (47%) of the respondents feel that job offers are based on experience and qualifications and gender plays no role in the decision. Less than half (47%) have never been asked questions that made them feel discriminated against as women during a job interview. But the opposite is true for the other half.

Even beyond hiring, employers who seek to help all of their employees succeed and assume more leadership roles ought to remove gender barriers when it comes to training, promotions, salary raises, and the day-today matters at work.

Foster your leadership potential through training

Oftentimes, many female employees have the potential, the drive, and the interest in assuming leadership roles and working their way up the career ladder. However, many are often disadvantaged when it comes to skills and training. More than a third (35%) of females who responded to the Working Women in the Middle East and North Africa Survey stated that the lack of sufficient job training and coaching is their main challenge at work.

One of the ways to help women succeed at work and pursue their leadership potential is to provide them with more training and development opportunities, some of which can be targeted for what female employees at a particular company specifically need. Whether it is negotiation skills, management skills, or other technical know-hows that are essential for higher positions, it is vital that female employees, at least, have the opportunity to learn about and develop these competencies.

By providing sufficient training and career development opportunities, you could also complete your succession planning, map out your next key employees and leaders, and bolster your retention strategy.

Accommodate employee needs

When it comes to the day-to-day challenges and life circumstances, women may be put under more pressure at work. For instance, pregnancy, marriage, and child-care are frequently perceived as barriers for promotions and assuming leadership roles and that should not be the case. Seven in 10 women surveyed in the Working Women in the Middle East and North Africa Survey said that their decision to have children has affected their career, at least to some extent. The survey also showed that only 8% of women working in the Middle East are satisfied with their company's maternity leave policy.

Image credit: infographic.

Employers should be aware that many of these life circumstances are bound to happen but they should not interfere with the employee's career progression. In fact, it is the employer's responsibility to provide accommodation for such occurrences, such as paid maternity leave and flexible work hours, in compliance with the labor law, and in order to enable female employees to get back on track and reach their desired career level.

This process starts by working collaboratively with employees, planning leaves and replacements ahead of time, opening communication channels among teams, and offering more flexibility for working mothers.

Related: To Grow Their Participation In STEM, Women Need To Come Together

Bring your role models to the spotlight

Mentorship is one of the most effective techniques for professional development and for encouraging employees to perform their best and work their way towards their career goals. Sometimes, women may be hesitant to even ask for a promotion or a leadership position if they do not see other women leaders who are empowered and are succeeding in their roles.

Employers should encourage their senior female employees and managers to have these discussions with other female employees, see what their goals and needs are, and start providing them with the right tools. Build a culture of mentorship, pair up employees based on interest or career trajectory, and allow them to share their knowledge and help each other advance.

In doing so, you are hitting multiple birds with one stone; you are identifying your potential leaders, you are celebrating your current leaders, you are enhancing team synergy and dynamics, you are providing useful and cost-effective training opportunities and you are creating a cohesive and goal-driven work culture.

Show confidence and empower

At the end of the day, employees need to feel trusted to lead or assume a more challenging role. Employers need to show confidence in their female employees by giving them more difficult tasks, accepting their request to work on new projects, helping them explore new areas of their jobs, and enabling them to lead, even if at a small scale as a start.

For example, assigning your female employee as a team leader or a manager for a specific project will help them develop more managerial skills. Ultimately, they will be more confident and competent to apply for a higher position. Otherwise, women who are not trusted at work may feel disempowered and could perhaps disengage or seek better work opportunities elsewhere.

Take as a case study. The job site has very strict anti-discrimination policies to protect applicants and employees. Applicants are only recruited based on their skills. There is no discrimination based on race, age, color, gender, religion, or national origin. As a result, women are employed at across all roles and departments, including technology, marketing, human resources, finance, sales, and leadership. The top management and executive board has a very healthy gender ratio.

The truth is: women have achieved great progress in the workplace over the past decade. The Working Women in the Middle East and North Africa Survey showed that there are several notable improvements and positive signs of women empowerment and satisfaction at the workplace. Especially when it comes to labor laws, working hours, as well as the recruitment and selection process, more and more women are on their way to securing a balanced position with their male counterparts. Nonetheless, the survey also points to several areas, such as salaries and promotions that women are still not fully satisfied with.

Progress can be achieved and the steps are easy to implement. Young companies and startups, in particular, have the leg up in this equation; more flexibility to challenge the status quo, to enhance and encourage female participation in the workforce, and to be the industry leaders in welcoming female leadership and gender balance to their company cultures.

Related: MENA's Women In Business On What Empowerment Means To Them

Suha Mardelli Haroun is the Regional Director of, one of the leading job sites in the Middle East with more than 40,000 employers and over 27,500,000 registered job seekers from across the Middle East, North Africa and the globe, representing all industries, nationalities and career levels.

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