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Here's How Gender-Balanced Organizations Can Drive Success In The Middle East's Business Landscape As a growing number of women and female leaders progress in the workforce, regional businesses can enjoy inclusive economies of scale by adapting to a gender-balanced business model.

By Colm O’Mahony Edited by Aby Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The Middle East is experiencing a paradigm shift as businesses recognize the positive impact of running a gender-balanced business model. According to the PwC Middle East MENA Women In Work Survey, gender diversity in the workplace can boost the national gross domestic product (GDP) of regional countries by 57%, equivalent to US$2 trillion, with 34-54% of STEM graduates in the Middle East being women.

Leading by example, countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are proactively reinforcing national legislation to diversify their economies, further bridging the gender-parity gap in the workplace. Most recently, the UAE Gender Balance Council launched the 2026 strategy aiming to reduce the gender gap across four principles: economic participation, entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, wellbeing, protection and international partnerships, and leadership. While these efforts are highly commendable, and a step in the right direction, both the private and public sector have much to do to ensure this becomes the norm, thereby helping to boost company productivity and profitability.

As a growing number of women and female leaders progress in the workforce, regional businesses can enjoy inclusive economies of scale by adapting to a gender-balanced business model. At my company, Sodexo, our internal study on Gender Balance that covered 50,000 managers across the organization showed that gender-balanced entities perform better on all parameters, including operating margins, employee and client retention, employee engagement and safety. Here's a list of ways in which we have seen gender balance help our business:

1. Better decision-making One of the most compelling advantages of a gender-balanced business model is the cognitive diversity it brings forward. By incorporating diverse perspectives, experiences, and skills from both men and women, companies can make more informed and comprehensive decisions. This shift towards gender balance not only drives innovation, but also promotes a more inclusive decision-making process.

Related: Paths To Progress, A Forum Staged By Heriot-Watt University Dubai, Female Fusion, And Entrepreneur Middle East, Spurs Conversations On Gender Equity

2. A business culture of equal opportunities Sodexo's leadership team, both globally and at a regional level, has 40% women representation, including having a female CEO. Our global advisory board, SoTogether, leverages local gender networks to better understand challenges of women at the workplace, and also provides mentoring opportunities to high potential female middle managers. The network thrives on the principle of allyship where men play a big role. Training courses for all leaders and managers on unconscious bias, is an essential part of Sodexo's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) toolkit.

3. Boosted financial performance There is a strong correlation between gender diversity in leadership and financial performance. Breaking down barriers and creating an inclusive and thriving environment leads to better problem-solving, improved innovation, creativity and productivity. Sodexo's internal research showed that gender balanced teams (40:60) contributed to an increase in operating margins by +8% points. Gender diversity has also been linked to increased customer satisfaction, as a balanced workforce is better equipped to understand and cater to diverse customer needs.

4. An enhanced organizational culture A gender-balanced business model provides a positive organizational culture, which fosters an environment of respect and equality. By championing gender equality, organizations in the Middle East can attract and retain top talent, including highly skilled and ambitious women. A diverse workforce improves employee engagement, motivation, and overall job satisfaction, ultimately increasing loyalty, and reducing turnover rates. For instance, our "Spirit of Inclusion" program offers managers and senior team members workshops to develop ideas and action plans to nurture an inclusive workplace. An embodiment of this business model is seen through our newest initiative, Vita by Sodexo, which offers 14 weeks of parental leave for primary caregivers, two weeks of paid leave for secondary caregivers, life insurance benefits, and more.

5. A committed workforce According to the International Labor Organization's Global Employment Trends for Youth 2022: The Arab States report, in the Middle East, only 19% of the labor force is comprised of women. While women in the region have attained higher levels of education, this has not resulted in a rise in employment opportunities. Surprisingly, the unemployment rate among young women in Arab countries stands at 42.5%, which is nearly twice as high as that of young men (21.4%) and almost three times the global average of 14.9%. Organizations in the region should thus focus on recruitment drives to access the talent pool out there, while also engaging with existing teams to upskill and train employees. At Sodexo, it is imperative for us to support and motivate our employees, and we have dedicated training programs, internships, and job shadowing programs such as SheWorks to support women in the community experience the various job options available, thus improving overall efficiency and wellbeing at work.

Related: The Road To Equality: How Marketers Can Help Close The Gender Gap

Colm O’Mahony

CEO, Sodexo (MEA)

Colm O'Mahony has been the CEO of Sodexo’s operations in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region since December 2021.  

Prior to taking on the role of CEO for the MEA business, O’Mahony was the CEO for the Education segment in Asia Pacific since September 2015, where he was instrumental in establishing Sodexo’s strong market leadership in private schools and universities in many countries across APAC. 

Having been with the group for over 18 years since joining as the Director of Racecourses and Football Stadia for Sodexo’s Sports and Leisure (Sodexo Live) in the UK in 2005, Colm has held various senior roles across Sodexo’s geographies and segments including being the Executive Director for Commercial Education in the UK from 2008 until 2011.  

Colm spent 10 years in the APAC region, of which four years saw him be Managing Director for Sodexo Hong Kong whilst also leading Sodexo’s International Education and Remote Sites Division in Greater China. During this time, O’Mahony tripled revenues in Sodexo Hong Kong, while targeting new markets such as airport lounges on top of its core business of education and corporate services.   

Over the course of his 30-year-long career in the industry, O'Mahony has earned the reputation of being an enabler of business growth, solidifying his organization’s reputation as the provider of choice; always leveraging the diversity of his teams, and building an inclusive workplace for people to thrive. 

 

 

 

 

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