A new survey focused on the difficulties young Arab women face in searching for their first job found that they asked for help with commuting costs, childcare, and more flexible hours.
The survey and report, by the nonprofit organization Education for Employment, surveyed 2,319 people from the region—282 of them were employed women aged 18-30. A further 797 of them were young women actively looking for employment and the remaining 1,240 were people involved in hiring decisions at companies and organizations.
The report also recommended that more women be involved in hiring decisions.
The unemployment rate among young women is as high as 40 percent in some Arab countries. That can be two or three times higher than the unemployment rate among young men, says Education for Employment’s executive spokesperson Jasmine Nahhas di Florio.
Data from the World Bank shows a worsening situation; the gap between unemployed men and women in the region has almost doubled in the last 25 years.
The lack of gender equality in the workplace is, in general, a global problem. For example, in the United Kingdom the pay gap between men and women means women effectively work for free from November 9 until the end of the year, The Guardian recently reported.
In the Arab region, the growing unemployment puzzled many experts. “We need to dig deeper and understand why this is,” says Nahhas di Florio. At first glance the findings of the new report are unsurprisingly negative, but she says the results are also a source of encouragement, as there are a number of relatively easy things that employers and governments can do to address the problem.
Additionally, the majority of both male and female employers surveyed believe that women can make a positive impact. “Many employers want more young women,” says Nahhas di Florio. “They understand the social and economic benefit.”
But the results of the survey suggest a mismatch between what young women say would help them get into the workplace and what potential employers are offering.
Bayt.com is one of the largest job search websites in the Arab world and was involved with the report. Its vice president of sales, Suhail Masri, says, “Some employers are investing in policies that are not compatible with those sought by young women in the MENA.”
Approximately one-third of employed women cited daycare as a policy most likely to encourage other young women to enter the workforce. But just nine percent of the same women said their companies currently offer any such facilities.
Expectations that women stop work when they start a family and the need for flexible hours to care for families are two of the top challenges for women looking for jobs, added Masri.
Some companies already offer programs designed to attract and retain female talent, such as the provision of female supervisors or segregated offices. But the women surveyed were unlikely to prioritize these issues.
The survey also revealed concerns about commuting. Many young women can’t afford a car so early in their career, explains Nahhas di Florio, and they also worry about taking public transit when that option exists. “It’s the fear of harassment or coming home after dark that are the challenges,” says Nahhas di Florio.
Nahhas di Florio hopes the situation will improve, pointing out that female unemployment is a serious impediment to economic development.
Masri agrees. “The potential economic benefit of increased women’s employment in the Middle East and North Africa is huge,” he says. Recent estimates from the consultancy firm McKinsey&Company say the regional GDP could rise by 47 percent if the employment of females equaled that of their male counterparts. “Yet, despite all this,” he says, “women still face widespread challenges in entering the workforce.”
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