Work­ing women: Closing the gap

In­te­grat­ing more Le­banese women into the work­force is an eco­nomic im­per­a­tive

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

Imag­ine that you are thrown into a fist fight against a fully abled op­po­nent, but one of your hands has been tied be­hind your back. Your abil­ity to com­pete would be re­duced by at least half mak­ing your chances of win­ning pretty slim.

This anal­ogy, with Le­banon as the fighter, il­lus­trates the dif­fi­culty of hav­ing a com­pet­i­tive econ­omy when a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion is in­ac­tive in the la­bor force.

To­day, in 2015, many coun­tries still strug­gle with is­sues re­lat­ing to the equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in the work­force. This is demon­strated by the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s (WEF) Global Gen­der Gap 2014 re­port, which es­ti­mated that it would take 81 years to com­pletely seal the gap.

Le­banon, which ranked 135 out of the 142 coun­tries sur­veyed in the WEF’s re­port, is per­haps cen­turies from closing that gap, with women con­sti­tut­ing only about 25 per­cent of those em­ployed, ac­cord­ing to a 2007 Cen­tral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Statis­tics (CAS) re­port.

We now know that there is a cor­re­la­tion be­tween the per­cent­age of women em­ployed in a coun­try and that coun­try’s GDP growth rates: Coun­tries with a nar­row gen­der gap have more eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Faced with such a re­al­ity, women’s ad­vance­ment in the work­force in Le­banon be­comes more than a hu­man rights is­sue or an is­sue of fair­ness: it be­comes an eco­nomic im­per­a­tive.

With the dire state of its econ­omy, Le­banon must fully cap­i­tal­ize on all its re­sources, start­ing with its women.

What adds fuel to the fire is that Le­banese women are highly ed­u­cated, with women con­sti­tut­ing 55 per­cent of uni­ver­sity stu­dents. The loss of pro­duc­tiv­ity in­curred when th­ese ed­u­cated women do not uti­lize th­ese skills is in­ex­cus­able.

Many in­ter­na­tional stud­ies have also linked a high rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in top man­age­ment po­si­tions with bet­ter per­for­mances for those cor­po­ra­tions plac­ing them there, and for the coun­try’s GDP in the fi­nal out­come. Ac­cord­ing to Credit Suisse’s CS Gen­der 3000: Women in Se­nior Man­age­ment re­port, com­pa­nies with a higher than av­er­age per­cent­age of fe­male board mem­bers out­per­formed those with fewer women on their boards by 30 per­cent.

In Le­banon, the num­ber of women CEOs or women in top man­age­ment po­si­tions is very small. Cor­po­ra­tions in Le­banon should there­fore wake up to the benefits of ad­vanc­ing women to top man­age­rial po­si­tions for both them­selves and for the coun­try as whole. They would be wise to im­ple­ment poli­cies which would make the work­place a friend­lier place for women, such as flex­i­ble work­ing hours and parental leave where both part­ners could take paid time off work to rear their child, know­ing their job is se­cure when they re­turn.

The jour­ney to­wards the global ad­vance­ment of women in the work­force is ad­mit­tedly long, more so in Le­banon where their rep­re­sen­ta­tion is well be­low the av­er­age and where communal struc­tures tend to hold women down and per­ceive their pri­mary role as that of a mother while a ca­reer is al­ways sec­ondary (see page 46), but we need to start some­where.

The coun­try as a whole needs to stop view­ing this is­sue as merely a sym­bolic one raised once a year, on In­ter­na­tional Women’s day, and see it for the eco­nomic is­sue that it is.

Cor­po­ra­tions can and should do their part, but ma­jor change must be driven by gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive. A na­tional strat­egy must be de­vel­oped whereby women are en­cour­aged to en­ter and re­main in the work­force, and not forced to exit early when they are too pres­sured by so­ci­ety’s ex­pec­ta­tions of them as care­givers.

This strat­egy should in­clude re­plac­ing laws that dis­crim­i­nate against women, such as the per­sonal sta­tuses law and the NSSF law, and en­act­ing laws that pro­tect women in the work­place and foster their sense of em­pow­er­ment, such as laws pro­hibit­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment or ones that guar­an­tee women equal op­por­tu­nity in be­ing hired.

As a coun­try, start­ing from the in­di­vid­ual, mov­ing on to civil so­ci­ety, cor­po­ra­tions and the gov­ern­ment, we need to keep ad­vo­cat­ing the equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in the work­force un­til Le­banon’s women rise and the econ­omy rises with them. Only then can Le­banon fully com­pete in the fist fight, max­i­miz­ing the use of its full ca­pac­i­ties.

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