In light of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Oxford Strategic Consulting is realising key findings from its recent GCC Employment Reports 2016 to help shed light on female aspirations and employment views across the region. The reports, which surveyed national females in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the UAE, found that while women are striving professionally across key industries, they expressed strong dislikes for particular industries and also expected specific difficulties related to (re)entering the workforce.

Females demonstrated a clear preference for working in the banking and finance industry as well as in non-traditional roles like aerospace and HR. 57% of Saudi women, 43% of Omani women, 33% of Qatari women and 29% of Emirati women considered banking and finance to be their industry of choice (compared with 35%, 23%, 20%, and 11% of men respectively). As for non-traditional roles, Saudi women were twice as likely than men to aspire to a job in aerospace, and Qatari females much preferred working in HR over male counterparts (11% vs. 1%).

GCC female perceptions of the medical industry were mixed. Qatari women were five times more likely than men to aspire to a job in the medical industry, and females in the UAE were three times as likely than males to consider a career in medicine. In Saudi Arabia, women were significantly more likely than men to want to work in a hospital (34% vs. 17), yet Omani females were four times less likely than male counterparts to consider working in the medical industry.

Women held overwhelmingly negative views of the tourism and hospitality industry. Saudi women were six times less likely than males to consider working in tourism and hospitality, and Omani females were also significantly less likely to want to work in the industry. Moreover, 29% of Emirati females and 15% of Qatari females ranked tourism and hospitality as their least favoured industry to work in at present.

Women still expect significant difficulties when sourcing employment in 2016. Qatari women were significantly more pessimistic than men about how easy it is to find a job, and they were three times more likely than men to consider ‘not knowing how to apply for a job’ to be a significant difficulty. In the UAE, females were significantly more likely than males to mention awareness of jobs (37% vs. 27%), suitability of jobs (37% vs. 25%) and knowing how to approach companies (27% vs. 15%) as difficulties encountered on the job search. Saudi females were significantly more likely than males to feel that the pay was too low for available jobs (40% vs 24%), whereas the most common gripe among Omani women concerned long working hours.

The good news is that many obstacles to increased female employment in the GCC are straightforward to overcome. Direct interventions such as interview training, CV workshops and mentoring can help improve female job candidates’ self-esteem and confidence. Similarly, well-designed job fairs and online portals can better connect employers with qualified female candidates. Flexible and remote work options may offer some relief to those females working unduly long hours. And while wages earned by women should equal those of male counterparts, higher wages across the board may prove to be a hard pill to swallow for GCC employers in the short-term.

Now is the time to take these recommendations seriously. One of the main findings of Oxford’s research into women’s employment over the years is that rather than women being the problem, it is actually a lack of understanding and in some cases fear amongst employers that limits women’s employment and careers. It is crucial more than ever before, particularly with the drop in oil prices and times of fiscal adjustment, that local governments and organisations alike increase the number of females in the workforce, be it through mentoring, internships, or through valued career guidance.

Oxford Strategic Consulting is an Oxford and GCC based consultancy that specialises in building human capital across the GCC and Europe. With teams in Oxford, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, our experienced HR Directors, subject matter experts and researchers combine international best-practice with GCC-specific knowledge to conduct human capital research and implement practical and bespoke people solutions.