As the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival focused its attention on entrepreneurship in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, the conversation turned to women.
Women’s employment in the region is not keeping pace with their increasing levels of education, explained Mona Hammami, Senior Manager at the Office of Strategic Affairs for the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court. Hammami pointed to a multitude of other barriers to entrepreneurship, including the difficulty in getting financing and the inability to travel freely in certain parts of the region.
Mona Hammami on the barriers female entrepreneurs in the Middle East face
However, many of the obstacles preventing women from joining the workforce in larger numbers sounded similar to those being grappled with in the Western world. Are women in the MENA region also asking “Can women have it all?” It’s unclear, but certainly the men who hope to employ them are.
“The working world is not friendly to women,” said PepsiCo CEO of Asia, Middle East, and Africa Saad Abdul-Latif. “There is a work-life balance. Women in the Arab world are expected to be a working woman and take care of the home. I think the biggest enabler is having policies that make the workplace friendly and adaptive.”
Saad Abdul-Latif offers ways to make the workplace more adaptive to a wife and mother in the Middle East.
Hammami suggests better paternity and maternity leave. Abdul-Latif offers flextime and work-from-home scenarios as potential solutions. As the Middle East looks to build its infrastructure and economy, it will rely more and more on its entire workforce. Whether they come from private industry or public entities, forward-thinking policies will need to be enacted to make that possible.