CAIRO: Four out of 10 women across the Middle East consider that their salaries are lower than those of their male counterparts, a recent study conducted by the Middle East job portal, Bayt.com, and YouGovSiraj, the region’s largest online research and survey panel.
Based on the perceptions of working women, the study lacks an objective salary comparison to confirm or invalidate these opinions. The 2086 respondents included locals, as well as Arab, Western and Asian expatriates residing in the Middle East.
A similar survey was conducted in 2008, but showing neither positive nor negative developments in the women’s working situation during the last two years.
“Women make up a large proportion of the region’s workforce and are fundamental players in helping to build and shape the region’s economies. However, these poll results show that women throughout the region are still subject to a certain degree of discrimination in the workplace, particularly when it comes to compensation and opportunities for promotion,” Rabea Ataya, chief executive officer of Bayt.com, explained.
While 90 percent of the women claim to work as long or even longer as their male colleagues, this working attitude is not rewarded by financial remuneration: 42 percent of the respondents feel they receive less pay and 43 percent think their chances at a promotion is smaller.
Moreover, their frustrations are often aggravated by the need to balance family life and career ambitions. The existing rules regulating maternity leave seem to be insufficient. While the majority of women (58 percent) would like to benefit from easing conditions during pregnancy and afterwards, only 22 percent of them actually asked their companies for flexible timings or to work from home. Of those, nearly 40 percent are turned down.
“Gauging the opinions of these women provides a valuable look at what provisions and services employers are currently making available for their female employees, and point to what employers could be doing to further improve the workplace for women – especially those that balance their work with a family,” said Sundip Chahal, chief operating officer of YouGovSiraj.
Even though the study leaves a rather bitter aftertaste concerning the situation of women in the workplace, a positive outlook still remains. Forty-four percent of women in the Middle East assert that gender has not affected their career and 75 percent of them affirm that there are women occupying senior positions in their company.
Nevertheless, the poll also showed that at least 20 percent of the respondents recognize that there is a barrier for women trying to access leadership positions in their company: They claim that it is not possible for them to progress beyond a certain level of the organizational structure.
In Egypt, this reluctant attitude towards entrusting women with leadership positions seems to be confirmed by a survey conducted by the Center for Information and Decision Support Centre of the Council of Ministers in March 2010.
Even though 45 percent of men and 63 percent of women think it is important that women work outside of the house, the majority of men and a one out of four women would not want to see a women holding prestigious, traditionally male-dominated jobs – such as the posts of a major, a judge, the prime minister or parliament speaker.
The main reasons respondents give for this attitude remain socially well-anchored preconceptions such as women’s inefficiency or passion-guided decision-making, as well as an apparent lack of confidence in women’s capabilities.
According to the World Bank Data, only 22.8 percent of Egyptian women aged above 15 are working, a very low rate compared to other Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq or the Emirates.