Women returning from career breaks could add $385 billion to MENA

12 March 2024 Consultancy-me.com 3 min. read
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Nearly half of working women in the MENA region have taken a career break at one point or another. Working to boost the amount of women that return to work could contribute a total of around $385 billion to the regional economy.

Over 68% of MENA women who take a break from their work do so when already at advanced levels in their careers. That is according to a report from PwC, which surveyed women returning to the workforce following a career break.

A total of 82% of female professionals surveyed said that they believe that they can progress to the top levels of their organizations after having returned to work following career breaks. That shows that despite obstacles, women in MENA organizations are optimistic about returning after breaks. Indeed, many call for returnship programs to help them rejoin after an absence.

Career stages at which women have taken a break

Source: PwC Middle East: Navigating the path back: Women returners in MENA

The majority of women in the MENA region take leaves of absence from their jobs in order to care for their family, whether it be raising children or caring for other family members. Far fewer respondents cited other things like travel or mental and physical wellbeing as reasons for an absence.

Despite the relatively common nature of taking breaks being, women face obstacles in rejoining the workforce after extended leaves. Only 19% of women that take an absence of over five years ultimately return to work, as opposed to the 54% of those that return to work after a shorter, one to three year break.

“Women returning to work face obstacles to career advancement as employers do not view career breaks favorably, which results in negative impact on earnings and career progression. However, career breaks can offer profound personal growth opportunities,” said Norma Taki, Middle East Inclusion and Diversity Leader at PwC.

Top three general factors enabling women's return to work

Source: PwC Middle East: Navigating the path back: Women returners in MENA

Over a quarter of women surveyed say that access to job opportunities that match their skills and experience is the main factor that would enable them to return to work. A better work-life balance is considered the top employer characteristic that women look for when returning to work.

Maternity rights and benefits are generally safeguarded in the MENA region, but improving maternity leave policies and benefits could encourage more women to stay in their jobs. Offering longer maternity leave allows women more time to recover after childbirth and adjust to new family routines.

More lenient maternity leave policies can lessen the stress on women and prevent them from leaving their careers too soon because of maternity leave periods that are too short. Countries like New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries have seen success with generous maternity leave rules.

“Flexible work options, such as hybrid or condensed hours, will help us achieve a critical mass of women in leadership positions,” said Patrick van der Loo, regional president of Pfizer, who was interviewed by the PwC team.

Making alternative work models, such as flexible or remote working, more widely available can help women balance their work and home responsibilities in a way that suits them best. These flexible models have already begun to become commonplace anyway – especially after the Covid-19 pandemic forced organizations to radically change how their teams work.

“Our experiences have shown us a clear link between the well-being of a community and the participation of women in the workforce,” said Taki.

“Ultimately, the onus is not just on the female professionals – it requires concerted effort and shared responsibility among employers, governments, and societies at large. Failure to bring back women to the workforce will be a huge loss of talent for organizations. By facilitating the return of women to the workplace after a career break, organizations can improve their human capital, contributing to the region's future success.”