It’s a WOMEN’s World!

Beirut, January 2012, browsing my LinkedIn Network Statistics; they tell me that 31% of my 787 professional connections work in the HR field. More than 80% of those HR connections are Ladies!

Khartoum, January 2012, Strategic HR Workshop for senior HR Managers and Unit Heads, 18 participants; 9 (50%) out of 18 are Ladies, one of which is the Human Resources Director!

Beirut, January 2012, casual dinner with friends Senior HR Managers from prominent multinational industries; majority of their teams… Ladies!
The Lebanese Banking Sector is almost half split between male and female employees, 12 of Fortune 500 company leaders are Females, and 20 countries in the World are led by female Presidents or Prime Ministers!

Is it a Women’s World? Indeed it is, or at least starting to be! Not to generalize, but I would tend to consider that the whole Labor Market in the region is witnessing an exponentially growing number of females in the workforce.

The World has its arms open for Change! Classic Social and Professional assumptions – especially those related to gender – are not only being questioned but already uprooted. Formulas like girls grow up, go to school, graduate from university, then get married and stay at home to take care of the kids are beyond archaic! The question of women education has become a default. If Boys go to school to study, graduate and work, then why should we expect, for a millisecond, that the case should be different for Girls?!

Female-linked social values have significantly loosed up in the past two decades. This resulted in growing acceptance for concepts and practices that were previously not subject to discussion or even a taboo. I am referring not only to education, but also to nature of jobs taken by ladies, frequent traveling, working abroad, moving out to live alone, etc. By the same token, more educated mothers and tightening economic situations resulted in changing family roles at the paradigm level. Clear cut lines and distribution of family responsibilities between the father and the mother are fading rather merging! Where both mother and father are at work, kids handled by grandparents or at Nurseries not only a new way of perceiving the role of women in society is in the making, but also, the way our whole Society will look like in the near future is being molded!

The outcome is as follows: Relatively loosened social values and highly Educated Females within a tightened economic situation, and the result is a new Workforce Paradigm that has no Gender! A workplace that is open to females in as much as it is for males, as long as the business result is achieved!

In this context, the question is: How much are Arab Businesses and specifically their HR Functions ready to handle the requirements of a female dominant workforce? Are our Companies ready for the Woman’s Age?

On first thought, it might seem that we are raising a basic issue that has been dealt with long ago. If you are reading this editorial with this mentality, then you would probably consider it an outdated topic. Yet, on a second thought, we will discover that, although our Businesses have adapted to the classic requirements of ‘Women in Business’, they are still far behind in being ready to accommodate the real requirements of the Woman’s World!

What we are talking about is not whether your company has a Maternity Leave policy or a Nursery for the children of female staff. It is about a totally different type of dynamic that touches on the core of companies’ Human Capital Strategies. It is about readiness to accommodate family related disruptions caused by working parents; it is about planning regional expansion with a female-dominant Workforce that might not (and probably would not) be able to take positions outside their countries due to family reasons; it is about having ‘work-from-home’ policies for both working Mothers and working Fathers; it is about developing special female associated incentive plans to sustain retention of highly qualified female staff; it is about planning Pregnancy Succession, female employee relocation or replacement upon marriage, and many others.
At a macro socio-strategic level, a female dominant workforce even raises questions about females in executive decision-making positions, females in succession row (especially in Family-business dominant economies like those of the whole Arab World), conscious and/or subconscious discrimination in business practices and policies at the workplace, business interactions between Female Managers and their Male team members within a masculine dominant society like ours, etc.

My sincere concern is that the majority of our Businesses are not yet ready for – not to say aware of – handling the real challenges brought about by a female-dominant human capital. If this is the case, then our hope is that this be a wake-up call before things start getting out of hand!