American University of Beirut

Women at work

​​​​March 28, 2021

Women's economic empowerment is critically important. Greater gender equality in a country is linked to better health and education, higher income per capita, and economic growth.1 Where does the Arab MENA region stand in terms of equity in the workplace? AUB's Center for Inclusive Business and Leadership (CIBL) for Women has created the KIP Index and Lived Experience Index to answer that question and to answer the next most important question: how to do better?

Faced with a dire data deficit, CIBL for Women undertook the largest and most comprehensive review ever in the region, compiling data from 11 Arab MENA countries. They surveyed 1700 employers to understand their HR policies and procedures related to women in the workplace and conducted interviews with 520 women to understand their lived experience across six employment sectors.

“There have been notable shifts in gender-inclusive strategies across the MENA region, but there is still a lot more to be done by regional employers, policymakers, and official governing bodies," says Dr. Charlotte Karam. “Women in the region continue to want to work, seek development opportunities, and pursue upward career mobility. To support women, CIBL for Women continues to partner with employers to improve recruitment, retention, and promotion policies and practices, with relative urgency noted in the STEM sector," she adds.

The KIP Index and Lived Experience Index include a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data that will be used to bring about substantive change for working women in this region. Among the key findings:

Better retention of women requires targeted efforts. The good news is that women are being hired, but the bad news is that they are not being retained or promoted to the same degree. Women report issues with discrimination and harassment in the workplace and are not finding the support needed for proper work-life balance.

Women are largely absent from leadership positions. Promotion is another area that needs a lot of work across sectors where there is a major lack of women in senior, decision-making positions. They are especially missing in top executive offices and on boards, particularly in the financial services sector.

Not all sectors are equal. The healthcare and education sectors ranked highest on the KIP Index (although still scoring less than 50 out of a possible 100), while STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—scored the worst. The analysis from interviews with women shows similar results with STEM ranking the second lowest on the Lived Experience Index. This is especially urgent to address given that future jobs will rely heavily on information technology and other STEM-related fields.

Alignment of HR and women's lived experiences. The data from the two indices suggests that healthcare is one of the sectors that performs best on the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women. Such alignment, however, does not exist across all sectors. For the education sector, although it ranked the second highest on the KIP Index, it simultaneously ranked the second lowest on the Lived Experience Index. This difference highlights the importance of working to align structures with actual work realities on the ground.

​Looking at all the information gathered, the CIBL-W group concludes that no sector or country is doing best or worst, per se. The ranking system illustrates that there is room to learn from each other in all areas and sectors.

Progress toward dignified work for women and toward more inclusive human resources systems requires data from the region, for the region. The ultimate goal is to use this data to help employers and government partners strengthen mechanisms to better recruit, retain, and promote women across all sectors using concrete recommendations in the Roadmap for Inclusive Business and Leadership (#RIBLEffect).



1 World Economic Forum https://w​


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