Jobs battle persists for young Arab women

Young Arab women are still struggling to gain access to the workforce, a new report has found

Young Arab women are still struggling to gain access to the workforce, a new report has found, with a rift between the benefits offered by employers and those sought by jobseekers partly to blame for unemployment rates that can exceed 40 per cent in some countries.

Joblessness is a widespread problem in the Middle East and North Africa, and is estimated to cost the region $600bn annually in potential economic activity. Yet despite targeted campaigns, career fairs and rising participation in education, female employment still lags that of men.

“Young women in the region are looking for jobs, but not necessarily in the right place,” said Jasmine Nahhas di Florio, vice president for Strategy and Partnerships at Education for Employment (EFE), an NGO. “The private sector in MENA has a lot to gain by boosting women’s employment; by some counts, up to $2.7 trillion by 2025.”

Research conducted by EFE, in conjunction with jobs portal and research firm YouGov, found companies do seek to recruit and retain young women. But many invest in policies that are not high priorities in the eyes of jobseekers, such as providing female supervisors.

At the same time, they are not addressing the issues young women see as important, such as access to transportation, or incentives like nursery or daycare facilities. More women also need to be involved with the hiring process, said the report ‘First Jobs for Young Women in MENA’.

“The research underscores just how few young women are actually aware of whether their companies offer female-friendly benefits and policies,” said Nahhas di Florio.

Another core issue is that young women seem to know relatively little about potential careers open to them, or employers. Nearly one in four of the employed women surveyed work in a small to medium enterprises (SME). However, the survey found that only 7 per cent of those seeking jobs actually want to work in an SME.

“This is concerning, given that many governments are looking to SMEs as a major source of job growth in the region,” said Nahhas di Florio.

Region-wide, EFE says education institutions have also struggled to link their courses to the needs of the labour market. The result is a mismatch between the skills of graduates and those required by recruiters, which further curbs the efforts of young women to find jobs.

“It is rare to find an education institution that provides students with market information on industries likely to offer significant job growth. Few guide students in pursuing a relevant course of study,” said Nahhas di Florio. “Likewise, traditional institutions typically do not train young women in confidence-building and communications techniques that enable them to self-advocate and understand what benefits are available.”

Many young women also lack the knowledge needed to be successful jobseekers. Some 50 per cent of employed women found personal networks to be most helpful in gaining their first job, the survey found. Young women without such connections can struggle to secure a role.

The research suggested at least part of the solution may lie within the grasp of the private sector and pointed to tangible steps that it could take to help more young women secure and retain a first job.

“The private sector can communicate job opportunities, industry growth areas, salary benchmarks and sought after skills to young women,” said Nahhas di Florio. “Both directly and through programmes at secondary schools and universities, or through post-education training programmes.”

Employers that get the mix right and reach out to young women during their education could unlock a goldmine of productive power. Equally, those young women will have to do as many of their governments are, and look to SMEs to secure their first job, the report suggested.