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Here’s how organizations in the Middle East can support women in the workplace and retain them

Many women feel pressured to choose between their careers and family, leading to many leaving the workforce. Experts tell us how organizations can change this trend.

Here’s how organizations in the Middle East can support women in the workplace and retain them
[Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

It’s well-known that women are significantly underrepresented in senior positions within the corporate world. This disparity, experts point out, is mainly due to the long hours required for high-level jobs and the conflict with women’s family responsibilities. Often leading to women feeling pressured to choose between their career and their family, resulting in many leaving the workforce altogether. This issue has been a topic of discussion for a long time, and it’s clear that there is still much work to be done to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women.

Women dropping out of the workforce is a complex issue with various factors — they often bear the primary responsibility for childcare, eldercare, and household chores, which can conflict with their ability to maintain full-time employment. The lack of affordable childcare options and flexible work arrangements exacerbates this challenge.

The onus to support women and retain them lies with enterprises and workplace policies. “To support and ensure women remain employed long term, organizations should take the lead in providing both flexibility and fairness,” says Manisha Dayaram, Chief Commercial Officer, Devmark. 

Women dropping out of the workforce has broader societal implications. It perpetuates gender inequality in the labor market, contributes to the gender wage gap, and limits the representation of women in leadership positions across industries. “The key factor is the understanding that many women are also mothers and need to be able to provide time for her work and her children,” says Mukta Purain, founder of MissPalettable. 

“Many workplaces force women to decide whether to prioritize their work or their family. Women are capable of maintaining some form of balance where the work is done and also be able to give time to their family,” she adds. 


According to the International Labour Organization’s research, the structure of a household notably affects the disparity between genders in the workforce, with this gap widening notably in families with young children. The presence of young children significantly impacts the involvement of women in the workforce, more so than men. This is attributed to societal norms that assign childcare responsibilities predominantly to women, positioning men as the primary earners (ILO 2018). However, single mothers with young children, confronted with unique circumstances, often see increased workforce participation due to necessity. 

Dayaram highlights the critical issue of the societal and cultural barriers hindering working mothers’ career progress. She says the lack of understanding surrounding the challenges women face with family responsibilities significantly contributes to their limited access to career advancement opportunities. 

“A collective effort is required to ensure that women retain their roles once they become mothers,” adds Dayaram. She cites how, in her current role with Devmark, the strong emphasis on approachability and a deep understanding of the importance of flexibility, especially for working mothers like herself, have reaped positive results. She adds that companies like Devmark pride themselves on a leadership ethos that promotes and empowers women’s success, acknowledging it as vital for their holistic personal and professional growth.

In addition, amid the dual pressures working mothers face, Purain notes that the greatest challenge arises when demands from children and work conflict, often leading workplaces to pressure women into prioritizing work. 

“Workplaces tend to put pressure on women to prioritize their work. The guilt is high when that pressure arises, and I have had to prioritize a work matter over my children. Workplaces need to be accommodating and not constantly push on work being prioritized,” Purain adds. The ambition to achieve it all still runs high in the lives of many women trying to make it big in the workforce. “Ambitious working women can pave the way by requesting flexible work arrangements and pushing for equal opportunities,” says Dayaram. 


Organizations play a pivotal role in supporting women as they navigate the challenges of balancing professional and personal demands. Companies can implement various strategies to create an environment where women can thrive. 

Flexibility in the workplace is crucial for supporting working mothers, enabling them to juggle their professional and parental responsibilities. “I understand the significance of this flexibility, having returned to work after having two children. It helps maintain work-life balance and boosts job satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement,” says Rakhee Raval, Head of Marketing & PR, Blacklane ME. 

Moreover, catering to the diverse needs of all employees enhances inclusivity and diversity within the organization. “Flexibility isn’t just a benefit; it’s essential for creating a supportive environment where working mothers can succeed both in their careers and personal lives,” Raval adds. 

Purain highlights the positive impact of COVID-19 in promoting flexible work arrangements, which she deems crucial for retaining women in the workforce. 

Purain points out that women’s empathy and holistic approach to leadership are strengths that should be embraced. He emphasizes that creating a supportive and inclusive company culture is essential for allowing women to thrive professionally.

According to Raval, adopting flexible work arrangements significantly enhances the work environment and work-life balance.

“I believe that by accommodating flexible work arrangements, companies will see numerous benefits, including enhanced employee satisfaction, improved retention rates, and increased productivity,” she says. 

As work-life balance becomes more important to women and other job seekers, flexibility can be a game-changer for companies. “Embracing flexibility contributes to a vibrant company culture while reducing overhead and office space expenses,” adds Raval. 

Purain concludes, “As women, we need to be more vocal without fear.” 

She adds, “We should not be afraid to express why we should advance for promotion or a leadership role. Some of the most successful CEOs today are women; we should push for this more. As women, we must also support and help each other advance in our careers.” 

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Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More

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