Considering that women make up a slight majority in Oman in terms of population, there is still a large gender gap in workplaces. The Minister of Commerce and Industry, Ali bin Masoud al Sunaidy, said at the recent Oman Economic Forum held in Muscat in March, that the private sector must address the gender gap to change the present employment setup of the private sector to give equal employment opportunities to women.
Statistics show that women in the private sector make up about a quarter of the total workforce, but just less than five per cent of them occupy senior positions. This is despite a significance jump in their academic qualifications in the last ten years.
From the total of 241,102 Omani employees currently working in the private sector, 62,129 are women nationals, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI). It is not just the job opportunities women lag behind but promotions as well. There are sectors in the private companies where women seem to have almost exclusivity like the banks. In the financial institutions, women have a bigger representation in jobs than in other areas of employment. The Ministry of Manpower’s statistics show that about 40 per cent of the workforce in Oman’s financial institutions are women. The same statistics also show nearly half of retail workers in the country are women.
Women also enjoy a big majority in nursing and teaching in the government schools but make little progress in areas like administration, financial, insurance, Information Technology (IT) engineering, and oil and gas despite a big leap in their academic qualifications.
In the last fifteen years, female graduates from the higher education institutions have outnumbered men by 17 per cent from a variety of degree subjects. And this is proven by the statistics from the Ministry of Higher Education. Yet, they still are behind when it comes to getting the approval for the top management positions, particularly in the private sector. Women continuously blame men’s prejudice when it comes to opportunities to the senior positions. They want men to allow women to prove their worth. Women also feel it is a situation where no one wants to talk about it.
Omani working women also feel men do not understand exclusive problems associated with female employees like maternity leaves. This is affirmed in the recent report that married men should also get maternity leave to share the time to look after their children but never proposed to increase the 50 days mothers get after childbirth. That may change in the future if women get better representation. Many Omani women feel now it is the right time to make this change. Perhaps women should create more empowerment groups to push forward for the equal rights at workplaces. However, some feel that women are let down in the legislative front since only one woman currently serves in the Majlis ash’shura.
In the last five years, the men dominated Shura made historical changes in the Omani legislation system. The changes are from education, health to social security. There were also some significance changes in the employment, but none of the agendas were about improving women’s working status in the offices, like equal pay. Such policies would help more women to enter the workforce and perform on the same scale as the opposite gender. The other problem women identified is that fact the almost all departments of Human Resources are dominated by men. If you go further up, apart from the fact the CEOs are almost always men, the Board of Directors of all organisations are dominated by men too, some are exclusively just men. It is a mainstream problem and that is embedded deep in the mindset of Omani men, at least Omani women feel that way.
But is it going to change soon? That is the question women can only ask but see very little prospect at the moment.