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Times of Oman - 16.12.2014

Muscat: Women professionals in Oman say that the employment opportunities and pay structures here are equal to men when compared to other GCC countries where they are paid less than men. 

They were reacting to a survey of Bayt.com, the Middle East's career site, and YouGov, a research and consulting organisation, which say that 56 per cent of women receive less pay than their male counterparts in Oman. 

Reacting to the survey, Hala Al Lawati, an electrical engineer at a reputed government college, said that women and men have the same salary here unlike other GCC countries. 

"Apart from the salaries, they also get promotions and bonuses," she noted. 

Echoing similar thoughts, Marwa Al Raisi, a student of Sultan Qaboos University, said, "Unlike the other GCC countries, there is no discrimination in pay as there is a unified salary structure in the government sector. Even in the private sector your performance determines your career and position and not your gender."

Hanifa Al Abri, who works on national television, said that some managers believe that women cannot compete with men in some professions.

"However, these are just individual opinions. Personally, I see that salaries and the employment opportunities are equal in Oman between the genders," she said. 

Dr Emily Shotter, a PR professional working in Oman, said, "Although I am not well informed in terms of pay scales for men and women, I do get the impression that the pay is relatively equal here, at least in some professions and industries. The success of Omani women seems to be revered and celebrated, which is very positive. I am often impressed at the number of women in top positions in Oman and would love to see this increase."

Reacting to the survey, Tonia Gray, general manager, Competence HR, said that the recent survey released by Bayt.com reported on the views of 1,543 females over the age of 18 from the United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman in addition to Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria. The other countries in the survey are Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

"If the responses were received evenly throughout the 13 countries named, then this means only 118 females answered in Oman. That is a small proportion of females in the workplace in the Sultanate. It is an even smaller proportion of all women of working age in Oman. Does this survey reflect the views of all women of working age in Oman? Shouldn't we find out," she asked. 

The relevance of this survey to Oman, she felt, is more to do with getting women into (or to remain in) the workplace to support the nationalisation drive. 

"More than half (53 per cent) the women surveyed are single with 27 per cent who are married with children and 12 per cent who are married without children. The numbers don't quite add up, but are taken directly from the survey report. These figures show that 65 per cent of the women don't have children. What happens when they do? Will they return to the workplace? A quarter of the females have children and work – but according to the Office of National Statistics in the UK, 73 per cent of working women have children showing that there is some way to go for Oman and the MENA region. 
Increasing the number of women with children in the work place in Oman would help tremendously towards increasing nationalisation statistics," she said. 

She also argued that the survey shows that in most areas nearly half the women surveyed felt that they were not given equal opportunities – this was particularly the case with salary and benefits.  

"This is a huge issue for a country that desperately requires nationals to take positions in the workplace. Would changing this encourage women into the workplace? Maybe it is time to consider other ways to achieve this. Flexible working hours, part time positions, job sharing and good quality (and inexpensive) nursery care and making the transition from being at home with children back to the workplace easier," said Gray.

"Almost 45 per cent of women stated that they were asked discriminatory questions during job interviews – for example, 'are you planning to get married or have children?' Surely the answers to these questions should not matter, what should be of paramount importance is the qualifications, skills and experience of the person being interviewed. In my experience, if women are asked these kinds of questions, they would seriously reconsider whether they wish to be employed in such a company. With the majority (60 per cent) of women earning less than OMR770 per month, this appears to show a real disparity with the earnings of men. Equalising pay surely would have a positive impact on more women working," she argued.   

She also asked, "Isn't it time that these issues should be understood in the country, with a national survey undertaken to understand the views of women in the workplace and whether they feel they are being fairly treated in terms of pay, promotion, job opportunities, training and development and considering what can be done to encourage more women to work? The number of women who are not working is an untapped resource that could greatly benefit the country. So shouldn't their views be canvassed to identify what would encourage them to return to work or join for the first time?" 

The survey shows that a majority of women in the MENA region fall into the $200 to 2,000 income per month range (60 per cent), while 21 per cent earn between $200 and $500 per month. There is a regional sentiment that men receive more pay than women (43 per cent).

Nearly half (49 per cent) of the women working in mixed gender environments around the region believe that their chances of being promoted depend entirely on their performance, and not on gender, though 34 per cent believe that women have a lower chance of getting promoted.

Data for 'The Bayt.com Status of Working Women in the Middle East' survey was collected online from October 22 to November 20, 2014, with 1,543 female respondents aged 18 years and above.
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