SME’s led by women manage assets in the GCC worth $385 billion, and are at the forefront of the economic transformation of the region backed by increased literacy and educational opportunities, slowly changing cultural attitudes, and government policies aimed at reducing dependence on foreign labor. Furthermore, availability of diverse employment opportunities, technological advances and information democratization is inspiring several women to start their own businesses. According to the report, women entrepreneurs in the region increased from 4% to 10% in the period 2011-14, significantly narrowing the gender gap in entrepreneurial intentions.
This has spurred regional governments to collaborate with non-governmental bodies to identify and develop programs to support women entrepreneurial intentions and activities. The report states that women in the GCC are fast approaching gender equality in business start-up intentions, possibly resulting in greater parity in the next wave of entrepreneurship in the region. However, this calls for increased formal entrepreneurial education and training to bring their ideas to fruition and successfully own and manage established businesses. Although the success rate stands at 40%, this number is rapidly rising.
High unemployment rates, limited access to formal finance, regulatory and social constraints, striking a work-life balance, inadequate training and access to information, and lack of female-friendly entrepreneurship policies are key barriers and challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in the GCC.
Hence, GCC governments have amplified their efforts towards addressing existing challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and have introduced a range of empowerment measures across the political, business and educational arenas such as marked regulatory improvements, lower entry and exit barriers, increased representation in chambers of commerce, and improved female literacy rates.
On the other hand, improvement in social conditions driven by changing demographic patterns and gender diversity in the private sector are some of the key growth drivers of women participation in the workforce. As a result, adult female (25+) participation in the GCC’s labor force in 2015 increased to 32%, growing at 6.8% CAGR in the last decade. Female literacy rate in the GCC is also at par or above the developing nations across the world; nearly 100% among 15-24 year olds and almost 90% on average among adult females (age 25-64).
Corroborating the growing interest of GCC women in business, the ‘2015 Forbes List of The 100 Most Powerful Arab Business Women in The Middle East’ constituted nearly 50% of GCC women. GCC women are taking leadership roles in private and family-owned businesses, while also participating in politics and government affairs. The report states that these women have a high preference for roles in the private sector with the banking, investment and finance sector leading the way with 18%.