Diversity and inclusion practices in the Middle East are changing. This emerging market is constantly evolving, and HR leaders are welcoming new ideas and techniques to help break the very traditional modus operandi that has been nestling at the heart of the region for so long.

ChapmanCG’s Abby Walters and Nelly Boustany, Director EMEA, Digital HR experience at SAP, were delighted to co-host a group of pivotal regional HR leaders who shared their challenges and success stories around this topic.

Embracing the Rich Cultural Framework of the Region

Diversity increases levels of innovation and market share. Therefore, the cultural diversity present in the Middle East region, where a large percentage of the population is comprised of expatriates, should be harnessed to the full to help businesses remain competitive.

HR leaders discussed their eagerness to leverage and learn from the wide range of religions, languages and backgrounds that we are lucky to have in this complex geography.

Innovation will not flourish where people agree all the time, and it is important to encourage healthy dialogue between different cultures to prevent our regional businesses from becoming stale.

Women Poised to Lead

Companies in the region increasingly recognise the potential of female leaders to enhance organisational effectiveness. Despite being significantly under represented in C-suites and corporate boards across the region’s states, many of our attending leaders felt that women are indeed making strides.

Gender diversity seems to be gaining a more prominent place on corporate agendas within the region. However, we still need to focus even more carefully on the region’s evolving social attitudes toward women in leadership. One HR specialist for a major technology house commented that significant progress has been made in Saudi Arabia by training male employees on how to interact more effectively with female peers.

Putting the Money Where Your Mouth is

HR leaders discussed at length the importance of ensuring compensation for the executive team is aligned to diversity and inclusion outcomes. One HR leader commented that less than 10% of regional companies are doing this currently, which is an area for concern and future development.

The Rise of Non-Traditional Candidates

Sourcing candidates with non-traditional credentials was discussed as pivotal to a company’s diversity policy. In particular, this is critical in helping to overcome the great dearth of technology and digital leaders in the region. An increasing number of today’s IT jobs can be done without the traditional four-year technology degrees.

As one leader at a major pharmaceutical organisation house commented, the skills needed to thrive in a large number of entry and mid-level IT jobs can be mastered by high school graduates who complete accelerated technical training programs, online courses, coding boot camps and community college programs.

Tackling Compensation Disparity

Newcomers to the region voiced concern at some very clear pay disparity among different cultures in the Middle East. Some organisations have actively attempted to combat this problem by very visibly posting each job category globally with its linked pay scale on the company intranet for all to view. This helps to ensure that cultural background is irrelevant to compensation, and that individuals are rewarded on the basis of skills and merit only.

The Lifelong Workforce

One compensation and benefits expert commented that we often think of diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity, and was keen to highlight the importance of embracing both younger and older team members in the region.

Targeting university and high school students (particularly to promote and motivate in the areas of STEM technology) is proving popular, as is reverse mentoring. A common consensus was that we should look to keep doors open to our older colleagues, especially in an era of ageing populations and delayed retirements.

Banishing the Bias

Many companies present are combatting bias by delivering unconscious bias training to all employees, as well as using new AI screening tools that help to ignore demographic information when sourcing candidates and screening CVs.

Whilst there have been some strong developments in diversity and inclusion in the Middle East in recent years, continuing to build on these will be critical. In particular, continuing to be curious about other cultures will help HR leaders in the Middle East to reach the understanding they need to intensify their ability to innovate in this critical area.

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