Female professionals find new opportunities in the GCC

13 May 2024

Since its earliest days, the language and localization industry has relied on and thrived off the work and talent of its female linguists. And in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — it’s the same story. 

However, the number of opportunities on the horizon for women in the Arabic-speaking world may surprise individuals with a more blinkered view of the region. A common view of the region from a western bias might imagine women cloistered at home and rarely allowed freedom of movement, employment, or other key individual liberties. But with GCC countries cooperating on an ambitious economic diversification plan, the reality in the region provides a stark contrast. Qualified professionals of all stripes — women included — are key to achieving the future the GCC envisions.

“Women have been changing the face of the workforce in the GCC, with a growing number of organizations reaching the tipping point of 30% representation,” said Karen Khalaf, a partner at Bain & Company, in a report released by the consulting firm.

Financial technology, or FinTech,  is an area of particular excitement in GCC countries. According to consulting firm Roland Berger, the technology field is poised to experience remarkable growth from just USD 250 million in 2022 to an estimated USD 2 billion by 2030. That means more than enough opportunity to go around, both for female workers and language-industry professionals stepping in to fill the multilingual communication and translation gaps.

“This innovative approach is not just a trend but a significant shift, with the Embedded FinTech market in the GCC poised for remarkable growth,” Elias Aad of Roland Berger wrote. “This represents an extraordinary annual growth rate of approximately 30%, creating significant opportunities for both financial and non-financial institutions.”

World Bank, an international financial institution focused on developing economies and low- to middle-income countries worldwide, is equally excited by the opportunities financial technology will enable in the region. Just ask Yasmeen Al-Sharaf, the FinTech and Innovation Unit director at the Central Bank of Bahrain. She believes emerging industries are ready and willing to embrace change and build better opportunities for everyone regardless of gender.

"As a woman, I feel excited to be part of this fast-evolving and growing FinTech sector, and it gives me great joy to be able to prove to other women that it can be done," she told World Bank.

"To close the gender parity within the digital sector, companies should design their strategies around the notion of diversity,” she added. “They must invest in employee development to ensure that women are given equal learning and training opportunities as well as equipping them with more basic technical skills, such as coding. In short, women need to be encouraged to acquire these skills and use them as a stepping-stone into the industry."

According to the study Gulf Women in the Workforce by the Gulf Research Center, Saudi Arabia is even implementing quotas to ensure diverse representation in its legislative bodies.

“The Shura Council has a mandated 20 percent quota, which is 30 seats out of the 150 total seats, since King Abdullah’s royal decree in 2013 (Alhashmi, 2018),” the study reads. “This gender quota increased the Kingdom’s female representation from 0 percent in 2013 to the current 20 percent. Therefore, gender quotas are effective top-down policies that will increase women’s representation in the political arena.”

“Gulf women have generally been making positive strides and achievements in the workforce in recent years,” the study concludes. “The GCC states are on the right track when it comes to female empowerment and gender equality.”

Much like the language industry itself, a persistent challenge is integrating more women into leadership roles. But some see reason for optimism on that point, too.

“We are starting to see more women leaders in the public arena – the recent increase in Bahraini women representation within the ministerial cabinet is testament to this,” Al-Sharaf told World Bank.

While the story of progress rarely has a definitive ending, GCC countries are nevertheless embracing opportunity for male and female workers alike. And happy workers make for happy countries — something just about everyone can celebrate.