Omani women making inroads into private sector for career growth
September 11, 2015 | 10:44 PM
by SARAH MACDONALD/[email protected]

MUSCAT: Omani women represent just 2.6 per cent of the private sector workforce in the Sultanate, but they are steadily making gains as more of them opt for careers in which they can flourish.

According to figures from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), at the end of June 2015 there were 1,829,726 documented private sector employees, including 47,441 Omani women. Among the 206,054 Omanis, women represent 23 per cent.

While the numbers of Omani women are still comparatively low, they have been growing. In 2003 there were 13,385; in 2012 there were 35,248. But those who opt for the private sector find that it’s a means to achieve more in their careers.

“If you have big ambitions, if you’re looking for promoting yourself and getting knowledge and getting real experience, I think you need to go to the private sector,” says Fatma Al Salmi, a 25-year-old Omani who works for Oman Flour Mills.

When she completed her degree in Public Relations, Al Salmi purposely looked for a job in the private sector because she thought there would be more opportunity for personal growth and development.

Though public sector jobs come with shorter hours, higher base salaries and other benefits, she thought there wouldn’t be much room to grow and learn new skills.

Sawsan Al Balushi, 29, works as in reservations and ticketing for a local travel agency, Razan Travel. She recommends women take up jobs in the private sector because it is more interesting and employees can progress faster in their careers.

“They should choose the private sector because the salary is good and the future is better than with the government. In the government they see the time and no work is there. In the private sector there are more options and you can do more things,” she says.

Amaal Al Lawati, Chief Customer Experience Officer at Ooredoo, is one such woman who has shone brightly in the private sector for the past 20 years. She spent 10 years in the banking sector and now has worked for Ooredoo for the past 10 years. She says entering the private sector was her own decision and like Al Salmi, she thought it would offer better oportunities in the long run.

Al Lawati was looking for faster personal development, and thanks to her hard work, she got the results she was after. She was a supervisor in one bank when another offered her a position as assistant manager, and after five years there a third bank offered her a manager position.

“After 10 years in the banking I said, ‘Let me try something else now,’ so Nawras approached me to be a section head,” she explains.

Al Lawati was the first Omani director in Ooredoo (then Nawras), and now she is the first Omani woman to take a chief position.

Mark Pudwell, Business Development and Training Manager at Competence HR LLC, says private sector companies would do well to attract and keep Omani women. In an assessment his firm did of nearly 9000 recent Omani graduates, 65 percent of the top candidates were women.

“They are clearly academically more gifted, they’re more committed, and particularly their English language skills are better than the men,” he says.

Omani women are also getting degrees in science and engineering and other fields traditionally dominated by men, and they’re not afraid to put on work boots and hard hats to work as surveyors or in the oil fields, Pudwell says.

The challenge some of them face is from their families since culturally women are still seen as the homemakers, he says.

“I’ve discussed this with some of my Omani lady colleagues and they say their husbands or future husbands don’t want them to work,” he says.

In the West by the 1970s the poor economy was prompting more women to work outside the home in order to support their families. Given the average lifestyles of Omanis, which often includes new homes and car and good education for their children, it would be better to have two incomes here, too, Pudwell suggests.

Al Lawati also thinks having women working benefits Omani families. She says that in her family the children of women who work are more educated and advanced

“If the mother is going and exploring things outside the house, she will be able to transfer this to her kids. Financially also it’s better. If the wife is working...she will be able to support the husband at the same time and the quality of education they are giving to their kids, the quality of lifestyle will be much more better than if only the man is working,” explains Al Lawati.

Pudwell says companies could attract more women by offering flexible working hours so women can balance work and family responsibilities more easy, and bigger companies could also provide on-site nurseries. Having part-time work or job-sharing as an option would help women join the labour force, too, he notes.

“By allowing particularly Omani women to work part-time you’d see a lot more going to work. Then a wife could demonstrate to her husband that she could do both, go to work and support the family and manage a household,” he says.

Whether a woman chooses to be a housewife, have a career, or do both, Al Lawati advises all young Omani women to spend at least a few years working so they know what they are capable of. She also says careers in the private sector can be highly rewarding, as she has found.

“The private sector will be rewarding you if you work in a good way, for example if you have smart objectives. You can feel the rewards and the returns. The development you’re receiving in the private sector is much higher than the government,” she says.

Al Lawati says that in the 1990s when she joined the workforce people wondered what she was doing, especially when she put in long hours, and Omani men didn’t take her seriously.

“But now after 20 years it’s the women’s right to go out and work and develop herself. It’s totally different. It’s a positive change, definitely,” she says.

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