INDUSTRY INSIGHTThought Leadership

The fortune of female empowerment: Women’s critical role in the GCC chemical industry development

By Valentina Olabi, Research Specialist, GPCA

In a world struggling with the issue of gender disparity, global agendas such as ESG implementation are emerging as catalysts urging the importance of gender equality in the workforce. For the GCC chemical industry, where ESGs have become a critical target for producers, the increasing participation of women has become a vital component for the employment of sustainable social and economic practices that are aligned with changing global dynamics.

Figure 1: Women’s role in ESG pillars

Source: GPCA Research (2024)

As the industry seeks to meet ESG objectives, appointing women to various roles not only promotes diversity and inclusion but also enhances the industry’s capacity to address environmental, social, and governance challenges effectively. This stresses the integral role of gender equality in driving holistic and sustainable development within the GCC chemical sector.

In recent years, the chemical industry has borne witness to revolutionary developments in areas such as digitalization, sustainability, and diversification. However, diversity and inclusion and the growing role of women in the traditionally male-dominated chemical industry is an often overlooked factor that can lead the GCC chemical industry to making significant strides. With strategic efforts from industry stakeholders to advocate for increased diversity and inclusion, the regional chemical industry can remain adaptable to changing global landscapes.

The current status of women’s participation in the GCC chemical industry

Both regionally and globally, women’s participation in the chemical industry still remains relatively low. On a global level, women’s participation presently equates to approximately 6%, whereas in the GCC, as of 2022, women’s participation equated to a mere 4.3%. Despite this, women’s participation in the GCC chemical industry is gradually increasing. This is presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2 depicts that, despite still being a low number, women’s participation in the GCC chemical industry is gradually on the rise, increasing by 0.6% between 2021 and 2022.

Figure 2: Women’s participation in the GCC chemical industry

Source: GPCA Facts and Figures (2023)

Figure 3: GCC chemical industry women’s representation in key roles

Source: GPCA Research (2024)

The reasons as to why there is very low gender diversity in the industry cannot be exactly pinpointed, but can be generally assumed based on general perceptions and stereotypes. Most obviously, the chemical industry has historically always been perceived as male-dominated. This has over time led to societal and cultural biases that may discourage women from pursuing careers in this field.

Nonetheless, women within the regional chemical industry are aligned with global benchmarks (one third) of women’s participation in executive positions. Women’s representation in key roles in the GCC chemical industry is presented in Figure 3.

GCC chemical producers are also embarking on various initiatives to represent and foster women’s participation in the regional industry. These are presented in Figure 4.

Figure 4 shows the importance regional producers are giving to diversity and inclusion initiatives, particularly involving women. Aside from industry-specific women’s empowerment initiatives, GCC chemical companies are further showing their commitment to gender diversity by establishing pledges or collaborations with local universities to prompt the next generation of women in chemicals. Aramco for example, started collaborating with local Saudi universities to leverage their engineering programs, in order to identify highly-qualified female candidates in STEM for job opportunities within Aramco following completion of their studies. Meanwhile, in 2023, ADNOC signed the UAE Gender Balance Council’s SDG 5 pledge to put women in 30% of leadership roles by 2030, and aims to increase female representation in specialized technical positions to 25% by 2030. This includes initiatives to improve access to education and training, create inclusive workplace cultures, provide mentorship and leadership development opportunities for women, and challenge gender stereotypes and biases.

Figure 4: GCC chemical industry women’s participation initiatives

Source: GPCA Research (2024)

The value of women in business and chemical industry examples

Aside from societal progression, diversity and inclusion has been proven to bring economic benefits. According to Forbes, the incorporation of diversity in the workplace can increase profitability by 33%. This can be credited to several factors: (1) diverse teams consider a wider range of perspectives and insights, leading to more comprehensive evaluations and better decisions; (2) constructing a workforce of different backgrounds fosters creativity, leading to innovation and catering to diverse or international customers; (3) companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion often have better reputations, leading to a greater profitability.

Although this describes diversity in general, gender diversity specifically can also present as a profitability factor that can lead to significant improvements for companies. A study by S&P Global revealed that companies with female Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) outperformed market average and increased profitability by 6%. These companies also reported an 8% stock return in the 24 months following the appointment of a woman CFO. Overall, the study emphasizes how firms with high gender diversity in positions of power are statistically more profitable and larger than firms with less gender diversity.

This stresses the importance of gender inclusivity within companies, showcasing the competitive, financial advantages that gender-diverse companies can bring to the market.

The GCC chemical industry is also aware of the value gender inclusivity brings, with many inspirational women serving as a testament to this in various leadership roles in the regional industry. These are presented in Figure 5.

The notable presence of women in diverse leadership roles within the GCC chemical sector highlights the industry’s recognition of the importance of gender inclusivity and its dedication to fostering diverse and inclusive work environments.

Figure 5: Leading women in the GCC chemical industry

Source: GPCA Research (2024)

Future steps

As chemical producers continue embarking on their mission of ESG implementation, women’s participation continues to play a pivotal role in driving sustainable practices and fostering inclusive growth within the industry. A tremendous 89% of GCC chemical producers consider diversity and inclusion as an ESG priority, while 55% of regional producers are aiming specifically to increase the representation of women. Although women’s participation in the chemical industry overall is still relatively low, female representation in leadership roles, ESG diversity and inclusion priorities and the initiatives GCC producers are embarking on to harness female talent will foster the next generation of women in the industry.

Concluding thoughts

Addressing the barriers to gender diversity requires concerted efforts from industry stakeholders, educational institutions, policymakers, and society as a whole to promote gender diversity, equity, and inclusion in the chemical industry. By implementing targeted initiatives to attract, retain, and support women in the industry, the GCC chemical industry is fostering a culture of inclusivity, providing the mentorship and leadership development opportunities required for more women to pursue careers in this traditionally male-dominated industry. By challenging stereotypes and gender biases, the chemical industry can create a more diverse, innovative, and resilient workforce that drives sustainable growth and enhances its global competitiveness. Together, these collective efforts will not only benefit individual organizations but also contribute to broader societal and economic advancement in the GCC region.

References:

[1] “Workforce Diversity and Gender Balance”, ADNOC (2024).

[2] “Women in business”, Aramco (2024).

[3] “Harnessing The Power Of Diversity For Profitability”, Forbes (2022).

[4] “Facts and Figures 2023”, GPCA (2023).

[5] “When Women Lead, Firms Win”, S&P Global (2019).