Focus: Women in Finance

Not There Yet

Nov. 8, 2017

A quick look at gender-disaggregated data of employment in the banking sector shows promise, but the sector, Lebanon, and the region are still working toward gender parity.

In Lebanon, 47% of the total staff working in the banking sector are women. At close to 50%, this figure shows a good example for other Arab countries to work toward, as the same benchmark stands at 40% in the UAE, 35% in Qatar, 32% in Bahrain, and 13% in Saudi Arabia.

The number of female workers in the Lebanese banking sector has increased in recent years. The increase was achieved at a time when the Lebanese banking sector was proving its efficiency in managing its financial and human resources, and demonstrates a clear ability to adapt to the various political, security, and economic conditions that are afflicting the country and the region. The Lebanese banking sector has always sought to attract young female workers and contributed to the enhancement of the role of women.
However, a deeper dive into the banking sector shows there is room still for improvement, both in the banking sector and the broader economy. Most of the junior staff working in financial services are women, but according to a Financial Times' study, women represent only one out of four people who reach a managerial position, which is disadvantageous to women, the banking sector, and the Lebanese economy. The Arab Women's Organization noted that companies with three women in managerial positions are more productive than others.

According to the World Union of Arab Bankers, although women represent more than half of the world's population, they only own 1% of the world's wealth and receive only 10% of the world's income. Furthermore, the presence of women in various sectors of the economy is one of the most relevant indicators of the progress and development of any country.

Despite the relatively early adoption of democracy in Lebanon compared to other countries in the region, opportunities for women to play important roles were, and still are, few. The Lebanese Constitution recognized the full equality of rights and duties of citizens in 1926. However, the change in the legal text did not change equality in practice, and Lebanese women continue to face significant obstacles when entering the arenas of finance, business, and politics in a country where the ruling dynasties and sectarian quotas dominate the economy and banking sector.

Though various laws and legislation recognize women's right to work and equality with men, a large number earn a low salary—if they find a job at all. Many qualified, skilled women are looking to join the labor force but cannot find employment. In 2016, the female unemployment rate was 10.98%, compared to the overall unemployment rate of 6.78%, according to the World Bank. Women's overall labor force participation rate was only 23.64%.

According to a World Bank and BLC Bank report, female entrepreneurship is less common in the Middle East and North Africa than in other parts of the world. However, in Lebanon the data show that women account for over 36% of all entrepreneurial activity in Lebanon. There is still much to improve, since about 70% of female entrepreneurs in developing and emerging countries receive little or no funding support to achieve sustainability.

Nevertheless, women are changing the stereotypes about their role in business and their effectiveness in building and developing the economy. And there are some encouraging signs of progress, such as the creation of a State Ministry for Women's Affairs in the heart of the Lebanese government in December 2016. BLC Bank is also part of the International Finance Corporation's Banking on Women program in the MENA region, an initiative to contribute to the bank's bottom line through the growth of female-owned businesses and supporting women entrepreneurs and consumers.