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Women in Real Estate

The need for female representation in the construction sector in the MENA

Article-The need for female representation in the construction sector in the MENA

Female construction engineer
With many countries in the MENA region moving at breakneck speed to reach its real estate and construction goals outlined in their Vision 2030 goals, the region is accelerating inclusivity in the construction sector. But is it enough?

Earlier this year, astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi made history and became the first Saudi woman to be sent to the International Space Station paving the way for women in the MENA region to climb to the highest ranks in their profession. With countries in the MENA building new cities in the desert, relying on new forms of smart construction and looking at how to incorporate more inclusive workforces in the real estate sector – an industry historically dominated by men – the outlook has many bright spots but is it enough to achieve gender parity in the industry?


The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) in the MENA region has around 1300 members of which only 190 are female, as of statistics from 2019. “The construction sector in the region has its challenges and, coupled with a transient workforce and unpredictable changes in the market, it is vital that our membership remains diverse and celebrates the pioneering women leading the way,” it says on its website.

According to Michelle Nelson, who has worked in the construction sector for more than 25 years and is a partner at the law firm Reed Smith, penned a report for The National in 2022, saying that the statistics from CIOB are aligned with other major global markets. For instance, women in the US comprise just over 10% of people working in the construction sector revealing that perhaps the low number of women is not only confined to the MENA but to the global industry.

According to UNESCO, 57% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) graduates are women in the MENA region, with the UAE leading the region with 61% of female students, demonstrating that there is significant interest in the field.

Nelson’s advice in her report for industry leaders is to drive understanding of the roles available in the construction sector, work closely with schools and universities and instil confidence in female graduates that the construction sector is a feasible career because the “continued advancement of the industry depends on the participation of more women”.


Last year real estate consultancy, JLL brought together companies from across the construction industry to visit schools in Dubai in order to create awareness around the industry and to increase female representation in the construction trade. 

The three-part programme provided a one-hour interactive presentation with speakers from different companies giving students an overview of the career opportunities available in the construction sector.

Louise Collins, Head of Project & Development Services, UAE, JLL, said that tapping into the female talent pool is crucial for the construction industry.

This is an opportunity for us to engage with young minds from across UAE schools and inspire them to consider the construction industry a career choice, she said.

According to an article by Irem Aksay, of Mace Group written on the company’s website last year the lack of female representation in the construction industry is not unique to the MENA but is a global business challenge.

However, Aksay notes in the article that there are many windows of opportunity in the MENA region. For instance, as part of KSA’s Vision 2030, the kingdom has been looking to increase female representation in the workforce from 22% to 30%, and with the rise of new cities and giga-projects, there is significant opportunity within the construction sector, so long as industry leaders empower and educate.

It’s this type of demand that creates the impetus to stamp out gender bias, and the onus is on organisations to be a force for that positive change. In the meantime, education, awareness and collaboration foster the right workplace behaviours and help us move the dial for the better,” says Aksay.



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