Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Work-Life Balance, Family-Friendly Policies and Quality of Work Life Issues: Studying Employers' Perspectives of Working Women in Oman

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Work-Life Balance, Family-Friendly Policies and Quality of Work Life Issues: Studying Employers' Perspectives of Working Women in Oman

Article excerpt

Introduction

Family-Friendly Policies (FFPs) aim to help employees manage their family responsibilities (Albrecht, 2003). These policies create flexible work conditions and enable women to perform better on both domestic and work fronts (Subramaniam and Selvaratnam, 2010; Beham and Drobnic, 2010), thereby increasing the quality of work life (QWL). Hence, FFPs are beneficial to both employees and their companies (Porter and Ayman, 2010: 28-32).

Women in Oman have started serving the workforce in large numbers and managing their work and family simultaneously. This trend is expected to continue in the future as more and more women register in the higher educational or vocational institutions within the country. Currently, women comprise 55% of the total work force in Oman (MONE, 2010) and contribute significantly in education, health, media, banking and other business sectors (Khanduri, 2007). Oman is now at the forefront of integrating women into all facets of society (Buzella, 2010) and is witnessing a sea change in its workforce composition.

According to Al-Shaibany (2011a), "Twenty-five years earlier, there were only about 8,000 working mothers in the private and government sectors taken together in Oman, compared to 32,000 now." Out of 1.25 million people working in various industries in Oman, over 35 per cent are women, and the gap indicating the composition of males and females, according to both the civil service and manpower ministries' statistics, is narrowing down each year (Omaninfo.com, 2010). Furthermore, graduate statistics of universities indicate an increasing trend for the number of women pass-outs (approximately 70% on an average) in comparison to males.

These facts are indicative of the future workforce of Oman where women will have a larger role to play. However, this increase in the participation of women in the workforce will impose additional challenges on the QWL front and will demand some special considerations such as FFPs (Belwal et al, 2012). FFPs and QWL issues are, therefore, expected to dominate the future governmental and organizational agenda. Following a review of relevant literature and discussions held with the top-level managers of select business organizations, this paper studies the FFPs and QWL-related issues that demand a timely attention in Oman. The major aim of this study is: (i) to investigate the nature of FFPs that employers in the public, private and government sectors practice in Oman, and (ii) to assess managers' perception of QWL-related issues prevailing in Oman.

The Situation of Women in Oman

The discrepancy between genders is inherent in the Omani codifications of male and female identities, where the girls are "carefully confined to the home and the neighborhood", unlike boys, who are "allowed to explore even more distant reaches" (Wikan, 1982: 83). Like patriarchal societies from the Arab/Islamic world, women in Oman have traditionally played exclusively domestic roles, but the recent acculturation and the spread of education have brought new roles and opportunities for women (Al-Sarbati et al., 2003). Although women's autonomy in Oman is still limited, there have been some improvements since the 1980s. Al Riyami et al. (2004), in their study of 1968 households, found women scoring a mean autonomy level of 1.2 on a 5-point scale that probed their decisions regarding the self-choice of spouse, participation in the workforce, employment as personal fulfillment, looking after self-health and insisting on one's own opinion in case of disagreement. However, the educated women (those with a secondary school or higher education) scored higher (2.3) than the uneducated ones (0.9).

The educational scenario of Oman is fast changing. The public elementary schools that were limited only to a few prominent towns such as Sohar in 1972 (Wikan, 1982), have emerged almost in every locality. Ten years ago, according to Al Riyami, Affifi, and Mabry (2004), women aged 60 plus barely had 12 or more years of education compared to men (4. …

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