Unemployment in several Gulf countries is high despite their oil wealth,making it harder for women to get jobs.
The activists, speaking at a two-day Gulf Cooperation Council women's meeting in the Omani capital Muscat, urged women to do more to break through the glass ceiling.
"Changes in the business and offices won't just happen if we don't improve our skills and the level of our education," Lujaina Muhsin Darwish, one of the two Omani women serving in the elected legislative council told reporters.
Other speakers urged women to boost their self-confidence and battle stereotypes that some say are fuelled by a
misinterpretation of Islam as well as chauvinism.
"Gulf women must fight the fear of being regarded as backward. We become an enemy to ourselves if we hesitate to grab chances," said Shaikha Hissa Saad al-Sabah, president of the Arab Women Labour Union and daughter of the Kuwaiti Crown Prince.
"Gulf women must fight the fear of being regarded as backward. We become an enemy to ourselves if we hesitate to grab chances"
Shaikha Hissa Saad al-Sabah, President of the Arab Women Labour Union
The Gulf Cooperation Council groups consists of Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Women in the six oil-rich states have come a long way in a relative short time but they are often overlooked in landing jobs in their conservative, male-dominated societies.
"We need to make these changes ourselves because men won't help since they see themselves as sole bread winners," Fatma Jasim, a Qatari businesswoman said.
In Kuwait, women have been fighting for suffrage and other political rights for the past 40 years,despite strong criticism
from conservative males including politicians.
Conservatives have also tried to block the efforts of women in Qatar to establish an equal footing with men. In 1999, the government allowed women to take part in municipal elections for the first time, only to face opposition from some religious groups and civil servants.
"We need to be represented politically in the elected chambers to get top jobs but it looks like we are at an infancy stage on that front," Omani businesswoman Aisha Ahmad said.
Although many Gulf women are graduates from British and US universities and can run for public office in Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, very few hold senior government posts or sit on the board in corporate business.