Stress at work: Emirati women fit into new roles

My column last week on the role of Emirati women, elicited much interest, so I approached a colleague of mine Professor Nick Forster from Zayed University for some of his research on the topic.

Although Emirati women have made remarkable advances in the workplace over the last decade, it perhaps is not surprising that many of them still encounter barriers in their careers. For example, while the Global Gender Gap Report 2010, places the UAE in first position among Arab countries for equality of opportunity for women; in global terms, it is still near the bottom.  Given the access that Emirati women have had to higher education and the workplace for more than a decade, why does the UAE still have this low international ranking?


Professor Forster has surveyed several hundred Emirati men and women over the last two years, to ascertain if their attitudes towards women in the workplace are changing and his research indicates that there are three principal factors.

 The first factor is cultural. The UAE is still a very traditional Islamic society, with deeply-held beliefs about the appropriate public and private roles of Emirati women, and their responsibilities to their communities and families. His preliminary research findings indicate that only about one-quarter of Emirati men are fully supportive of women pursuing professional careers and becoming business leaders.  Although older Emirati men are generally more conservative in their attitudes, there is a significant minority of younger Emirati men who believe that a woman’s primary place is in the home.

 The second factor. While there is some participation in the private sector, and more Emirati women have become involved in business start-ups, the proportion working in this area remains insignificant and few work in science or, technology. In fact, almost all Emirati women still choose to work in the public sector. They can earn good salaries, are able work in environments that are respectful and, because of the working hours, they can generally enjoy a good work-family balance.

The third factor.  Almost all of the Emirati women he interviewed said that the longer working hours expected in private sector organizations remains a barrier, and is one that had a significant influence on their choice of careers. It is one of the main reasons why many young Emirati women still choose to work in public sector organizations. It is also clear that those Emirati women who do work in the private-sector have greater challenges in balancing their demands of their jobs and with those of their families.

But, if more Emirati women are to emerge as business leaders in the future, they must develop their self-confidence and, perhaps, renegotiate their responsibilities with their families. The challenge for the UAE is to create an environment where Emirati women can pursue any career they choose in the future, and know that they will be judged on the basis of their work performance and not on their gender.

The role of the Emirati Businesswomen

  1. Emirati women still encounter barriers to work outside the home
  2. Long working hours are detrimental to domestic harmony
  3. There is still male opposition to females in business and leadership

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

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