Dear Ali: What would be the best way to show my appreciation and support to our new Emirati employee who joined our company recently? She is really great and having her in our company makes us all proud because we were so keen to hire Emiratis in our private-sector field. She seems a bit conservative due to her full hijab and that she uses our prayer room. SA, Dubai
Dear SA: I'm excited for you as much as I'm excited for your Emirati colleague. So congratulations to you all and I hope this becomes the first step of growing the number of Emirati employees at your private-sector company.
In terms of how to show your appreciation and support, I would say it's by your actions and reactions to the challenges she faces and how you help and encourage her to overcome these challenges.
For example, even if your Emirati employee speaks good English, being in the private sector it is very likely that she will deal with more people who speak primarily in English and this can be challenging sometimes, as she will have to always express and report her work in English and many of us who speak a second language - in our case English - tend to be hesitant to use emails a lot as our writing skills in the second language may not be as great as our spoken skills. Given this challenge, I would encourage you to find a way to communicate this to her and make her feel comfortable and confident. Let her know that even if she makes a mistake in an email or a report she won't be ridiculed or reprimanded and that you are willing to work with her. Stress that you appreciate that she is trying so hard. Be sure to also let her know that over time, she will get better and offer her plenty of encouragement and the support she needs to get better.
You mentioned that she is more conservative, that she wears the hijab and prays in a prayer room. The fact that your company offers a prayer room shows me that your company is already showing great appreciation and support for the employee's religion and customs. This itself is an indication of appreciation, which I, too, appreciate a lot, but of course, this shouldn't be causing any disruptions in the work that she is supposed to be handling.
Another way of showing support is by keeping her informed of her performance, letting her know where she stands and whether what she is doing is on the right track or needs to be changed - while explaining why and how this will benefit her and the company.
I would also advise you to make sure that your company employees who are not used to working with Emiratis understand that we shouldn't be treating the Emirati employee differently. There are, however, some basic inter-cultural tips that everyone should consider: from shaking hands, to mingling, to the physical distance one should maintain, touching and so on. It will make your whole staff feel more comfortable if the company culture is built in a way so as to embrace the Emirati etiquettes - whether working with each other or not.
Last but not least, always remember, Emiratis will give their heart and mind to whoever they believe in, respect and honour. So as long as the company is showing respect for her identity, faith and personal development, I'm sure she won't hesitate for a second to give her whole soul to work and serve your mission and vision.
Let her be aware of her future within your company - we learn fast and grow faster - hence we dream big all the time. This shouldn't mean that she becomes a manager right away, but at least she needs to know, like every employee at any company, that she is going to grow in your company as long as she is delivering as expected and performing well.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.