Emirati women now make up about two thirds of the UAE's public sector workforce, but certain barriers are keeping all but a few from breaking into private enterprises.
Only 4 per cent of female Emiratis currently working are employed within the country's private sector, said Almas Jiwani, the president of the Canadian National Committee for the UN Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls.
Ms Jiwani and other prominent businesswomen who spoke at the Women in Leadership forum in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday cited the importance of pursuing specialised education for kickstarting a successful career in the private arena.
Women now constitute more than 60 per cent of university graduates within the Emirates, and a growing number are moving into traditionally male-dominated fields such as engineering, technology and petroleum, said Fatima Al Jaber, the chief operating officer of Al Jaber Group.
"Education is the cornerstone of shaping and developing our careers."
But the large size of government organisations throughout the Gulf region still "encourages the kind of education of going into fairly unskilled type of learning [to become] a clerk or normal employee in the public sector," warned Alia Moubayed, the director and senior economist in the Middle East and North Africa at Barclays Capital.
"You have a good wage and benefits, so people are less incentivised to learn quantum physics or maybe financial engineering, and jump on the challenges" of the private sector, she said.
Many private companies in the UAE try to recruit female Emiratis from college career fairs, but by that time, it is too late, experts said.
"For Emirati girls, they have perhaps made up their mind [to go into the public sector] by the time they go into university," said Belinda Scott, a senior manager at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD).
She said NBAD was now engaging with girls in junior schools, as well as their parents, to educate them about the kinds of jobs available in the private sector.
Executives also called on private firms to provide greater adaptability so women could successfully juggle family life and careers. Certain work, such as business analytics or research and product development, could be done from home.
"Where the government scores over private is they give [women] a more flexible environment to work," said Sanjay Modi,the managing director of the job-search site Monster.com in the Middle East, South East Asia and India, who spoke at the Abu Dhabi event.
While some companies provide the necessary technology to work from home, they need to be more proactive about communicating this benefit, as well as other perks, while women are actually searching for jobs, experts recommend.
"The opportunities for growth, career development [and] training are often much more available in the private sector than the government sector," said Ms Scott.