DUBAI // Fatima Rashid says she wanted her job at an international chemicals company to be a success, but after five months the 22-year-old Emirati has had enough.
The warning signs were there when she met her future employers: in her interview she was told Emiratis are "known to be lazy".
After she accepted the job, her managers often asked her to go to dinners where alcohol was served.
"It was extremely inappropriate," Ms Rashid said. "I was underestimated and under-appreciated, which was frustrating for me because I am ambitious and I really tried."
Many other graduates who joined the private sector after leaving university also had problems.
Dr Jasim Al Ali, the director of human resources at the Department of Economic Development in Dubai, estimates between 10 and 15 per cent of Emiratis who joined the private sector have left because of cultural differences and discrimination.
Among the 3.8 million workers in the private sector, only between 20,000 and 30,000 are Emiratis, according to Ministry of Labour data.
This is despite Cabinet Resolution Number 26 of last year, which states Emiratis should make up at least 15 per cent of the total staff in a private company.
Dr Al Ali, who in 2008 did his PhD thesis on Structural Barriers to Emiratisation, suggests the Government could do more than implement a quota system. He believes the private sector should receive encouragement and training to retain Emirati employees.
"If you want to hire a UAE national you have to pay them three to four times more than expatriates," Dr Al Ali said. "So then you recruit expatriates who perform better, take less salary and obey you, where sometimes a UAE national is resistant and would say, 'This is not related to our culture', or 'I can't work after hours'."
For Emirati employees in the private sector, according to the Emirates National Development Programme, the three main challenges are long working hours, low compensation packages and unprofessional line managers.
Noora Al Bedur, the director of the Employment and Skills Development Centre at the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority, said private company operators should make more of an effort to understand the UAE culture and avoid such complaints.
"Employers should get to know our religion, culture and traditions, so dealing with the Emirati employee becomes easier," Ms Al Bedur said.
She listed prayer breaks and interactions between men and women as examples of simple pitfalls, and said companies needed to develop Emirati talents as part of their corporate social responsibilities.
Rania Ahmed, 21, took a job in human resources administration nine months ago but is considering switching to a government job.
"The experience hasn't been good so far," Ms Ahmed said. "They needed to fill a receptionist slot so they put me there."
She said many Emiratis in the private sector wanted to grow "but they don't give us a chance".
Ayesha, who declined to give her last name, worked at an auditing firm for eight months before switching to a government company.
"My experience was not all bad and I would recommend working in the private sector as you'll get experience," Ayesha said. "But they still didn't give me as much work as my colleague who is at the same level."
Dr Al Ali explained: "There is no career path for UAE nationals, therefore they are leaving the organisation due to no future and no mentoring."
Mohammed Khammas is an Emirati who made it to the top in the private sector: he is the chief executive of Al Ahli Holding Group. Mr Khammas said Emiratis were too dependent on the Government for employment.
"We believe we have a natural-born right to a job when we graduate," he said. "That's where I believe we may be a little bit unappreciative of Government."
Mr Khammas said a good work ethic should be taught in universities: "That, plus a sense of adventure and professionalism, is what will take individuals to the next level."
Dr Al Ali said the system should prepare the local population to be creative, have critical thinking, be innovative and learn different leadership and management styles.
"We have to change the mindsets of Emiratis: the future is in the private sector."