x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Centre aims to bridge the cultural gap in workplace

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai is trying to bridge the gap between Emiratis and non-Emiratis in the workplace

A cultural centre in Dubai has set up a new programme in an effort to bridge the divide between Emirati and non-Emirati employees in the workplace.

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai has set up an initiative aimed at large companies that involves offering presentations to employees and addressing questions staff have about Emirati and Arab culture.

"The initiative is bringing the corporates of Dubai and all business institutions to become partners with us, so we are partnering with big banks, companies at large, to have their staff run through our programme and allow them the freedom to ask, and that enhances the knowledge and alleviates the misconceptions," said Nasif Kayed, the general manager of the centre.

"It becomes less stressful to live in a place [when you don't] have so many unanswered questions. We do indirectly enhance their ability to make deals. It yields better productivity."

He said that typical questions from companies were related to how they should deal with an underperforming Emirati and how western male employees should interact with female Emirati colleagues.

The cultural differences constantly throw up new questions.

In one example, the centre was presented with a case where a Muslim accountant at a resort refused to process invoices that were related to alcohol purchases. "They asked if this was true," said Mr Kayed. "I said 'no, alcohol is prohibited if you drink it, if you sell it, not if you process an invoice'.

"Also banks for example have questions about emiratisation. How do we deal with them? How do we hire them? Why do we have to emiratise?"

Mr Kayed said the centre also had a programme for Emiratis to help them understand other cultures.

"How to understand westerners and Asians and how to accommodate their needs while they accommodate your needs, working on Friday, not working on Friday, prayer breaks."

The centre was set up as a not-for-profit organisation about 15 years ago. It now conducts mosque visits, breakfasts and lunches for expatriates to learn about Emirati culture, Emarati Arabic classes and walking tours.

"The principle was that it was started to simply answer people's questions and a lot of these questions were 'can we visit an Emirati home? Can we go to a mosque?' Last year we launched the 'freedom to ask', so people don't feel embarrassment about asking tedious questions regarding many misconceptions that go on, talking about 'Emiratis can't hold hands, why do women cover their faces because the men make them', and all these things."

Mr Kayed said companies either paid for the programme or offered their services or products in return for sessions.