As a senior manager for Etihad Group and a mother of four, Saada Al Taei firmly believes that women in the UAE can achieve anything in their career – even if they want to take their ambitions abroad.
“The sky is no longer the limit,” says the senior manager in global business service solutions for the carrier. “We are treated as nationals and not categorised by gender. If you have drive, ambition and ability – the doors are open. You will get the support you need to succeed.”
Ms Al Taei, who joined the airline on the graduate programme in 2008, was speaking at Etihad’s Innovation Centre in Abu Dhabi at an event to celebrate the company’s female employees to tie in with the country’s second Emirati Women’s Day earlier this week.
“Etihad have shown us that we have a chance to grow and that we can challenge historical stereotypes,” she adds.
Ms Al Taei should know. She manages a team of almost 300, 97 per cent of whom are female with an average age of 28.
More than half of the 3,200 Emiratis employed by the airline are women, including nearly 50 pilots. And many have key international roles based overseas.
Among them is Fatima Al Mehairi, who at only 28 is the general manager for Canada in Toronto. She says she “always believed there are no barriers for Emirati women in what they want to achieve”, with her success beginning when she was awarded a scholarship from the UAE government for undergraduate study in France.
She studied business management at the University of Montpelier, learning to speak French and joined Etihad in 2012, based in Paris. Rising up the ranks quickly, Ms Al Mehairi spent her first year as a business development manager and her second as a corporate account manager.
Her final year in Paris was spent working as the assistant general manager, where she gained more experience on business strategy.
Her promotion to the Canada role came this year and she is also studying for an MBA in aerospace at the University of Toulouse.
“I take great pride in being an Emirati female and representing our country and national airline abroad – it is a great honour,” she says.
Other Etihad employees taking up prominent global positions include Arwa Al Shehhi, 27, marketing manager New York City, who credits her employer for helping her achieve her dreams of working internationally.
Ms Al Shehhi moved to the US city with Etihad in 2012 when she was 24, having graduated from United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain with a BA in mass communications. She also spent a year of her studies at Al Maktoum University in Dundee, Scotland where she was part of a leadership programme.
“Scotland was incredible. I love to travel and it was wonderful to be surrounded by the culture and history there and of course the cold weather was a real experience,” she says, admitting that being away from her family was daunting at first.
However, she now embraces her international career, saying she “loves living” in New York.
“I have incredible career opportunities and have met some very influential and inspiring people such as Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and head of the Bloomberg empire and Ban Ki Moon, secretary general of the United Nations,” adds Ms Al Shehhi.
Similarly, Einas Al Ameri, a manager of corporate affairs at Etihad who has been seconded to Sydney and also to Alitalia in Rome, has embraced the opportunity to travel and develop her career at Etihad.
She joined the airline eight years ago and says her secondment to Rome was the “best experience” of her career.
“Being in Europe, I felt that part of my role was to change perceptions of Emirati women. Now we are so much more than housewives and mothers locally and internationally and to be seen as a strong, educated, independent woman with choices is very important.”
Outside Etihad, another Emirati woman personifying innovation is Amal Aljasmi, a development engineer at Emirates Global Aluminium who has developed one of the UAE’s few patented technologies to be licensed and used abroad.
Ms Aljasmi was raised in Dubai and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan and later an MA in engineering management from the University of Wollongong in Dubai. Not only has she published eight technical papers and presented two at international conferences, but she has also received the Inventor Award from Takamul for her work on a start-up fuse for aluminium reduction cells patent.
“One of the keys to success is ambition,” she says. “As a young girl I wanted to be an inventor – someone who made people’s lives easier. I would like to encourage the young Emirati girls to have the confidence in their capabilities and to not underestimate what they can achieve. Have big dreams and work toward achieving them.”