x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Halfway there in push for true gender equality

As a new survey shows, efforts to empower women in the UAE – at school and on the job – are yielding results. But there is much more work to be done.

Efforts to empower women in the UAE - at school and on the job - are yielding results. As The National reported yesterday, the findings of a new survey on gender and equality in the workplace suggest that there is a sweeping change of attitude towards women in this country.

Conducted for Al Aan TV's Arab Pulse programme, the survey of 760 people highlights a number of important trends: prospective parents value girls as much as boys; and people see women as better communicators and far better colleagues.

But perhaps the most significant finding is that nearly half of the survey's respondents say they have no preference on their boss's gender. Man or woman, it makes no difference. More surprising still is that these numbers were culled from a cross-section of UAE society, from Arab and western expatriates to Emiratis.

Gender bias has long been a major setback for economic and social reforms in this region and far beyond. For many years, the UAE identified that challenge and took significant, even bold steps to overcome this bias. Encouraging women to head ministries, be speakers of the Federal National Council or head executive offices - the idea was to allow these changes to trickle down and affect people's perception of women as capable leaders. In this sense, the positive responses are not unexpected.

Nonetheless, for nearly half of the survey's respondents, there remains much work to be done.

Gender equality is a never ending ideal, and there is no survey that will suggest the work is complete. Amanda Nimon Peters, dean of Hult International Business School Dubai, says that what's needed now are initiatives that "shape or change people's perceptions". She's right. Even now there are people who would hesitate to accept a job if their boss was a woman. In some professions, workers can also be biased against female managers.

Structural and social hurdles in the working environment can still slow a woman's march up the corporate ladder. Progress can be impeded by the perceived need to marry and start a family. Familial and social pressure can push a successful woman to either give up her job or seek a less demanding one. And for women who refuse to choose, insufficient maternity leave and child care policies can force a family's hand.

Women have been at the forefront of success, progress and development of this country for decades, excelling in education, business and politics. Changing people's attitudes - those in the other half of this recent survey - is key to the UAE's future.