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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Emirati Women's Day: 'It’s a great time to be a woman'

This country offers many opportunities for women in the workplace, writes Victoria Blinova

Emirati women attending a Women's Day in Abu Dhabi in 2015. Christopher Pike / The National
Emirati women attending a Women's Day in Abu Dhabi in 2015. Christopher Pike / The National

In 2015, there were fewer women in top executive positions at large businesses worldwide than men named “John” in those same positions. Only 10 women currently serve as heads of state and nine as heads of government worldwide. Women around the world are underrepresented in leadership positions across both the public and private sectors.

For my capstone project at NYU Abu Dhabi, I decided to investigate the situation in the UAE by asking local women leaders for their opinions on the state of female leadership in the country. My research found that this country offers many opportunities for women to secure leading roles across major industries and sectors. Those interviewed believe that UAE’s current conditions empower women, and that the country’s diverse environment mitigates cases of discrimination.

Many of my interviewees shared positive insights on their experience with leadership throughout their careers. I learnt that female empowerment is a significant issue and topic of conversation in this country.

The interviewees highlighted the changing professional climate in the country, citing the ongoing development of UAE sectors and how the conditions in the country contribute to the empowerment of women in the workplace. One interviewee compared the UAE’s former working environment to that of the present, explaining that more women are now involved in her industry and that it has been made easier for other women to become industry leaders. She also stated that the UAE is now more open to the idea of women entering male-dominated fields, such as the one she works in. “It’s a great time to be a woman,” she emphasised.

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Interviewees also explained how the professional climate of the UAE encourages women to apply their skills across numerous industries as well as open their own businesses, a process that helps them to progress into leadership positions.

An interviewee referred to the UAE as a “door opener”, elaborating: “[in the UAE] there is a lot of focus on empowering and engaging women. That’s why I was given so many opportunities.”

Another female industry leader explained that she had years of experience working in Asia and North America, but she was able to use her skills with a different trajectory when she arrived in this country. “What is great about the UAE is that it's given me a lot of opportunities to start a business”.

Other women in leadership positions emphasised that the UAE and its workplace environment is such that women are mostly judged on merit, as opposed to gender.

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“During previous working experiences abroad, gender meant that you were discriminated against. So you had to work twice as hard as a man to get to where you were. But today in Dubai and the UAE, women are appreciated. They are respected,” an interviewee stated.

A different industry leader had similar experiences: “Since I've come to the UAE, it has been interesting to see that discrimination is less of a factor in the workplace. I have found that you're judged on your hard work in the UAE, and I have to say that we don't have that same level of unfairness and unconscious gender bias.”

She believes that this was the case because of the diverse workplace environment in this country. Elaborating on her point, she observed that as there are people of different nationalities, ages and sexes working together, this provides less incentive for these groups to go out together after work to take part in male-dominated activities after work, such as watching football.

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Many of the interviewees responded to the questions offered to them, expressing explicit interest in the future of younger generations. It will be interesting to see where the UAE can progress to from here in terms of female representation in leading positions across local industries and sectors.

The interviewees in this project predominantly consisted of women who were able to reach leadership positions, meaning that there is further research to be undertaken into women’s leadership in the UAE in order to better investigate the state of women in leadership positions across local industries, including women who were not able to reach those positions.

I hope to engage with more current female industry leaders in order to further advance the cause of female empowerment in the country. After all, we can all agree we want more women as CEOs than men named “John”.

Victoria Blinova is a graduate of New York University Abu Dhabi

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