Better – but room for improvement
DUBAI // Despite the support of the UAE leadership to boost the status of women in the workplace there is a long way to go, experts claimed on International Women’s Day on Tuesday.
“We all have a lot of work to do,” said Lubna Qassim, executive vice president, company secretary and general counsel for Emirates NBD bank, speaking at the Pledge for Parity event in Dubai held to mark the occasion.
“We clearly want a better future for our daughters and grand-daughters. We’ve been talking about women’s equality for four or five decades and the only difference is women weren’t talking about the challenges which we are today.”
The issue must be tackled from the chief executives of companies – the people at the top, Ms Qassim said.
“It’s the people at the top not taking responsibility for this,” she said. “We’re not talking about women at entry level. Those results are fantastic. It’s as we escalate up the ladder. Men are just clueless how to do this.”
For the past three decades, women have been educated and nurtured, and have flourished, she said, but one of the biggest obstacles was “that men are not leading it”.
“Another blocker is women themselves. We often talk about the glass ceiling, but women aren’t confident enough thinking ‘I can do it’,” said Ms Qassim. “We’re too shy to speak, we’re worried how we’ll be perceived – will I be judged to be bossy? Men don’t even go through all that thinking. The thinking comes afterwards.”
Habiba Al Marashi, chairwoman of the Emirates Environmental Group, agreed, saying the country needed “programmes in our schools and universities that make our girls more confident in their ability”.
“Women need to have more confidence in themselves and to be supported by our male colleagues,” she said.
Ms Qassim said that, as an Emirati, she was “privileged”.
“The leadership understands women mean business,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges is although the leadership is very progressive, empowering women left, right and centre, are the men ready for this?”
Though men had many female role models at home, they lacked them in the workplace, said Ms Qassim.
Ms Al Marashi said the private sector needed to play a stronger role. “We do have the leadership support and the political will is there, but we need the private sector to be a good player and remove the barriers that are there,” she said.
For women in the likes of the Northern Emirates, she said, more must be done to make conditions culturally appropriate for them to come to the cities and work.
“Companies need to provide an enabling environment,” she said. “These are issues the private sector should take seriously to ensure women make up half the workforce of the UAE.”
Ms Al Marashi said: “It’s a seven million population and growing. How can you expect to deliver and feed and prosper and benefit the whole population with only half of it delivering? To work with women is not a luxury, but a must,” she said.