x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Emiratis working hard to wipe out stereotypes

Nationals give opinions of their reputation in the workplace and how it can be improved. They come up with one answer: lead by example.

Emirati Sahar Karmostaji at work. She says the new generation of Emirati employees is more educated, responsible and aware of their future, and thus more capable of ridding the workplace of cultural misconceptions. Sarah Dea / The National
Emirati Sahar Karmostaji at work. She says the new generation of Emirati employees is more educated, responsible and aware of their future, and thus more capable of ridding the workplace of cultural misconceptions. Sarah Dea / The National

Sahar Karmostaji finds her job creative, challenging and rewarding for anyone with the right attitude.

She knows that many people at her workplace, a semi-government company in Dubai, wrongly believe Emiratis are laid back and even unconscientious workers.

But Ms Karmostaji, 26, was determined that no one would form that opinion of her and her work.

"I decided to prove myself from the very beginning by working hard, to be seen as competitive as any other employee within the organisation," she said.

Ms Karmostaji believes it is not too late to combat cultural misconceptions because "the new generation is highly educated, more responsible and aware of their future, in comparison with those from the past.

"We are to blame for these stereotypes because we gave people the opportunity to do so," she said.

"The first step to putting an end to this misinformation is by rectifying ourselves, then influencing others around us to do the same.

"We Emiratis need to work hand-in-hand and encourage each other to work harder and become more productive to prove these perceptions incorrect."

Stereotypes are more easily created than modified or corrected, said Dr Samineh Shaheem, an assistant professor of psychology at Middlesex University in Dubai.

"Stereotyping is a natural process of trying to group together information through direct interaction or through word of mouth about particular people, places or objects," Dr Shaheem said.

She encouraged Emiratis to break free from their comfort zones and challenge themselves.

By doing this they will prove "they are not lazy; rather it's more about appreciating their privileged position and at the same time feeling both inspired and motivated to contribute towards the growth and development of their country", Dr Shaheem said.

The public sector is increasing its efforts to attract Emiratis, while still encouraging the private sector to hire citizens.

Emirati Saeed Al Shamsi, 23, quit his job at a public company because his workplace lacked collaboration and teamwork.

"I used to come early and work harder but no one cared about my existence," Mr Al Shamsi said. "Even the administration did not coordinate."

His colleagues arrived at work whenever they wanted and took sick leave as they pleased because "we didn't have strict rules".

Mr Al Shamsi is looking for a work environment in which people are cooperative, treat each other as family and good work is appreciated.

He suggested companies should be sure to match employees' skills to their jobs.

Mr Al Shamsi believes a system in which employees clocked in on arrival might encourage punctuality.

But some think that singling out only some parts of working life can strengthen stereotypes.

Alia Salem works for a private-sector company as an events organiser, a job that requires long hours.

She is a hard worker but finds it difficult to compete with colleagues who stay later. This causes a negative comparison between Emiratis and non-Emiratis, she said.

"I work with Asians and they stay until 9pm. I have rarely seen them leaving before that time," Ms Salem said. "I can't stay that long because I have a family."

Regardless, she enjoys her job. "I have completed my first year in this place and I have earned a lot of experiences and knowledge," she said.

Ms Salem said her boss had complimented her by telling her she was the best Emirati in the workplace.

She said perhaps the reason many Emiratis took their work lightly, especially in the public sector, was because they were pampered and knew they would not get sacked except in serious cases.

"When we start working responsibly and sincerely the idea of us being lazy will get deleted from people's minds slowly," she said.

There is a widespread misconception that Emiratis lack diligence and ambition, said Umm Mohammed, who works with Emiratis at the Ministry of Health.

But it is unfair to label everyone the same way, she said.

"I work with Emirati doctors and nurses. Overall, they are great people with great ideas," the Jordanian-Palestinian said. "Most are cooperative and productive".

aalhameli@thenational.ae