The Emirati striving to empower women in the workplace
DUBAI // Shamsa Saleh is at the forefront of advancing the lives and championing the rights of UAE women.
As chief executive of Dubai Women Establishment, it is her job to shape an environment where women have the opportunities and support they need to build businesses and careers.
“Women are empowered now, there is no question,” she said. “Now we need to increase participation and to utilise these empowered women for society and economy.”
Among the initiatives she has launched is one she is particularly proud of – the National Corporate Child Care Project, which pushes for childcare facilities in all government offices where there are more than 50 female employees.
Since 2008, more than a dozen nurseries have been established across the emirate in workplaces such as Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and Dubai Customs, helping to attract and retain female staff and making it easier for women to return to work after giving birth.
There is also one at the Dubai Women Establishment, where mother-of-three Ms Saleh drops her four-year-old daughter Mariam off each morning before heading to her office.
“It means a working woman can feel ‘the kids are with me’,” said Ms Saleh. “Some women never know what is happening with their children’s development when they leave them for seven or eight hours.
“This environment is much better for all concerned and so many mothers say this has had such an impact on them.
“More than 1,000 women are now getting the benefits from these nurseries. It is helping more workplaces to be gender-friendly and reducing women turnover.”
Among the 35-year-old’s highlights as chief executive is bringing the Middle East’s first Global Women’s Forum to Dubai. Held earlier this year, it was aimed at dispelling stereotypes of Arab women and promoting their achievements.
About 3,000 participants and speakers – including Queen Rania of Jordan, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, Mauritian president Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde – gathered to boost women’s influence, design plans to encourage their greater contribution and promote diversity in the business world.
“It was a proud moment,” said Ms Saleh. “It was a milestone for women in Dubai.”
In 2008, when she began her career with Dubai Women Establishment as director of strategic and corporate development, she was nervous, she said.
“I wasn’t sure I was ready,” said Ms Saleh, who became chief executive in 2010. “But my team, full of superwomen, are my backbone.”
Ms Saleh credits her strong work ethic and belief in gender equality to her parents, saying her father believed his five daughters and five sons could grow up to be what they wanted to be. It is a message she now stresses to her own children.
“I want them to be pioneers in whichever field they choose, whichever path they want to go down,” she said.
This echoes in her determination to bring more women into leadership positions through the Women in Boards initiative, led by the Mudara Institute of Directors, which trains women in for management roles.
“We are aiming for 20 per cent, in both the private and government sectors, by 2020,” she said.
Ms Saleh does not just want societal attitudes to change – she wants women to be ready to assume the challenge of leading.
Through Hawkamah, the corporate governance institute which focuses on capacity building and empowerment through a special director development programme, 30 Emirati women are ready to take on such roles.
Mireille Babti, chief development officer at the Bahraini company Edamah, was part of the programme.
“The experience was intellectually challenging and emotionally inspiring – a priceless milestone in my career path,” she said.
Fahima Al Bastaki, executive vice president and head of business development division at Dubai Financial Market, said she was glad to have been one of the first participants of the programme. “The women’s directors programme come at the right time as we see a rise in the representation of women on boards.”
The History Project: The many faces of her story