A recent study suggests that although women are better skilled than men, it is harder for them to find work.
Women are 'underutilised'
DUBAI // Emirati women generally have more education than Emirati men, but they are less likely than men to find jobs, according to a recent study.
"Female nationals are a valuable human capital resource in the UAE - one that is significantly underutilised," said Dr Emilie Rutledge, assistant professor of economics at UAE University.
"Existing evidence suggests females find it much harder to find employment than their male national counterparts, yet paradoxically they typically have much higher levels of educational attainment," she said.
She said officials should implement more gender-aware labour policies to correct the imbalance.
"While labour nationalisation policies have acted to increase female labour force participation, many more gender-aware policies need to be implemented," she said.
A paper to which Dr Rutledge contributed, titled "Women, labour market nationalisation policies and human resource development in the Arab Gulf States," will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Human Resource Development International in April.
Four researchers, including three in the UAE and one in Saudi Arabia, collaborated on the paper and interviewed policy makers who are directly involved in the Emiratisation and Saudisation processes.
Dr Rutledge said Emirati women need to be more willing to travel in order to take full advantage of their employment opportunities.
Other notions that need addressing involve family constraints, such as parents who frown on their daughters' working in a mixed-gender environment, or the perception that women who work in the private sector only do so because they do not have adequate wasta (connections), explained Dr Rutledge.
"Some private-sector employers are unwilling to recruit from [among women], either because they believe it might be costly in infrastructural terms or because it would be costly if the newly recruited national female employee was to be 'offended' in some way by an incumbent non-national employee," Dr Rutledge said.
The study stresses that labour nationalisation bodies need to improve their monitoring and evaluation of the consequence of policies in a gender-sensitive way.
Political reforms that have resulted in women being appointed to senior positions can broadly be seen as part of the process to "normalise" the role of women in the workplace, the researchers state.
"Increasing women's participation will depend not only on their motivation, but also on the ability of society to accept new roles for women and remove existing barriers to economic integration," said fellow researcher Dr Fatima al Shamsi, secretary general at UAE University and faculty member at the Economics Department.
Dr al Shamsi, who has also served as a consultant to the UAE National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority, added, "Above all, women should not shy away from the kind of work that was previously reserved for men, and they should impose their skills and education on the labour market, and not let the market impose the marginal and secondary positions on them."
Interviewees also said conditions in the private sector - like a lack of child care, flexible working hours and length of maternity leave - were also contributing factors that needed to be tackled to increase female participation.
"There is over-representation of women in lower-paid and non-decision making positions," Dr al Shamsi said.
ABU DHABI // At the annual Tawdheef job fair in the capital last week, Emirati women did not seem to be shying away from employment in the private sector.
Eman Obaid, a 24-year-old civil engineering graduate from Valparaiso University in the US, said at least 90 per cent of the employees in her department at the bank where she works were foreigners.
“The number is too high, but it also varies from company to company depending on the department itself and who is making the employment decisions,” said Ms Obaid, an Emirati woman who is currently searching for an attractive salary offer in a job related to her field.
“I have recently seen more efforts to hire nationals so that we can at least create the right balance,” she said. “We need more Emiratis in the private sector so that we can have an equal chance at a more professional future.
“I have no problem working in the private sector, but the salaries seemed to have changed very little over the last couple of years, and that is a problem,” she said. “I am looking for a position that comes with an attractive financial security plan.”
Sabah Rashid, a 28-year-old Emirati, said that although opportunities for Emiratis were fewer in the private sector, she would not say, “no” if an offer came her way.
“I am hoping for a job in customer services, whether that is in the private sector or otherwise, I do not mind too much,” Mrs Rashid said.
Ms Obaid said that, after living and studying in the US, she doubted that working in a mixed-gender environment would stop her from accepting a particular job.
However, for Hind Ahmed, a 23-year-old Emirati, government offers were simply more lucrative, particularly in terms of retirement.
“At the moment, the government offers far better end-of-service packages,” she said.