Women rise to leadership roles in UAE
Dubai - When Dubai won the right to host the World Expo 2020, it was Reem Al Hashemy, the UAE minister of state and managing director of the Dubai bid committee, who led the emirate’s team through many rounds of presentations.
Although there was a high-powered UAE delegation at the event, Hashemy became the face of Expo 2020 and a role model for many women in the United Arab Emirates.
In early May 2015, when the UAE announced its Mars mission, the 150-person Emirati team of engineers and scientists had several women at the forefront, including Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager and lead science investigator.
As Hashem and Amiri have shown, women in the UAE are proving themselves in education, health, public service, business and technology as well as in the arts, culture and sports.
“Women graduates outnumber male students in the UAE. This is obviously reflected in the workforce, notably in the public sector, where more than 60% of Emirati employees are women, holding top positions in administration, human resources, information technology and customer care,” said Pon Mohaideen Pitchai, human resources director of organisational development at Dubai Properties Group.
Pitchai noted that “the current generation of UAE women is fluent in English and that is likely to lead to more opportunities for them in the private sector”.
In addition to boosting education for women over the past few decades, the UAE has allocated 30% of its top government posts for women, further empowering them in the public sector.
In 2012, the UAE government decided that every board of directors in the country must have female representation. This was followed by the establishment of the Gulf Chapter for WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) in March 2013 in Abu Dhabi.
Family businesses are also providing opportunities for women in the UAE to show leadership mettle.
“Entrepreneurship is proving to be a key element in promoting empowerment of women in the UAE,” says Raja al-Gurg, managing director of Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, which provides products and services in the retail, building and construction sectors.
“By encouraging more women to be entrepreneurs, we are harnessing the largely untapped potential of women to become key contributors to the social and economic development of the society,” says Gurg, who made the 2015 Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women.
On her part, Fatima al-Jaber, chief operating officer of Al Jaber Group, who took the lead in setting up the Gulf chapter of WCD, advocates “a mixture between quotas and natural progression”. “There should be more initiatives to encourage women to be productive, including training opportunities, empowerment programmes, all combined with women-friendly laws in the workplace,” she said.
Pitchai, who is a regular columnist on human resources (HR) issues in the UAE and Gulf, says “more than the policies and systems, government should focus on human resources development, where the fundamentals of learning are strengthened.”
He admitted that additional support systems were needed for working women to balance home life and their careers. “A professional HR environment in business and institutional support are a must. Flexible work options will enable a good work-life balance. Employee welfare measures must also include laws to protect women’s rights,” Pitchai said. Economic and social pressures have led more Emirati women to seek jobs. “Effective coaching and mentoring is essential to create a good working environment, especially in the private sector, where performance plays a key role,” Pitchai said.
He noted that the private sector is being increasingly urged to improve gender diversity and encourage telecommuting that will allow women to work from home.
In the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum, which covers 133 countries, the UAE ranked first in the Middle East and North Africa region in terms of closing the gender gap in education, wage equality, political rights and health care.
UAE Minister of International Cooperation and Development Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi was also mentioned on the Forbes list, ranking as the 42nd most powerful woman in the world. She was praised by the publication for leading the UAE “into an unprecedented amount of philanthropy”.
The 2015 Global Women in Leadership Economic Forum is scheduled for November in Abu Dhabi and is planned to focus on advancing women’s participation in the workforce and increasing their business opportunities.