Emirati women have more rights than women from any other Arab country, according to a recent UN report. But are they fully satisfied with their place in the working world?
Meet the Panel
Ohood Khamis Al Suwaidi
Marketing and communication director for Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.
Maryam Al Serkal
Head of Excellence Initiatives, Government Excellence.
Dr Hana Ali Obaid
Head of Nad Al Sheba Health Centre, Family Medicine.
Fatma Mohammed Salem
Executive vice president & commercial director – UAE Region Operations Department, Jebel Ali Free Zone.
Fatma Bin Sulaiman Al Shehhi
Assistant human resources manager, Dubai Cares.
Manager, Management Account – Financial Reporting.
Fatma Obaid Farham
Marketing manager at Aviation City.
Which fields are particularly popular with Emirati women today?
Dr Hana: Education and health care. As a doctor, I see lots of Emirati women contributing more towards the healthcare sphere than other specialities.
Ohood: Emirati women dominate administrative positions, either in junior or senior roles. You also see a lot of us in marketing and designing.
Fatma Salem: I see lots of women joining me in the commercial sector. Emirati women are hitting every field!
Do you think anything has changed, say, in the past five years to encourage women to go into any and every sector?
Fatma Salem: Definitely. There’s lots of change – you can see women now taking roles at management level: directors, department and zone heads.
Do you think there are stereotypes about Emirati women as employees in Dubai?
Fatma Farhan: I think there are. Firstly, Emirati women are thought of as more educated than men. We are very enthusiastic and motivated to work in any field. But the generalisation about nationals among expats is that we don’t work hard.
Reema Karam: Hopefully, as more women go into the private sector and speak out in the media, perceptions will change. However, it’s important to remember that our population is still less than one million and that we are a minority. We are not as visible as many other nationalities.
With so many expats looking for jobs over here, do you ever feel that you’re at a disadvantage?
Dr Hanan: Extra competition forces us to improve our competency levels and allows us to learn from others. On the other hand, it does seem that some opportunities are taken away from Emirati women. It is both an advantage and also a disadvantage.
Fatma Farhan: We need to understand why we are missing out on roles to expats. For example, is it because local women are deemed more expensive?
Maryam: At the end of the day, we are all coordinating with each other to provide something good for the country, for the community, and for the world we all live in.
Is there any pressure left on Emirati women to stay at home and raise a family? Is the idea of women working ever frowned upon now?
Fatma Salem: I don’t think any pressure remains. The government is encouraging Arab women to join the workforce. Women are performing better than men in education and doing well in government sectors. A lot of Emirati women are also outperforming men in the private sector, even though the long working hours are supposed to put locals off. A lot of women are going into that sector supported by their families and the Government.
Fatma Farham: You can see that the attitude of Emirati men towards women working has changed: they are more supportive now, both as husbands and managers.
How does the Government encourage women to work? Are there special schemes?
Maryam: It has introduced flexible hours, for example.
Dr Hanan: These flexi-hours include maternity leave – and each government department has introduced a nursery so that women can be near their children and breastfeed them when they’re young. I think this shows great support for us ladies.
Have these things been introduced relatively recently? [Everyone says yes]
Fatma Salem: The Government has opened up more positions to women, such as ambassadors and judges.
Maryam: Now we have female aviation captains, climbers and engineers. We have entered many fields that were previously considered ‘taboo’.
Dr Hanan: Women have proven that they can achieve a healthy work-life personal balance. Also, most families now encourage young girls to continue their education from secondary to college to university. Women are encouraging girls to contribute back to the society that has provided so much for them.
Maryam: The government is keen to empower women. There is a continuous assessment of our development in the UAE. We have the Women’s Union, which regularly evaluates any weaknesses. For example, they introduced literacy programmes when they found out that women were uneducated. Now lots of e-literacy programmes have been launched to educate women in IT.
Would you say this generation is very, very different from the one before?
Ohood: Absolutely. We can see a transformation between the generations from decade to decade – we’re marching to a very fast beat, especially here in Dubai.
Are there any sectors that you feel still aren’t open to you, as an Emirati woman?
Fatma Salem: I don’t think so. Women are doing construction site inspections alongside men – they even go in the heat, in the sun, exactly the same as men.
Do you think there’s a lot of pressure on Emirati women to ‘do it all’: to be a leader at home and at work?
Ohood: If we are working, we are expected by our men to also fulfil our positions as mothers and wives. Yet now the new generation of men will share family responsibilities and be supportive of our work.
Fatma Farhan: In Dubai there is pressure to have a second household income. It’s no longer enough to have one person provide for the family, so there is a need for the woman to also work to provide a certain standard of life. Men even look for a woman who works so she can support them in life!
Myriam: Women always have to multi-task. This is true not only of UAE women, but of women all over the world.
Dr Hanan: I’m a physician and I also have a nine-month-old child. It’s a very stressful life. It’s not easy. Women shouldn’t forget to enjoy their lives and to have a social life as well as a good career.
Maryam: Women can always relieve stress by going shopping! [everyone laughs].
How about salaries? Do Emirati women and men earn the same wage for the same job roles?
Fatma Salem: In the private sector, I don’t think there is big difference between them. People get paid for whichever role they do.
Fatma Al Shehhi: As an HR manager I know for certain that salaries depend on your title and position, rather than your gender.
Do you ever feel you have fewer opportunities than Western women?
Maryam: There are certain things that Western women are still ahead with, such as getting into the boardroom. A higher percentage of Western women have senior jobs than Emirati women.
Fatma Salem: I agree with Maryam, but I think it’s unfair to compare us because we have much, much less experience in the working world than women in Europe or the West. With all the support that we are getting here, eventually we will see more women in boardrooms. A lot of us in this room are the first women in the UAE to hold leadership positions – and I can see it happening more and more in future.
Fatma Al Shehhi: Education is now key to women’s development. We don’t have local education in engineering and chemistry, but the Government is starting to work with international universities to bring those majors to our country for both women and men.
Fatma Salem: Emirati women have the same intellect and talent as Western women. It’s just the amount of opportunities that differ from country to country.
Which Emirati women do you admire?
Fatema Salem: HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak [wife of the late HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan]. She has a fingerprint on all Emirati women and we all know it.
Hanan: HH Sheikha Fatima is the mother of the UAE. She founded the UAE Women’s Federation. She was first to take the UAE woman internationally.
Fatma Farhan: HH Sheikha Lubna Khalid Sultan al Qasimi, because, as the minister for foreign trade, she’s the first woman to become an international ambassador. She started from humble beginnings and her experience is inspiring.
What advice would you give to Emirati girls starting their careers?
Ohood: To work really hard and make their dreams come true. They have all the opportunities and support they could hope for from the government and their families.
Fatma Salem: I would advise them to focus, believe in themselves and to prove themselves according to their personalities, rather than taking on the personalities of others at work.
Fatma Farhan: They should take advantage of all the opportunities available to them. We had to prove ourselves when there was nothing, but they now have to prove themselves when everything is available.
Fatma Al Shehhi: They have to work on improving themselves from right now. They shouldn’t wait until they graduate.
Fatma Salem: They should choose the right career for themselves and not jump from one field to another and disturb their whole life. But, most importantly, they have to love doing whatever they’re doing. They have to love it!
Finally, do you think there are any particular pressures on Emirati men in the working world? [everyone laughs]
Maryam: The threat of more educated women competing with them! The idea of us coming up with initiatives, coming up with more ideas than them. Studies show that Emirati women are more committed to whatever they do in terms of work than men.
Fatma Farhan: Men are now under pressure to find a niche that they are better at than women. We are taking positions that were formerly only available to them, so now they are moving into private businesses. But now they see a lot of women moving into private businesses too…
Fatma Salem: …So the competition keeps on going! [everyone laughs]
Fatima Obaid: But we have to remember that men were in the workforce before women. The policies supporting women were introduced by men, so we complement each other. You don’t see segregated offices anymore.
Maryam: Without the support of men we would not be where we are right now – whether at work doing certain jobs, or at home raising a family. We have to work together.