WOMAN IN A MAN’S WORLD
Opportunities and Prospects
There are many things to be said about life in Middle East. This is definitely a region of contradictions, stereotypes and long-lived beliefs. Over 18 countries are considered part of Middle East region, such as Jordan, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia etc., with a population reaching just over 400 million. With the tax-free salaries it has been a strong attraction for the international expats. One of the most popular expat destinations is the United Arab Emirates with Dubai being one of the best-known Emirate. According to the announced national data around 30% of the population is woman. It has often been shown that women are not offered the same social standing, and work opportunities can be limited in some industries and regions. We have interviewed women with successful careers in a man’s world to get their perception of life in Dubai.
Based on the latest researches more diversity in the workplace improved financial performance. It has been slowly but surely recognized by the private sector companies as well as government. Just recently Ras Al Khaiman Economical Zone announced new business packages designed exclusively to female entrepreneurs. While across the Middle East adding more female employees expands the talent pool for companies to tap into as they seek to accelerate their industrial diversification. It’s great opportunity for the female expats to offer their expertise in the region and seek for exciting opportunities and take advantage of government’s laws ensuring the equal pay for both woman and man.
Countries such as KSA, UAE and Egypt are progressively developing programs encouraging gender-equality despite challenges such as lack of support after a career break, deeply embedded socials norms, and gender stereotypes. In contrast to western countries woman in the Middle East has more affordable help at home such as nannies, cooks or drivers.
It seems that in Europe the balance between work and free-time is much more established, while in Dubai these boundaries are ignored completely. Free time activities mainly involve meeting work colleagues for dinner and talks about business, politics, future perspectives, yacht trips, social events. This puts strong emphasis on woman esthetics. It is expected and highly looked up over the physical appearance for both man and woman. Starting from beauty and SPA treatments up to high variety of exercises and personal training. Beauty related services are widely available and relatively more affordable than in Europe or N. America.
Challenges and Downsides
Finding a balance between work and family is always tricky. However, there are a variety of services in the Middle East to help raise a family in this busy environment. Given that this is financially viable as the help is not available free of cost. A woman who works and looks after her family has to have a structured schedule. Any activities outside working hours has to be strongly considered. Whether it is sport, beauty treatments, business associations it should be worth being away from the family. Especially if both of the spouses are working. As a side note, it is worth mentioning that it is outside the law to become pregnant if not married.
The inequality between women and men with work opportunities has been a hot subject since the feminist movement started. Whether you’re discussing it in Northern America, Europe, or the Middle East. Even now world-wide it is estimated that women earn 80 percent of what men are paid. Stereotypical expectations not only reflect existing differences, but also impact the way men and women define themselves and are treated by others. Typically, men and women tend to work in different occupations.
With workload at home and office women experience great disadvantage. It is unrealistic to expect gender equality if workplaces demand that women be available all the time. The gender separation is even more visible in the Middle East, where it is not uncommon that events are organized exclusively for man. While some of the events are exclusively for women, this is more of an exception rather than a rule. In addition it has been noticed that working with another women in Middle East is harder. Women in more senior roles don’t support each other and this dramatic attitude is extremely visible. It adds to the belief that hiring women is a disadvantage for long-term employment. It is anticipated that she will get married, have kids and leave the job.
Working Environment for Woman and Man
Whether you are a man or a woman the working schedule in Dubai always seems to be busy. It is expected to work 5 to 6 days per week, with working hours from 8 to16. Full 24 hours shifts are not excluded whether you are a man or a woman. Timings differ depending on the industry. Hospitality industry tends to have longer working hours, alongside with construction. Other industries may not require as many hours in the office, however in many occasions work even resumes outside the office in the shape of finishing work at home, dinners, workshops, or simply answering emails.
The working conditions for woman is equally challenging in Middle East as it is in their home country. Similar working principles apply in Dubai as it would for example in London. Many experienced expats bring their management skills, knowledge and principles from their home country to the Middle East. They set high standards for the employees’ work ethics and expertise. In Dubai as well as in the rest of the world it is expected to be a strong specialist, know your subject, and thrive for success.
One of the biggest advantages of working in the Middle East for both man and woman is tax free salaries. It is important to note, that the Middle East opens opportunities and big scale projects for a younger generation which may not have access to such position back in Europe or Northern America. One of the well-known secrets that to get such opportunity the fastest way is through famous industry brands. Working for world-wide known companies opens a lot of doors in the Middle East. This is known to be true for both women and men. Due to the opportunistic culture, the well-established and strong reputation having companies are highly valued.
Business culture in the Middle East is allowing to reach decision makers much quicker than it would happen in Europe or N. America. Companies tend to be much more centralized allowing the access to the “right” people much faster, hence the decision process with these companies is generally much quicker as well. In comparison, working in Europe would require to pass a heavy pre-qualification process to reach the table of General Manager or CEO. It is also important that people in Dubai are more willing to network and help opening doors to the new opportunities. Expats are more prominent to build meaningful business or personal relationships
Finding Your Path
It is estimated that over 200 nationalities are living and working in the UAE. It comes with no surprise that three common questions are: “Where are you from”, “How old are you” and “What do you do” will play a key role in classifying you in common known stereotypes. Among the discussed belief over a gender, there is strong discrimination of age. Age is considered in general as an evidence to your experience and you need to prove your capabilities to be in the senior position. In some occasions job description even indicates particular gender, nationality or age wanted for the open role.
Working in Middle East differs from the rest of the world. The combination of the exclusive lifestyle, endless opportunities, and adventurous projects is very unique and hard to resist. There is still a lot of room to grow in terms of structure and systems to increase the productivity and efficiency. But as long as you have clear vision of what you want and where you want to get, the Middle East offers are shorter and exciting path.
Being a woman in Middle East is definitely special. It is safe and comfortable environment. There are some major challenges, as much as anywhere else in the world. It’s important to be equipped with your knowledge, positive attitude, and back-up plan. While being firm and decisive about your work and business decisions, you need to pursuit it with respect to the people surrounding you. Building meaningful relationships takes time, but it is worth it, if you are aiming for long term goals.
“Gender Stereotypes” by Naomi Ellemers