Women are slowly but surely gaining more positions of power in the workplace and breaking down gender barriers, if two big recent appointments in the region are anything to go by.
Former acting head of Human Resources at Emirates NBD bank, Maryam Bahlooq, has just been promoted to CEO of Tanfeeth, a fully owned subsidiary of Emirates NBD Group.
And in March, the Rezidor Hotel Group appointed Saudi Maram Kokandi to run the new Park Inn by Radisson hotel in Jeddah, which is scheduled to open later this year.
Kokandi is Saudi’s first-ever female hotel manager and on her appointment, Rezidor Group CEO and president Wolfgang M Neumann hailed the move as a “milestone” for the country, and expressed his hope that it would inspire more Saudi females to pursue their career aspirations.
Unsurprisingly, attitudes and practices are shifting fastest in the Emirates. A study by the University of Sharjah and Hofstra University in the United States surveyed 1,500 UAE households, both expatriate and Emirati, to discover male and female attitudes towards women in the workforce. The research showed that men are mostly supportive of women working, but only if the woman’s career did not upset family life.
Patriarchal attitudes revealed by the study showed that some women felt that their mobility is constrained and they are not freely able to mix or work alongside men. However, these beliefs were more deeply ingrained in females than males, particularly in the older female age group (between 35 and 54).
Jenny Hunt is deputy chairman of British Business Group Abu Dhabi, and founding partner and CEO of the Gateway Group of Companies. Working in the UAE for more than seven years, she says she has definitely seen an increase of women in the workforce and women taking on senior roles.
“I remember my very first visit to the Department of Economic Development in Abu Dhabi in early 2012 and it seemed to be full of men,” said Hunt. “Now, I notice many women working there and also many more women going into the department for its services, which is really positive.”
During the past few years there have been several high-profile female appointments, such as Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the first female minister in the UAE. She currently holds the position of Minister of State for Tolerance and is listed as the world’s 43rd most powerful woman by Forbes.
Then there’s Noura Al Kaabi, the Minister of State for the Federal National Council Affairs of the UAE and also chairwoman of the Media Zone Authority Abu Dhabi and twofour54 as well as Reem Al-Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General for Bureau Expo 2020 Dubai.
Hunt says: “These women are inspiring the next generation by showing that anything is possible. There are no limitations to what women can achieve.”
There are a growing number of women’s groups and organisations within the UAE, which encourage women in the workplace as well as provide mentoring, support and networking opportunities. Examples include, The Dubai Women Establishment, which nurtures female Emirati leaders, and the UAE Gender Balance Council, which seeks to empower women.
“Within the UAE, I’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of women setting up their own businesses, following their passions and becoming entrepreneurs, which is really dynamic as it takes a lot of courage, self-belief and commitment to start from scratch and run a successful business,” said Hunt.
World Bank data from 2016 shows that almost 42 per cent of the UAE labour force is now comprised of females – back in 1990 that figure was just under 25 per cent.