Emirati Women Beat the Odds to Become Leaders in the Workforce


By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas

Thinking of Dubai and Abu Dhabi typically leads one to picture never-seen-before architectural projects, luxurious malls and eminent wealth.

UAE citizens, however, enjoy much more than this well-known stereotype including some of the best conditions in terms of access to education and business opportunities in the region. Emirati women, in particular, have begun to make climb the ranks in multiple fields, stepping into public life in ways their great grandmothers could never have imagined.

As the UAE develops to become bigger, bolder and better so have the country’s leaders encouraged women to dream larger as well.

According to a 2010 Pricewaterhouse Coopers report, 77 percent of Emirati students in higher education are women – the highest proportion in the world.

Making significant contributions to the work force and the nation’s growth and development, Emirati women are holding more senior management positions today than they were 10 years ago. This year, Arabian Business’ list of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women had Emirati women leading with 23 nationals holding those coveted spots.

Top-down cultural and civic transformations within the country have empowered them to prosper through educational and employment opportunities making Emirati women an inspiring model for the region.

In June 2009, Souad al Hosani, a 22-year-old UAE national who grew up in Abu Dhabi, opened her own company, Nexus Business Services, which assists foreigners establish their business in the capital. Today, she serves on the Board of Directors of AmChan Abu Dhabi, is an officer at Mubadala Development Company and has won multiple awards including the Young Achievers Award in 2013.

Al Hosani says government support and an adaptive culture have allowed women to reach new heights.

“Women in our region have proven their capability and will to face challenges in order to achieve their dreams. The UAE has provided Emirati women with the best education as well as scholarships to attend international universities around the world. In the past, women were just mothers but today, most women work and support their own families with great balance.”

Despite her success as an entrepreneur today, al Hosani does admit she did face cultural challenges in a country that is still relatively conservative.

“I know that our culture is very sensitive but if you stop, you will never go ahead in life. You should always push and then you can reach your [goals],” said al Hosani. “My biggest role model is my father who started from zero and has supported me to achieve all the success I have so far and has been with me through every step in life to keep me on the right track.”

Dr. Maitha Al Shamsi, Minister of State and Chairwoman of the Marriage Fund, said “women now account for 66 percent of the government workforce, with 30 percent in senior positions and involved in decision-making. [Almost] 15 percent are in technical jobs, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, while another 15 percent are in the Armed forces, customs and police.”

Today, the country also has four female cabinet ministers, nine Federal National Council members and many more women working in numerous leadership positions across the country.

The UAE has also made it compulsory for all public and private sector organizations to include a female representative on their board of directors.

“Women proved themselves in many workplaces and today we want them to have a strong presence in decision-making positions in our institutions,” UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said.

These promising statistics for women, however, have come a long way.

According to Dr. Rima Sabban, a sociologist at Zayed University, female participation in the workforce was very small in the past due to factors such as culture and tradition.

“The biggest boost came after the launch of the Higher Colleges of Technology, which put women’s careers on the fast track. Then came all the other institutions and by the 1990s, there was a major shift and the government also started supporting women,” Rima said.

Today academic excellence has become a key focus of the government with the UAE education sector accounting for almost 24 percent of the total government expenditure with an estimated market size of $7.3 billion.

Entrepreneurial ideas

With more than 60 percent of Emirati women opt for government as opposed to only 4 percent in the private sector, several higher education institutions across the emirates often host leadership, entrepreneurship and business forums to promote female employment and ventures in the private sector.

“Emaritisation in the private sector is very important for the UAE vision during the next few years,” says al Hosani. “Difference in salaries and benefits allow for UAE nationals to choose the public sector but the implementation of funds to support the private sector a year ago has increased the number of Emiratis in the private sector.”

In collaboration with the Dubai Business Women Council, Zayed University held the first edition of the Emirati Young Women Entrepreneur Leadership Forum in May.

“Entrepreneurship remains one of the key elements in our continuing thrust for women empowerment in the UAE. 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,” said Raja Easa Saleh Al Gurg, President of Dubai Business Women Council. “The Forum has actually received a very enthusiastic response from women of different social status, and this is a clear indication that we are moving in the right direction towards creating a new generation of successful women entrepreneurs in the UAE.”

Although there are still challenges for women in the workforce, due to governmental, parental and domestic support, more Emirati graduates are able to contribute to the country’s workforce and development.

“Right from the inception of this country, it was our leaders’ aims to make sure women are treated and represented fairly. They were encouraged to participate on the social and economic stage,” said Samineh Shaheem, assistant professor of psychology at Middlesex University in Dubai and cross-cultural consultant at the Human Relations Institute. “This invitation to take part in the development of the UAE took some time to unfold and put into practice. So what we see today was always the plan for women in the UAE … and it is only the beginning.”





  1. More and more Emirati women are entering the workforce. I like how this article shows how fathers and other male family members are encouraging women to work…

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    I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
    Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

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