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The women’s majlis: The trials faced by women in the UAE workplace

By Lubna Qassim

When it comes to empowering women on a professional level in the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. has been a bold game changer. And when it comes to education and joining the workforce, women continue to excel. However, one challenge that we face is not having an adequate number of women in the C-suite [a body of a corporation’s senior executives] and as members of the board.

It is 2017, and despite women rising through the ranks in the past four decades, I find that some male executives still tend to be nervous when it comes to recruiting or promoting a female employee or colleague. One cause of this could be her child-bearing cycle. As a result, some women, too, are reluctant to build a family, because they don’t know whether that would mean a demotion or prevent career growth. I once told a senior female English architect that she shouldn’t expect a senior manager to decide when she should have her first child – it is for each of us to take the lead.

I am alarmed because many ambitious women are still afraid of the consequences their personal decisions may have on their careers.

I’ve been in a male-dominated profession for the past 20 years. Throughout my career, I’ve been the only woman in many meetings and boardrooms. And I have been lucky to work with many motivating, “gender-blind” men. This is why I think that if a man lacks the ability to interact with or encourage a female executive, it is simply a matter of lack of experience and exposure. In all fairness, sometimes they’re not even conscious of their behaviour and the implications of their decisions. I also think that men who have had strong female role models – be it their mothers, wives or sisters – are more progressive in their interactions with women in the workplace.

Women, in turn, should realise that authentic leadership isn’t about imitating men. We used to see that a lot in the 1980s, with women appointed to senior positions who altered their mannerisms because it was all about fitting into the male club.

I strongly promote authentic leadership, because the charm lies in our differences. The world would be a boring place if we all sounded, dressed and looked the same. Inherently, men and women are different, and it should not be surprising if they arrive at decisions and solutions in their own ways. In fact, this adds value to the workplace ethic and environment.

I also encourage women to create their own networks within and outside their organisations. Reach out, make alliances and don’t shy away from speaking out; if you are waiting for someone to come along and gift you a promotion, you might be waiting forever. So take charge.

I have also heard from working mothers that they feel guilty about leaving their children alone. Often, they are at home feeling guilty because they are not spending enough hours in the office, and at work feeling guilty because they are not with their children. This is a personal issue. Nobody will understand or be able to resolve your problem for you, so be decisive and identify what you want in life and where you want to be.

My final message to men is that if you do promote or empower a woman, it does not take away from your masculinity. And my message to women is to take the lead on your career. Do not underestimate the influence you could have.

I could not have been in this position 50 years ago, but I have worked towards it, and I hope to see more women in the boardroom in the next 50 years.



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