By Julie Irving, Partner and Chief Operating Officer at The Links Group
Having worked and lived for a total of 16 years in the Middle East, 10 of those in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the two most common questions I get asked by friends and colleagues around the world are:
1. Do you have problems as a woman working in the UAE?
2. Do you have to cover up?
My response to both questions is a simple “no.”
To expand upon the misconceptions of the Middle East from the western world, I find working as a woman here in the UAE the same, if not better, than my previous experiences in Europe. Emiratis are respectful, polite and the men are chivalrous. It makes doing business an absolute pleasure. As a woman I feel safe when I’m alone, even late at night when travelling back from meetings, I do not feel threatened or fearful.
In the business environment, women most certainly have a serious part to play in developing the future of the region and in my opinion, are treated equally within the workplace. In a recent study carried out by Bayt.com – a leading job site in the Middle East – throughout the GCC, a significant 67 per cent of surveyed women feel they are treated equally compared to their male colleagues; a statistic most companies in the world would be envious of.
With regard to dress code, there is no stipulation as to what I should wear, and certainly no regulation for me wearing an abaya or burka. My approach to dress in the workplace is very much as it would be when I am working anywhere else in the world – business attire with shoulders covered, no mini-skirts (which is a blessing to all around me), and certainly no plunging neck lines. I respect that I am a guest in a Muslim country and dress accordingly.
As for female bosses in the region, just take a look at the inspirational HE Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, the Minister for Foreign Trade; a powerful and inspirational leader.
So there you have it… myths busted!