International Women's Day: Emirati national Sharihan Al Mashary on being a pioneer in the workplace and inspiring others

She spoke to City Times about why gender is irrelevant in the workplace

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

By Husain Rizvi

Published: Tue 8 Mar 2022, 7:59 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 Mar 2022, 1:06 PM

Daughter of one of the first Emirati developers in the UAE, Sharihan Al Mashary grew up visiting projects at construction sites. For her parents, work was never classified as the mainstay of a particular gender. Sharihan’s father had a simple philosophy: hard and honest work, dedication, and working your way up from the bottom core, because with a strong base foundation and pillars of values, you will rise and never collapse.

Perhaps the simple mantra has helped Sharihan reach where she is today. An Emirati woman who has operated and managed hotels for 14 years, she also boasts of achieving the tag of the UAE’s first ever female General Manager among many other key achievements.

We speak to Sharihan, a pioneering woman in the UAE’s hospitality industry, and discuss International Women’s Day, its significance, and how certain issues surrounding gender still persist.

You were the first female Emirati General Manager in the UAE and the Middle East region. What are the lessons you would like others to take away from that feat?

In my 14 years I’ve learnt, doing more will get you far, knowing more will get you further and meeting more will broaden your horizon. The key is to have a strong foundation and build on this foundation, hard work and putting in the time, insatiable dedication, and stay true to your values and learn more skills; be a specialist and a generalist at the same time.

Outside of being a successful General Manager of a luxury Hotel, I was training the UAE national team and youth in the WorldSkills International and Emirates Skills Competition — which are linked with technical and vocational education; I developed the Emirates Graduate Trainee Programme for the national workforce in Hospitality and more. Always do more than what you’re bound to do and you’ll find your purpose lies beyond the four walls of success.

What does IWD mean to you?

It’s a dedicated day to recognise and talk about people (women) and topics unspoken or unseen and the positive outcomes that changed a policy, community, ministry, country or simply, a mindset.

There’s a lot of talk around negative feminism. How do you counter those?

In a society made of man, woman, and humanity, feminism or feminist traits have been subjected to views and we are lucky and privileged here in the UAE where gender hasn’t dictated our career path, but tradition holds its own special charm of our roles as part of the family, members of society and citizens.

How would you address the cultural issues that have surfaced around gender inequality?

Culture and tradition support roles, which play a significant part in shaping, nurturing, and building characters and members of society. Gender roles are an old tradition that have evolved and not just in this region. We uphold our Emirati culture and heritage preciously and it serves a fundamental purpose; equality always existed in the UAE. Culture may have had certain views on certain career choices and timelines for marriage, and even that has evolved and changed.

In simple words, how can the world celebrate women?

Give us the opportunity to talk about our stories to younger girls and it would be revolutionary to have equal pay in the private and hospitality sectors.

Why do you think having an IWD is necessary?

It perhaps has aided in putting topics on the forefront.

How has the UAE helped with its reforms around women?

From the time of our founding father to the mother of the nation, to the appointment of women as our ministers and members of parliaments, we’ve always been progressive.

What do you foresee for all the issues surrounding gender inequality, pay gap etc?

There’s got to be a mandate that is inclusive of all. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic may have reformed previous plans for an ultimate shift in paradigm — industries, skills, education, and policies have been given a plain canvas to redefine and rewrite the future of employment and skills and not just gender work and pay gap.

What can the male gender do to highlight such issues?

I don’t feel it’s gender that is the key component in fighting inequality and pay gap issues; moreover it is down to the policy makers and key decision makers to recognise and understand that in our modern society these issues are no longer acceptable.

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