Forward thinking leadership, a dedicated approach to providing higher education, and opportunities for women to bring their business ideas to life, has made the UAE one of the top destinations for working women.
Speaking to Khaleej Times ahead of Emirati Women’s Day, which is celebrated every year on August 28, several business leaders highlighted their experiences working in various industries and how Emirati women are breaking more than just glass ceilings.
No slowing them down
Najla Al Midfa, CEO of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), said that the UAE has made “great strides” over a relatively short period in building and nurturing an ecosystem that enables women to contribute to all sectors of the economy, thus becoming a great model for women’s empowerment.
“I am privileged to be living in a country that places such high value on women and that always strives to create opportunities for all,” she said. “Our wise leadership has always recognised women as equal partners in the national development process, and no efforts have been spared to empower them in the social, cultural, and economic sectors. Emirati women have demonstrated that nothing is impossible, and now, with the successful UAE Mars Mission, even the sky is no longer the limit. Today, we have Emirati women that not only lead roles in industries once deemed only for men, but have broken through new glass ceilings and proved themselves to be an inspirational success.”
She added: “Our founding father, the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, said, ‘the woman is half of the society; any country which pursues development should not leave her in poverty or illiteracy. I am on the woman’s side.’ Having made so much significant progress on the women empowerment front, there is no slowing down Emirati women.”
Al Midfa also noted that the participation of women globally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem is steadily increasing - more so amongst Emirati women, given the support from the UAE government. In alignment with the UAE’s vision of female empowerment, Sheraa actively encourages women entrepreneurship.
“Around 48 per cent of the startups that have gone through our programmes are female-led, and we are committed to supporting them on their journey to success,” she said. “We also believe that showcasing these stories is one of the best ways to inspire new generations of female entrepreneurs. There is nothing more rewarding than winning the trust of a young founder, and being offered the opportunity to walk beside them on their unique entrepreneurial journey. Watching them grow in confidence and self-belief, knowing that you have played a role in giving them the courage to dream, is perhaps the most fulfilling part of the work we do at Sheraa.”
‘Dream come true’
Maryam Darwish, showroom manager at Al-Futtaim Lexus, said that being an Emirati woman, and holding a prominent leadership position, is a “dream come true” for many women in any industry. “The UAE has made this possible due to the amazing vision of our leadership, who want each and every one of its citizens to have the right opportunities to pursue and grow. It is this support that has paved the way for many Emirati women to pursue higher education, work, and even start their own businesses or hold a prominent managerial position without any gender discrimination.”
Speaking about the growth of the automotive industry in the UAE, she noted that many women are keen to explore the option of working in an industry predominantly dominated by men. “The UAE’s futuristic vision and dynamic change of the business industry has paved opportunities for young women to step out and do something that their predecessors would have hesitated to do because of how they would be perceived by the opposite gender. Emirati women are already seen heading car factories and workshops in most of the automotive industries and I hope to see this continue. At Lexus, with more than 40 per cent of our customers being women, we believe that women are the future.”
Opportunities to excel in every field
Zainab Mohammad Albalooshi, Operations area manager, Amazon Fulfillment Centre, Mena region, noted that Emirati women have been given every opportunity to excel and today, women form a vital part of the nation’s workforce, taking up leadership roles and actively contributing to the economy.
“People are usually surprised when I tell them that I work at Amazon’s Fulfillment Centre, because there is a misconception that a job in logistics or operations is unsuitable for women,” she shared. “But, I am definitely not the only woman there! My job at Amazon has taught me that, whenever you are faced with a difficult situation, it is important to always consider the bigger picture and the learning opportunity that will arise from it. I look at challenges as ways to grow, and as learning curves. The most important takeaways from every challenging situation are that it adds to my knowledge.”
She also said that she encourages women, especially Emirati women, to consider a career in operations. Most women, she explained, are not aware of the wide variety of roles available in operations and the opportunities for growth. “A career in logistics, for example, equips you with the expertise and unique skill sets, which are the need of the hour in the current age of digitalisation and e-commerce.”
Looking ahead, she said that she believes the future to be digital. “The UAE government is making huge strides in diversifying the economy by supporting several key sectors, especially those powered by digitalisation. With most businesses having to venture into e-commerce in order to stay relevant and connected to their customers in the current digital age, a job in logistics promises a future-proof career.”
Expo 2020 Dubai a ‘lifetime opportunity’ for women
On the topic of the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, Maryam Darwish noted that the event is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the country as a whole. “To engage and be part of this amazing event, as well as the expansion of the industry potential, is an achievement in itself. Whilst Emirati women are seen being deployed in the various phases of planning and development of Expo 2020, I believe this would also be a stepping stone for a lot of women to spread their wings and explore more opportunities in the future.”
With its focus on women’s empowerment and gender equality, Najla Al Midfa said that the event will be a great platform to showcase the limitless potential of Emirati women, celebrating their significant and sometimes overlooked achievements.
“The Expo 2020 team itself is led by a strong contingent of Emirati women, who are leaders in various creative fields. Moreover, the Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 – a pavilion dedicated to women and their contributions – will be making an entry for the first time in the history of world expos, bringing the issue of women empowerment to a global stage to celebrate their past and present contributions to development, peace and security.”
Events to be staged at the DWTC, comprising diverse sectors including construction, energy, technology, beauty, food, healthcare, environment and automotive, will mark the emirate’s post-pandemic economic recovery