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Voices of UAE Women Business Leaders: Research in Progress. Professor Lynda Moore Fulbright Scholar College of Business Sciences, Zayed University and Simmons School of Management. Welcome. Agenda. Research and Policy Implications Next Steps in Ongoing Research Discussion. Overview

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voices of uae women business leaders research in progress

Voices of UAE Women Business Leaders: Research in Progress

Professor Lynda Moore

Fulbright Scholar

College of Business Sciences, Zayed University


Simmons School of Management

  • Research and Policy Implications
  • Next Steps in Ongoing Research
  • Discussion
  • Overview
  • Context and Need
  • Preliminary Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Preliminary Thematic Analysis
overview the research agenda
Overview: The Research Agenda
  • To understand the identity of women leaders in the UAE, their background; education; career experiences and path; as well as perceived individual and organizational challenges, and solutions.
  • To identify cultural context and impact of gender identity as influences leadership journey and perceptions of success.
overview the research agenda5
Overview: The Research Agenda
  • To assess the status of research on women business leaders in the UAE as well as women leaders in the Middle East.
  • To ascertain perceptions of women’s changing roles in business and the connection with social and political empowerment.
  • To allow women to speak in their own voice.
the context and need
The Context and Need
  • UAE commitment to advance women in to leadership roles.
  • Need to educate and advance Emeratis into management.
  • Importance of maintaining cultural identity and heritage, while adopting best practices from the West.
  • Over saturated public sector, need to encourage private and entrepreneurial sectors.
  • Expatriates currently comprise 99% of the private sector.
uae women s sector employment
UAE Women’s Sector Employment
  • Women are observed in significant numbers in 5 specific economic industries.
    • Women constitute 20% of the public sector.
    • Women most prominently hold positions in the Government and Education sectors.
      • 30% of women in the government sector hold decision-making positions.

Source: UAE Yearbook, 2007.

concerns about women s economic participation in the uae
Concerns About Women’s Economic Participation in the UAE
  • Trends in growing enrollment of female students in higher education have not been mirrored by similar growth trends in women’s economic participation.
  • Women’s economic participation has increased less than 7% since 1985, while enrollment in tertiary education has grown nearly 40% since the 1970’s.

Sources: Center for Labour Market Research & Information, 2004; UAE Yearbook, 2004.

women entrepreneurship in the uae
Women & Entrepreneurship in the UAE
  • A global study on Entrepreneurs found the UAE to have an extremely low female participation rate, relative to other participating countries in both startup/young and established businesses.
    • Men are 20x as likely as women to be involved in a startup or young business venture.

McCrohan, D & Preiss, K, 2006; Erogul, M & McCrohan, D, 2007.

the good news women s education in the uae
The Good News: Women’s Education in the UAE

“The UAE is


in registering the

highest rate of

females in

higher education

in the entire world,


-UAE Yearbook


“In particular, women have

embraced education with particular

fervor and are outperforming

males at every educational level.”

-UAE Yearbook, 2007

Source: Centre for Labour Market Research & Information (CMRI), 2004; UAE Yearbook, 2007.

uae non oil economic gdp by sector
UAE Non-Oil Economic GDP by Sector



Mining &



  • UAE women comprise only 4% of the private sector employees, and mostly in private financial enterprises.
  • The non-oil economy of the UAE is comprised of many industries.
  • Total GDP = 386,535 million Dihrams.
    • Female prevalent industries constitute only 16.2% of the net Non-oil GDP.






Real Estate

& Business



UAE Non-Oil

Economic Sectors

GDP= 386,535



Storage &






& Hotels



Gas & Water


Social &






Wholesale &

Retail Trade


Source: UAE Yearbook, 2007; Executive Board of the UN Development Programme and of the UN Population Fund, 2007.

unemployment in the uae
Unemployment in the UAE
  • Women have more difficulty finding employment, despite statistics that show high prevalence of education amongst UAE females.
  • 2004 Study of job seekers who applied to TAMNIA* found:
    • 66% of applicants were women.
    • Women constituted 79% of the applicants with secondary education or higher.

*The National Human Resource Development & Employment Authority

Sources: UAE Yearbook, 2007; Centre for Labour Market Research & Information.

women entrepreneurs in the uae
2 Main Types

Traditional Activities

Typically older, modestly educated women involved in traditional manufacturing and trading (perfume mixing, cloth-making, handicrafts).

Modern Activities

Typically managed by younger, well-educated, business oriented.

Use of advanced information + communication techniques in more modern economic activities.

Women Entrepreneurs tend to earn less due to:

Types of industries women often operate in offer lower returns on investments.

Fewer number of total hours worked due to other commitments.

Small amount of capital women are able to raise to initially finance their business.

Women Entrepreneurs inthe UAE

Source: Erogul & McCrohan, 2007.

preliminary literature review
Preliminary Literature Review
  • Limited empirical research on women leaders in the UAE
  • Outside the UAE, there is a paucity of published empirical research on the region’s female leaders
  • Research on US women managers, but limited international comparison of women managers
  • Need for research to conceptualize and validate qualitatively women’s distinctive voices

Sources: AME Info, 2005; government.ae, 2006; Mostafa, 2005; ≈“Paving the way for Arab Women Managers, 2006.

preliminary literature review15
Preliminary Literature Review
  • Some research available on factors which have supported women business leaders in their career:
      • Parental support, especially of fathers.
      • Family socialization, especially equal treatment of siblings, regardless of gender.
      • Social status and wealth of natal family.
      • Spousal support.
  • Mostly limited to familial support, little available information on workplace conditions that facilitated career advancement.

Sources: AME Info, 2005; government.ae, 2006; Al-Lamky, 2007; Jamali, Safieddine & Daouk, 2006; Kattara, 2005; Mostafa, 2005; ≈“Paving the way for Arab Women Managers, 2006; Sakalli-Ugurlu & Beydogan, 2002; Zgheib, 20066;

preliminary literature review16
Preliminary Literature Review
  • Alternately, research illustrates factors which have posed challenges to women’s advancement in business leadership:
      • Societal patriarchal attitude.
      • Gender discrimination/stereotyping.
      • Unsupportive organizational environment.
      • Limited women’s recruitment, hiring, and advancement.
      • Difficulty initiating and fostering professional relationships.
      • Limited mentor support and network access- “old boys” culture.

Sources: Al-Lamky, 2007; Jamali, et al, 2006; Kattara, 2005; Sakali-Ugurlu & Beydogan, 2002; Zgheib, 2006;

preliminary literature review17
Preliminary Literature Review
  • Most research on female business leaders exists on women entrepreneurs and their experiences as Arab and/or Islamic Women.
  • Present research demonstrates the need to conceptualize and qualitatively validate the differences of women, their distinct voices, and separate experiences due to personal and cultural identity, including race and ethnicity.
  • Literature currently readily uses research to provide comparison and background information on Emerati women, which results in culturally inappropriate comparisons.

Sources: Dudley, D., 2007; PM Network, 2006; Burkholder, R., 2007.

preliminary literature review18
Preliminary Literature Review
  • UAE is making progress for national women, but still needs improvement
  • UAE is best in region for treatment of women - but gender equality is a severe problem in Middle East
  • 10% of managerial positions in the Arab world are held by women

“65% of GCC graduate are women, although most work in clerical positions in governmental offices after graduating”

  • “UAE society is patriarchal and the changing of traditional views concerning a woman's place in the family is a slow process”

Sources: Dudley, D., 2007; PM Network, 2006; Burkholder, R., 2007.

sample methodology
Sample & Methodology
  • Women Business Leaders
    • 10 women were interviewed in depth
    • Subject selection criteria: the highest level possible amongst female executives in available companies
    • Target was Emerati women managers
    • Key Stakeholder Experts
sample methodology20
Sample & Methodology
  • Identification of interview subjects was achieved through existing professional organizations:
      • Abu Dhabi Business Women Council
      • Dubai Business Women Council
      • Secondary referrals
sample methodology21
Sample & Methodology
  • Further in-depth interdisciplinary review of the literature
    • Used to assess the status of research on women business leaders in the UAE as well as women leaders in the Middle East
  • In depth interviews
    • Provides data for short cases and descriptive and thematic analysis will be used to identify and interpret issues. These cases will be useful to interpret their leadership narratives within a culturally appropriate context.
women in management in the region
Women in Management in the Region

The care of children and household duties are considered woman’s domain.

The lack of availability of affordable childcare facilities in most of the Muslim societies often impedes the desire to look for jobs.

Narrow interpretations of Islam place certain restrictions on the full participation of women in the workplace.

In terms of management, most management responsibilities are held by men.

Four prominent factors that limit women’s participation in the workplace in general and management in particular.

Source: Ali, 2005

gender roles in the region are shaped by 4 elements
Gender roles in the Region are Shaped by 4 Elements 
  • The centrality of the family, rather than the individual as the main unit in society.
  • Recognition of the man as the sole breadwinner of the family.
  • A code of modesty that rests on family dignity and the reputation of the women.
  • An unequal balance of power in the private sphere that is anchored in family laws.

“Arab nations strongly supported gender equality in education but not equality in employment.”

(Source: Ali, 2005; Metcalfe, 2006)

recent research on uae women
Recent Research on UAE Women

Moderate change from expected restrictive traditional attitudes towards women managers in the UAE to a more liberal view.

Gender gap in attitudes towards women managers persists even when other factors held constant with females consistently more supportive than males.

UAE society is generally regarded as highly patriarchal with clear gender role differences.

Students held more favorable attitudes toward women managers in the UAE than older generations.

preliminary results major emerging themes
Preliminary Results: Major Emerging Themes


Strong family support of education, specifically paternal support of daughter’s education and careers.

Mostly educated outside the UAE.

Upbringing included traveling with family.

Over half are from families with businesses (all but one currently working in family business).

Religion and traditions played a significant role in their lives and did not hinder progress.

  • Motivation:
    • To give back to their country.
    • To change image of UAE/ Muslim/ Arab women.
    • To be a positive role model to others.
    • Seeking new opportunities.
  • Career Path:
    • Worked continuously after college, sought new challenges.
major emerging themes
Major Emerging Themes

Definitions of Leadership:

Leaders share their experiences and are passionate about their work.

Proving yourself to others; being democratic and accepting ideas from others.

Vision against three factors; sense of role and responsibility, (family and business) sense of faith, ability to give back.

“Every woman is a leader in her own way, raising a family is much more difficult than making a business work”.

“I don’t think of myself as a leader..it is my responsibility, to my family, my country”

major themes key success factors
Major Themes: Key SuccessFactors

Key success factors included:

Self confidence.


Positive thinking.

Listening to and accepting ideas from others.

Action oriented strategy: “ideas cannot wait, go and get them…”.

Forward looking: “no regrets”.

Having the right team.

Gaining respect from others.

Support of spouse, family.

  • Definition of “success” includes family success
    • Having a sense of responsibility in all aspects of life.
    • “It’s what you hear people say about you”.
    • “Not about how much you earn, but how comfortable and peaceful your life is”.
major themes role of cultural heritage
Major Themes: Role of Cultural Heritage

Historical roles of Emerati women depicted as self-reliant, independent, resilient businesswomen and negotiators.

When oil was discovered women retreated into their homes; recently, they have started to reemerge.

All felt as women religion acted as a support system, not a barrier to business success.

Religion gave women a sense of identity.

Themes of giving back to others were embedded in their notion of leadership. They focused less about “I” and more about “we”; showing a strong collectivist orientation.

Religious values: Kindness, simplicity, generosity

major themes barriers to success
Major Themes: Barriers to Success

Lack of self confidence

Work/family conflict

Long working hours


*Appearance (dress) and wasta not perceived as barriers

major themes communication decision making power
Major Themes: Communication, Decision Making & Power

Democratic and participative, yet decisive in approach.

Delegate work and empowers employees to make decisions.

Treat employees like family

initial analysis
Initial Analysis
  • Definitions of leadership run counter to embedded cultural notion as ascribed, patriarchal, and hierarchical; these leaders are effective and successful
  • Leadership is relational, consultative, relates to “women’s leadership style” as described in the West.
  • Leadership cannot be understood without understanding religious values:
  • Adl: equilibrium; Nasab: importance of family roles in organization and mgt; Wasta: connections or contracts; Shura: consultation

Source: Metcalfe, 2006

impact of religious and cultural values on leadership
Impact of Religious and Cultural Values on Leadership
  • Quiwama: protection and care of employees; Hadith: learning, knowledge and development; Modesty (Surah): humility and benevolence
  • All these cultural values influence the context of women’s leadership in the UAE and the region
  • Confluence of religious, cultural and “feminine” traits create integrated and overlapping sources of influence on leadership.
is there an indigenous model of leadership
Is there an Indigenous Model of Leadership?

“Leadership in the Arabic cluster is a paradoxical concept, that involves dual and contradictory attributes.”

  • Desire for paternalistic leadership strong yet also desire for visionary, charismatic and transformational leaders
  • According to GLOBE studies Arabic regional cluster characteristics show team oriented and charismatic most effective
  • Team orientation consistent with family and in group oriented societal culture
  • However must also be transformational, charismatic and future and performance oriented
  • A dual set of values, simultaneously western and eastern

“An outstanding leader in the Arabic Cluster is a person who is able to initiate change and improvement by keeping group solidarity and yet at the same time avoid nepotism”

Source: Kabasakal and Bodur, 2002

the conundrum
The Conundrum
  • In order to remain competitive in global environment must use practices and values necessary for competition; also need to employ traditional approaches unique to the region
  • Research must address how women leaders and managers navigate the interaction of culture, ethnicity and gender
potential policy implications
Potential policy implications
  • What is the role of the government in supporting work family balance in the UAE?
  • What specifically can the private sector do to recruit, retain, and advance women into business leadership positions?
  • How should higher education curriculum in the UAE be designed to effectively prepare women to be business leaders, in the context of gender segregated education? How might men be educated to negotiate changing personal and family roles, as well as sensitized to deeply embedded notions of masculine workplace norms which disproportionably impact women?
other policy considerations
Other Policy Considerations

Driving Factors for Women’s Advancement:

  • Government Support
  • Role Models, Constitutional rights
  • Visibility and Education
policy considerations
Policy Considerations

Constraining Factors for Women’s Advancement:

  • Lack of policies and procedures for implementation of government support; lack of strategic authority/plan to effect change
  • Restrictive traditional and patriarchal social roles
  • No regulatory body to address discrimination
  • HR strategies, including diversity/inclusion training
  • Need to address systemic forces that maintain inequality to move beyond singular examples of personal success
next steps in ongoing research
Next Steps in Ongoing Research

Finalize primary interviews.

Complete qualitative analysis using NVIVO 7, begin written and multimedia case studies.

Frame results in context of existing literature on women’s leadership and within cultural context of leadership in the region.

Publication of Executive Summary and peer-reviewed journal articles.


All these cultural values influence leadership definitions and experiences of women in the UAE and the region

Culturally imbedded context of leadership, gender and management within UAE complex to disentangle

thank you
Thank you

©2008 Lynda L. Moore