Over the ages, a great number of analysts have spoken about women leadership, their role, how they lead and the challenges they face when leading a company or an organization and how they have achieved good results in their leadership. It is imperative to note that leadership is a process whereby a person socially influences another individual or a group to perform a task and achieve desired goals (Fabra, & Cesar, 2009, p. 603).
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In the UAE, women have in the past struggled to get job promotions and occupy leadership positions amidst many challenges brought about by many beliefs expressed in their culture and religious practices. Al Gharaibeh says that “traditions and laws primarily hold women back from their full leadership participation in the economy and politics of the nation” (2011, p. 96). This essay will explore the perceptions that surround women’s involvement and participation in leadership. Besides, it will critically analyze how culture, religion, and perceptions impact women leadership in the UAE.
Women leadership in the UAE
In the United Arab Emirates, the achievements of women over the years has immensely impressed me and made me understand that the seeds of the great effort that women planted are bearing fruits today. It is imperative to note that in UAE, up to and until the 1970’s, there were hardly any educated women, save even those who could occupy leadership positions (Fatima, 2001, p. 33). Research studies indicate that this could have been attributed to the traditional practices that surrounded and defined gender roles among Muslims.
Indeed, and as Fatima points out, even if women during that time intended to occupy leadership positions, they were still illiterate and less prepared. Al Gharaibeh in his publication says that “discrimination against women that has been carried forward into the constitution of the land was caused by adherence to historical remnants of a society that does not really exist anymore” (2011, p. 96). None of them could have wished to rise and challenge men in a male-dominated society.
Today, a lot has changed as the UAE country has begun to depend on women for leadership since they are vital for social and economic developments. According to the president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bins Sultan Al Nayan, women in this region have been major contributors and stimulus for economic growth (Arab Law Quarterly, 2000, p. 416). The development history of UAE from desert land to desert farms, landscaped gardens, high towering skyscrapers, modern hospitals, and schools without a doubt owes its brilliance to the evolvement and involvement of women (Mora & Ferrer-i-Carbonell, 2009, p. 586).
Religion, Culture, and feminism
It is traditionally known that the place for the Arabic woman is the home. Her life revolves around her family; her children, her husband and generally keeping the home habitable. According to Mora & Ferrer-i-Carbonell, the place of a Muslim woman has been defined by religion and culture. Efforts to create change in the perceptions culture and religion have on women have met diverse setbacks. Changing deep-rooted religious and cultural practices requires people to change their attitudes. In her article, Fatima Mernissi says that “Everyone is afraid of change, but Muslims are more so, because what is at stake is their fantasies about power” (Mernissi, 1987, p. 10).
Indeed, this is true in the sense that men in the Muslim society, backed by their culture and religion, dominate most leadership positions and feels that creating room for women to lead alongside them will rob them of their power fantasies. The gender debate on culture and feminism continues to point out the roles of Islam women in the UAE. Khalaf & Alkobaisi argues that the cultural practices that have been in this country have continued to undermine, marginalize and place women employees in adverse positions of subordination (Khalaf & Alkobaisi, 1999, p. 290).
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They further claim that cultural attitudes on feminism have been negative especially on leadership and roles of women in a society dominated by males. Al Gharaibeh says that “discrimination against women is one key indicator of the failure of a political system in the democratic process, while participation is considered to be one of its most important elements” (2011, p. 99). This is indeed true since the Quran states that both genders are equal, it also indicates that women are supposed to be subordinates and serve their husbands (Khalaf & Alkobaisi, 1999, p. 290). This combined with culture has seen women in UAE experience discrepancies in job descriptions, seniority, and education.
According to Mernissi (1987, p. 14), despite many campaigns and achievements made in having women leaders, UAE women still face diverse challenges in their bid to occupy leadership positions in their own country or to work outside the UAE. Some of the challenges include religion that requires them to keep themselves veiled and be submissive (Mernissi, 1987, p. 14). She argues that as such when employed, the effect of their cultures makes them assume less important sections and make important decisions in the nation.
For instance, one of the problems that have impeded the ability of women to make decisions is a cultural setback that requires women to be submissive and seek permission from their male partners before engaging themselves in any decisions. This is indeed a challenge as it takes a long time before a woman can embark on serious business since the most decision on any important idea is made by men. This adversely affects their ability to make decisions that will grow the business bearing in mind that they have to compete equally with other male business rivals in the design market.
Besides, organizational structure, like in our partnership, is a representation of a business program that has a chain of command whereby officers of the company and the employees are categorized in units that show their level of importance and responsibility (Khalaf & Alkobaisi, 1999, p. 290). The organizational structure defines the relationship that should exist between the chain of command regardless of gender. With this in place, a company stands a better chance of minimizing costs and maximizing results since everyone in the company will know how to interact with one another and with the departments in the company (Madar Research Group., 2004, p. 10).
Also, workers get to understand their place and their duties. Tanmia (2006, p. 167) points out that an effective system of good governance forms its foundation in an organizational structure that is competently built. This kind of organizational structure ensures that there is increased productivity through assigning areas of duty and power to leaders, ensuring that the staff are not under too much pressure or are neglected on basis of gender.
Additionally, Tanmia argues that right from the perspective of gender, stereotypes emerge such as the one that ascribes to the inability of a woman to manage the personal business well without getting assistance from a male person (Tanmia 2006, p. 167).
In agreement, Al Gharaibeh says that “women’s freedom to enter the public sphere reflects to a large extent the nature of the political and social system of a country, and their equal access to political processes reflects the principles of social justice in a society” (2011, p.100). For this reason, important ideas and decisions that women make must wait for men to approve. However, it is imperative to note that today, there are organizations that are managed professionally to assist in raising the level and expertise of women’s involvement in business enterprises without being sidelined by gender and other cultural stereotypes.
Khalaf & Alkobaisi expresses that unemployment among females in UAE is acute especially among those women who are educated (Khalaf & Alkobaisi, 1999, p. 290). On the other hand, Clark, Frijters & Shields feel that although this may be argued to be a general trend across the divide, it is worth to note that how women have been subjected to societal treatment is not the same at all compared to their fellow men (Clark, Frijters & Shields, 2008, p, 109).
The significance of this can be better appreciated when one takes into consideration the fact that women make up a large portion of those graduating from universities, as compared to men (Marshall, 1995, p. 15). Women who are educated are thus not willing to join the construction industry, in effect increasing the number of unemployed women in the society. This is like creating a sustainable source of income, given that women entrepreneurs tend to deviate from the normal and conventional fields of investing, such as construction and oil extraction and processing industries.
According to Tanmia (2006, p. 167), women’s evolvement and leadership in UAE draws its beginning from universal education. It is imperative to note that education has empowered UAE women to compete for leadership positions like men do. As such, Fatima Mernissi points out that women have unveiled themselves, and that today’s UAE is “in a situation where fundamentalist men and women and non fundamentalist women have a conflict of interest” (Mernissi, 1987, 11).
Besides, she argues that in schools, “both men and women have same educational privilege” (Mernissi, 1987, p.11) and that the number of women is now high above that of men and their illiteracy has dropped by approximately 11.3% (Clark, Frijters & Shields, 2008, p, 109). In higher colleges of technology, 70 % of students and in the Universities such as Al Ain, over 15,000 students (60%) are women. In 2002, university chairs were occupied by approximately 57% (Dencker, 2008, p. 460).
Through education, women have been able to obtain and occupy leadership positions, act independently, and be able to reason. Reports from statistics carried out by the UN indicate that leadership among women in UAE countries has been contributed by the blossoming of women in terms of education (Arab Law Quarterly, 1996, p. 59). From this backdrop, it is evident that women in the entire United Arab Emirates (UAE) bloc are indeed emerging as equal competitors as their counterpart men.
According to Bahgat (1999, p. 132), due to the high levels of education, women in the UAE have been opened to countless career choices. Baghat argues that as such, they have been able to rise to leadership positions in diverse roles such as doctors and teachers (Bahgat, 1999, p. 132; Neal, Finlay & Tansey, 2005, p. 245). The number of total workforce and heads of departments in UAE countries is made up of 20% women but is much higher in the government sectors with over 27% of them being decision-makers, 57% heading banking sectors, and 40% labor force (EL-Haddad, 2006, p. 286; Webb, 1997, p 159).
It is imperative to note that the degree with which women have advanced in UAE countries puts them in a position where they can be directly involved in making decisions involving the country just like it is with the western countries. In UAE, there are over 23,000 businesswomen with a total of 62 billion dollars in their account (Gallant, & Pounder, 2008, p. 29). By 2008, it was reported that a total of ten business executives who were women from the Middle East made their record as among the best 100 bankers worldwide, indicating how women have not only excelled in conducting business but are also great entrepreneurs and skilled in the business world (Grandey, Cordeiro & Crouter, 2005, p. 319).
This is an interesting point of departure for UAE women in the sense that although the capital has been a major impeding factor in their growth in the business world, they are not badly off. Indeed, the aforementioned factors are great incentives for UAE women who are planning to engage in leadership activities, including those who are in various businesses (Gaad, 2006, p. 291).
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According to Stephenson (2010, p. 231), both the public and private sectors play an integral role in building the economy of the United Arab Emirates country. While the public sector is run and managed by the government, the main players in the private sector are individuals who set up their businesses and run them as private entities (Al-Jenaibi, 2010, p. 236; Behery, 2008, p. 860; Bristol-Rhys & Rugh, 2009, p. 766). Each of these sectors has unique merits and demerits.
For instance, some individuals would prefer to be employed in the public sector largely due to job security and a stable salary. However, the private sector may also promise better salaries among other fringe benefits that come along with various jobs being offered. The working environment may be enjoyable alongside flexibility at work which enhances creativity as well as skill development.
According to Claros & Zahidi (2005, p. 453), the existence of women leaders in businesses in UAE and their variance has been remarkable over the past ten years both in terms of quality and number. This has also been the trend across the world. Leadership in the private sector is steadily supplementing the public sector through spontaneous growth (Claros & Zahidi, 2005, p. 453; El-Baz & El-Sayegh, 2010, p 1088). Moreover, small businesses have remarkably shaped the way business is done and as a result, the UAE economy is experiencing growth mainly due to the existence and expansion of small businesses.
Women and leadership progress
Dating back in history, women have been embroiled in a struggle in society to prove their worth, and also to take their rightful places in the society as far as all aspects of life are concerned (Al-Tarrah, 2010, p. 22). Al Gharaibeh explains this situation by saying that in UAE “Women suffer the harmful, life-threatening effects of traditional and cultural practices that continue under the guise of cultural and social conformism and religious beliefs that discriminate between genders” (2011, p. 102) This struggle, Al Tarrah (2010, p. 22) argues, has been extended to obtaining leadership positions, where women are trying to prove that they are as good as men when it comes to managing entities.
Up to now, women in UAE, due to the already industrialized, strong, and vibrant economies, seem to have made significant gains in terms of leadership. It is estimated that women run and control about a third of all business enterprises in this society. These businesses owned and managed by women are playing a very significant role in the economy of these countries, and their impact on the whole society in extension cannot be downplayed.
Women leadership, as a result, has continued to attract the attention of scholars in society. There is interest in analyzing how this historically discriminated segment in the society is fairing in a field that has been controlled by men for a very long time now (Anon., 2011, p. 288). Al Gharaibeh says that “however, women often feel embarrassed to complain, and as a result they remain silent because they know they will not be supported, and because they fear of sullying their reputation or ruining their career “(2011, p. 101) To this end, several studies have been conducted, addressing various attributes of this field.
This ranges from the challenges that women face in their leadership roles, their rate of success, and other factors. Businesswomen in the UAE have especially attracted a lot of attention from these scholars. This is given the fact that the women of this region are especially known for their subordinate role in the society because men have traditionally dominated many spheres of leadership in this region for a very long time (Randeree, & Chaudhry, 2007, p. 225). They control business, family issues, politics, and other important areas.
Heckathorn (2002, p. 20) points out that Sheikh Fatima, UAE’s First Lady, has played a great role in ensuring that women have made great achievements in leadership roles. She established an organization for women in 1975 as well as umbrella society for all women called UAE’s women Federation. In the beginning, the federation aimed at linking UAE women with the international organization, raising their cultural standard through planned activities, ensuring needy women is reached by social care and services, eradicating illiteracy, and developing self-esteem and image of women (Heckathorn, 2002, p. 20; Miller, 2001, p. 160).
Today, Miller (2001, p. 160) argues that through the federation, women have risen to occupy positions of leadership in fields such as insurance, designing, engineering, cosmetics, banking, architecture, and all media aspects. Some examples of women leaders in UAE include Sheikh Zayed, UAE’s First Lady, and Farida Kamber, an emirate businesswoman (Heilmann, Bell & McDonald, 2009, p. 90). The latter, besides being a leader of an interior design company, has won numerous awards. It is imperative to note that the first lady has been on a campaign for UAE women to members of the national council, members of parliament, and work in media houses. She has desired to have women from all walks of life have full rights in decision-making processes, participate in politics, and be equal with male their compatriots (Omair, 2009, p. 416).
Some of them had been motivated from the early beginnings from the success witnessed in their male counterparts. The fact that men have always succeeded in leadership has greatly boosted the confidence of UAE women to start and independently lead others or run their enterprises without relying on men (Randeree, 2006, p. 65). On the same note, the cultural dilemma that had faced most women in past has indeed gone down and as a result, women are no longer viewed as house-keepers but as equal competitors both in the academics and in the business world
In my perspective, women play a momentous role in facilitating change and development in the UAE countries. According to Al-Ajmi (2001, p. 103), their daily contribution to the socio-economic well being of the nation cannot be overstated here. As indicated, the areas of importance where UAE women play an integral leadership role are in the private sector and even the public sector (Al-Ajmi, 2001, p. 103).
In the private sector, their contributions are seen through the establishment of businesses. Since not all women in the UAE are finding it easy to compete against men in leadership, many of them have been encouraged through women organizations not to give up as society has a place for women especially in leadership in the business cycles. Indeed, this situation has prompted many women entrepreneurs to compete favorably and stiffly with their male counterparts (Richardson & McKenna, 2006, p 18). It is interesting to note that despite the challenges experienced by women entrepreneurs in UAE, there are still a host of motivating factors that keep them going as observed.
For instance, as aforementioned, it has been noted that women form a huge chunk of university graduates in UAE in the sense that most of them are indeed well educated, a scenario that put s them into the favorable competing ground in terms of leadership with another individual especially men. This is especially so considering that they are the majority in the society, making up about fifty-one percent of the world’s population. This being the case, it is important to note that empowering women in society will go a long way in helping everyone there.
As indicated earlier, it was traditionally known that the place for the Arabic woman is the home. Her life revolves around her family; her children, her husband and generally keeping the home habitable. As such, it attracts a lot of attention to seeing how UAE women have developed in their leadership styles and are now spreading their wings far and wide, beyond the confines of the four walls of their houses even to leadership in the society.
Richardson & McKenna (2006, p 18) argues that women in UAE have indeed been inspired to focus their effort on taking leadership roles bearing in mind that the formal sector is largely dominated by males and few women find employment opportunities there. The available opportunity in the government public sector is also highly competitive compelling women to seeking leadership roles to increase their efforts (Richardson & McKenna, 2006, p 18). It is also worthy to note that UAE countries seem to be offering vast leadership opportunities for women although they need to step out from their comfort zones and prove their worth in a male-dominated society (Metle, 2002, p. 259).
Leadership opportunities are vast. As such, the available leadership opportunities for women in the UAE can only be explored if the right effort, commitment, and knowledge are put in place (Metle, 2002, p. 259). It is important for women engaging in leadership to get to know that real commitment and application of stringent leadership skills cannot be evaded at any given time during any operation.
In addition, women need to understand that whenever they set their focus on leadership, they should expect challenges that come with it. Al Gharaibeh says that “women are discriminated against in the workplace based on their gender, despite their broad participation in the workforce. Discrimination occurs subtly as well as blatantly. An example of subtle discrimination is in the choice of careers”(2011, p. 103).
As most studies have pointed out, most women performing leadership roles reaches a period when they are faced with challenges. Many women leaders in UAE have indicated that in their leadership, they have been faced with a myriad of challenges but they have always been determined to remain afloat and persistent. It is instructive to note that both men and women in the UAE have unique roles that they play in society (Rose, 2005, p. 460).
Although they have equal opportunities in life, the latter has historically struggled to assume leadership positions in a male-dominated world. Despite this, the case of the developed world is rather unique since women seem to be at the center stage of development controlling many sectors in the economy. These developed economies are being transformed by females (Talhami, 2004, p. 16).
My main worry is that employment opportunities for women in the construction and public works sector cannot sustain the population for a longer period. For example, jobs in the construction sector last as long as the construction boom lasts (Hutton, 1995, p. 64). The jobs from this sector are more or less cyclical, meaning that they are unable to provide stable or high-quality employment in the future. Those who are working in the construction and public works sector are less likely to be able to enter into employment in other sectors when the construction boom comes to an end. They are likely to revert to the unemployed class, in effect widening the unemployment rates in the country.
Even though employment is generally high in UAE, the case is different when one considers the women who are in leadership in the construction and public works industry. This is given the fact that they are unable to work in this industry, where most of the employment opportunities are to be found (Metle, 2001, p. 320). As such, it indicates that unemployment among the male population is declining, that among the female population is on the rise.
To sum up, the challenges posed by gender on the issue of leadership are not limited to the UAE only. Even though no evidence segregates enterprise ownership along the gender line, current statistics, as already mentioned, reveal that a lesser percentage of organizations are owned by women while the remainder is owned by males. Furthermore, there is minimal statistical evidence on the growing number of women engaging in decision making and leadership activities. As already noted, the UAE economy has grown, resources are abundant, and the government support women’s leadership. As such, the economy provides the best opportunity for women to excel in leadership roles.
Additionally, women have also extended their struggle to obtaining leadership positions, where women are trying to prove that they can perform as men or even in a better way contrary to what the society has belied in for decades now. Up to now, women in the wider United Arab Emirates (UAE), owing to the well-developed economies, seem to have made huge strides in terms of leadership. It is approximated that women run and control about thirty percent of major business organizations in the UAE. These businesses owned and managed by women are playing a momentous role in boosting the economic development of this economic bloc. Therefore, their impact on modern society cannot be underestimated.
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