Mum’s the word for Arab women in the workplace

Conditions for women in the work place are improving but many believe if governments take a more proactive role in helping women to balance their home and work lives it will be better for society as a whole
Maryam Al Murshedi, deputy director general of the RAK Free Trade Zone Authority
By Shane McGinley
Sun 25 Nov 2012 09:15 AM

In 1998 Maryam Al Murshedi’s college wanted to publish her picture in an article in a local publication. “This was a big issue in the family,” she says, recalling how they were against the idea.

Fast forward to 2012 and she has graduated and is now deputy director general of the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone Authority.

Luckily things have also moved forward for women in general and she describes how her father was recently excited when he saw an article about her achievements in a local newspaper.

“Today the perception is different and the culture is different,” she says with pride. “Families are giving more support to their daughters and wives and the government is doing a lot.”

While Al Murshedi has helped to push the boundaries of how working daughters and wives are perceived in the workplace, delegates and panelists at the recent Arabian Business Women’s Forum point out that childcare constraints and a lack of flexible working hours are still major obstacles facing women in the workplace.

In order to improve flexibility for mothers in the workplace, some government organisations are already leading the way and Al Murshedi has been instrumental in helping make this a reality.

“At RAK Free Zone we are flexible for working mothers. We built our own daycare for children… We are very flexible because talented people are not easy to find. Most organisations in region will consider [flexible hours],” she believes.

In order to bring about adequate change in the workplace, delegates and panelists agree that Gulf governments should implement a quota system to increase the participation of women in the labour force.

While initiatives such as Emiratisation, Saudisation and Omanisation schemes have been implemented to improve employment opportunities and conditions for local citizens, many women clearly still believe that it is time for a quota style system focusing on women.

Making working life easier for women can also have bigger rewards in the long run, says Zeina Tabari, chief corporate affairs officer at construction contractor Drake & Scull.

“I do not manage them based on what time they come in… Helping your employees manage their own lives does help improve productivity,” she claims.

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