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Tue 11 Nov 2014 09:25 AM

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Debate: Is it women, not men, maintaining the glass ceiling?

Women in male-dominated professions are on the rise, but concerns over equality still persist

Debate: Is it women, not men, maintaining the glass ceiling?

Traditionally male-dominated industries like oil and gas, engineering, IT and construction are beginning to see a rise in the number of women opting for careers in these these sectors in the Middle East, according to panelists a forum in Dubai.

The Arabian Business Women’s Forum revealed a common belief amongst women in the room: that the glass ceiling at the workplace is no longer created by men, but rather by women themselves.

“I work with military men, traders and politicians, so I’ve seen it all in these male dominated environments,” said Nathalie de Gaule, chief executive officer of Baynuna Economic Consulting.

“The opportunities are there, but we are not always the first option that comes to mind. The problem is that as women we don’t know how to network with men. We either deal with it through seduction or fights. I treat my male colleagues as friends, and my tip of advice is just hang out, be part of the group, and then they will think of you when opportunities come along,” she stated.

Katharina Albert, managing director of Kat logics echoed Gaule’s sentiments: “You have to be very careful when you go out with the guys because you don’t want to be asked later on for a date. You have to watch this thin line also, I think this is something that is very challenging for us and can hinder us.”

In additional to finding the right social balance in male-dominated industries, there also seems to be a struggle faced with finding the right work-life balance, added Nadine Bitar, managing director of Placemaking, a boutique urban consultancy focusing on turning urban design consultancy focusing on turning urban spaces into place.

While Bitar has managed regional planning of high profile projects such as Dubailand, Sports City, Motor City and Dubai Studio City, a passionate member of the audience argued that some women are not willing to sacrifice their personal life for the traditional definition of ‘success’.

However, Bitar stood by her opinion and refuted this claim by stating that every women that is not interested in taking up a leadership role is also missing the chance to lead people behind her. “Imagine a world where a woman refused every leadership opportunity that came to her, where would we be now? We have the responsibility of taking our social role as far as we can and be an ambassador of our own gender,” she sated.

“We just don’t give ourselves a chance,” added Cheryl Cairns, Partner at Towers & Hamlins.

“Sometimes I find that it’s actually my fault, I am the one that is devaluating myself. Why am I not confident enough to say this is how much I am worth and charge equivalent prices to that of my male counterparts, for example. Sometimes we have to look at ourselves and we shouldn’t be too shy. The local Emirati girls always have the best performance at a university level because they have that much more to prove. We are more particular about how we present and complete a project, so we shouldn’t be shy about putting a bold price tag on,” she stated.

Roxana Jaffer, chief executive officer of the Holiday Inn Dubai, presented an interesting explanation to this point. “Traditionally the leader was named the Alfa-Male, which signifies male dominance. This is a big challenge that social media is helping us overcome so there are new ways out of it and we need to explore these opportunities more.

“The challenge is us women ourselves, we don’t want to see other women grow. But we are lucky to live in a country where the leader is so pro-women. Around 75 percent of graduates from universities across the UAE are female. Only a handful of them end up in leadership roles.

“There is definitely an opportunity and we need to seize it. I find the “Athena Doctrine” to be a very interesting survey to look at. 64,000 people where asked to participate to determine whether women or men are better leaders. The results consistently indicated that women make better leaders. We are more flexible, collaborate, long term thinking and compassionate.”

The panelists also raised the issue of a prejudice that goes beyond gender, but also age.

“For me, it’s not only about being a woman, but it’s also about being a young woman in your early 30s. It’s a challenge to be taken seriously. If I wanted to apply to a job I’m 32 and I don’t have children, then they will obviously pick a man over me. They will think finish, she will settle into her family soon and this is too high of a risk,” said Gaule.

But she quickly added that after having work experience in the Western world and here in the UAE, she realises that the opportunities are much more available here and the overall experience is much easier.

“I’m lucky because I know both sides: Working in the Western side and with UAE national. It is much easier to work with Emiratis, who are usually elegant and respectable. In the western world if they see a pretty girl passing by they could say something like “check her out”, which never happens here, “ she said.

It seemed that a common thread that ran across both panelists and audience is that a glass ceiling is not necessarily present in the UAE and any limitations that we face are usually created by ourselves and core beliefs.

“Working in the UAE, a women has a greater chance getting through male dominance than in the UK, where you not only get gender dominance but color dominance which is an issue I dealt with when I was there. But slowly things are changing. I handle 280 staff now and I find that men respect you a lot more when you are at the top,” stated Jaffer.

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Ana 5 years ago

I am a western woman in top management living in dubai. I cannot agree more with the last 4 paragraphs, stating that working in the UAE is easier for women compared to the western countries. I feel free and respected and never ever experienced sexist or negative comments from men living here. This country provides unique opportunities.