Working as a Woman in the UAE
Working in the UAE can be incredibly exciting and rewarding for anyone. The amazing weather, the fun atmosphere, and the tax-free salaries make going to the office on a Monday morning more enjoyable than anywhere else in the world.
Whether working in the UAE, or any other part of the world, there is always a unique set of obstacles that women unfortunately have to overcome in order to assert themselves into the workplace. The following tips don’t just apply to women – men moving to the UAE should pay attention, too.
You must be sensitive to religious and cultural customs. For example, keeping discussion of personal details about clubbing, drinking, and other activities that might be frowned upon to a minimum in the workplace. Aside from being restricted to drinking in certain areas, working in the UAE is pretty much the same as working in the UK.
Working in the UAE is just like working at home
While most women believe that adjusting to the work environment in the UAE will be difficult because of cultural barriers – this isn’t the case. Difficulties here in work include managing a heavy workload, meeting employer’s expectations, and dealing with competitive colleagues. If these problems sound familiar, it’s because they are.
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Moving to the Middle East does not make the work environment drastically different from any other country. Most people find that they face the same problems working in the UAE as they do in any other country; that’s not to say that cultural variations don’t make a difference because they do, but they are not as extreme as most people expect.
English is everywhere, but it won’t hurt you to learn some Arabic
When moving to the UAE for work, most people fear the language barrier because they think that Arabic is more widely spoken than English. This is not the case at all. Almost all business is conducted in English, and if your job requires you to speak any Arabic, it will be made clear in the interview process.
It’s always good to have a basic knowledge of the local language, however. Learning how to say a few easy phrases in Arabic such as “hello” and “how are you?” will definitely earn you bonus points, not because they make a difference on your work, but because they show that you are willing to embrace the local culture. Plus, it’s just good manners.
Dress modestly in the professional environment
The major significant issue that women worry about when moving to the UAE for work is the gender discrimination. It’s a false assumption that because the UAE is a Middle Eastern country there will automatically some sort of gender hierarchy with men at the top; this isn’t usually the case.
As in every country, sexism exists and the level of sexism one faces depends on the individuals you are working with. Many women who have moved to the UAE find it easy to work as long as they abide by a few basic rules.
Similar to any other professional environment, it’s best to wear clothes that are not overtly revealing. As a rule of thumb it’s best to have shoulders and knees covered in the workplace. The air conditioning in most offices is so strong that often times it’s more comfortable to have a shawl or cardigan with you.
The UAE is a modern, yet Muslim country
With any foreign culture, there are things that certain nationalities or cultures find more offensive than others. Because the UAE is a Muslim country, some people assume that the social structure is very rigid. However, by taking a few minor precautions women can assure that they don’t offend anyone knowingly or unknowingly.
Many of these precautions are similar to those that would be taken in any work environment. For example, it’s very important to watch the language that one uses in the workplace. Curse words are to be avoided at all costs, so break that habit now.
It’s also best for women not to avoid physical contact with male coworkers, unless it’s a mutually comfortable situation. Many observant Muslim men do not like to shake hands with women, so it’s best not to initiate in order to avoid an awkward situation. Remember, it’s nothing personal, it’s just a custom.
Be smart, use your instincts and err on the side of caution and you will find yourself sailing your way to a successful career!