Contrary to common misconception, women are active in the Middle East workforce and enjoy substantial support from the government and male colleagues.
The role of women in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has grown in line with the country’s development. The right of UAE women to take part in the development of all areas of their society is laid out in its constitution and in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 where women in the workforce is a key pillar of economic and social development. The UAE leads the region in closing the gender gap in education, wage equality, political rights and healthcare.
Women here have taken advantage of the educational opportunities available after the discovery of oil. According to Mona Al Merri, who headed the UAE delegation to the 10th edition of the Women’s Forum global meeting in Deauville, France, in 2014 the level of employment of female nationals in the UAE is higher than in any other GCC state. Emirati women occupy 66 per cent of public sector positions, out of which 30 per cent are in leadership roles.
Besides the traditional fields of education and health, there are many female graduates working in various disciplines such as engineering, media and communications, science, computer technology, law, commerce, and more recently – procurement and supply chain. And here I provide a few examples…
Samar Al Mansoori, executive director of procurement and commercial at the Tourism Development and Investment Corporation (TDIC), is a leading light in the procurement profession in Abu Dhabi. She recently founded a procurement community of practice and is a role model for women in the region. She talks about the importance of promoting the value of the profession internally and externally. She has risen from being the only woman in a procurement role in the aviation industry, to working for Abu Dhabi’s leading investment company Mubadala, assessing acquisitions and operations of overseas companies, to leading the commercial division of TDIC. She credits her meteoric rise to having the right support and the right attitude, believing that being curious, proactive and driven to learn are the key drivers of her success.
Mariam Al Dhaheri from the Mubadala Development Company is a rising young star in the procurement profession in Abu Dhabi. She believes procurement is fulfilling an increasingly strategic role to oversee the responsible spending of Abu Dhabi government money.
Mariam, who frequently travels abroad, says she is often surprised by the misconceptions others have about the UAE and women’s role within it. Just as European countries are diverse in their levels of development, culture, and economic output, Middle Eastern countries also vary. She says: “With a positive attitude, I will achieve my career goals. The barriers to success are only assumed and I do not limit myself. Nor do I see my gender as a factor in my success. Being an effective procurement leader is more to do with personality, self-belief and strong performance.”
Women in procurement often surprise their male colleagues with their negotiation skills. Mariam attributes this to cultural tradition of bargaining and the observation of their mother and grandmother’s techniques and strategies, which she has refined and adapted for the negotiating table.
Muna Bin Zoubaa is head of procurement and supply chain at Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management. She is a strong advocate of trying to support women in the procurement profession and is committed to making a positive contribution to her country.
She says she has had very positive support from her male colleagues and recalls early inspiration and support given to her by her manager Saeed Al Ameri who gave her the confidence and encouragement to reach her leadership potential.
Wafa Khreishi says procurement is becoming increasingly recognised as a profession and function that adds value. As a former electrical engineer she has used her strong technical knowledge to inform her procurement practice.
Eatadal Al Zaabi transferred from the finance to the procurement department and enjoys the interpersonal interaction required by its processes, which move well beyond transactional work. She believes that a woman’s personality and disposition are critical for aspiring leaders in procurement.
Baraa Fadaaq, from Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, says satisfying people is one of the most challenging aspects of procurement. She thinks it should be taught in universities to promote the profession, adding: “A dream job is one that makes you happy and procurement is both challenging and rewarding.”
HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder and former president of the UAE, has been quoted as saying: “Nothing could delight me more than to see women taking up their distinctive position in society... Nothing should hinder their progress... Like men, women deserve the right to occupy high positions according to their capabilities and qualifications.”
☛ Megan James is procurement support manager at Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority