Successful working women in the UAE discuss fighting for attention in a man's world

Five years into the new millennium and we still hear of incidents of gender discrimination. It's a pity that cases of domestic abuse, stories of female infanticide and the issue of civil liberties continue to do the rounds.

However, what is worse is that even in the developed world, women still find themselves constantly having to prove that they can.

Initiatives such as the Emirates Businesswomen Award (EBWA) by the Dubai Quality Group and supported by Shell Markets encourage women to not only continue their professional growth, but also go where no man has gone.

Tabloid caught up with four successful professional women in a round-table discussion and asked them what they thought about awards, how they balanced their professional and personal lives and how they rated men as drivers.

Jessica Sutherland is a Canadian national and the general manager of IIR (Institute for International Research), Middle East. She has lived in Dubai since 1991.

Asma Ladki is from Lebanon and a year old in Dubai, but has a long career in human resources that goes back 23 years. She is now the human resource manager with Kodak (MENA). Padma S. Coram is from south India and managing director of The Talent Brokers. She is married and has one son.

Dr Houriya Kazim is a UAE national and is a surgeon specialising in breast cancer. She is married and has two daughters.

Do you agree with a separate award category for women or do you think that women are ready to compete with men for the same honours?

Asma Ladki: I think being a woman is a constant struggle of having to show that we can do things as well as men.

I speak for the Middle Eastern society because I'm Lebanese and all my professional life I have had to fight for everything and even after proving myself it's not enough.

The perception is that women can't because of many reasons. Companies believe that women will always rank family above work and as a result their performance will suffer.

Even if you look at the pay-scales of some companies, there is discrimination based on gender, because the man is considered to be the sole earner. So yes, there is still a need for separate awards for women, because we don't have the same opportunities as men.

Dr Houriya Kazim: I agree with Asma completely. Even if women are more efficient in some situations, we have to work more hours, we have to be extra careful not to cite family or kids as an excuse, otherwise it could be used against us, so of course awards for women are a necessity as the conditions and circumstances we work in are completely different.

Jessica Sutherland: I just think men aren't ready to compete with women for the same award (laughs).

So if companies adopt a slightly different approach towards women because of the belief that they need to balance their married life and a career, does this attitude change if the woman is single?

Asma Ladki: Not at all. The problem is in the perception. There is this belief that women can't do things as well as a man or that a woman won't give as much to her job as a man.

Companies really need to start looking at their female employees as professionals who happen to be women and not women who happen to be professionals.

Padma Coram: I think historically men have always been seen as the breadwinners. While part of it boils down to perception, a lot of it also has to do with opportunity.

Even if there is a desire for a woman to work, for instance, she needs her visa to be signed by her husband or her father. This is a reality and until the right opportunities are created, the perceptions will continue to remain.

Jessica Sutherland: I'd just like to comment on the point of women can. I think women can just manage many things better. They're able to juggle many tasks and have a different set of skill sets than men and it's high time the professional world took note of that.

Do the rest of you agree that women are better at managing many tasks than men?

Padma Coram: Without a doubt. I'd attribute that to how we are trained to be. As women, we are trained to manage many things around home and so we just take that to another level at work.

We're constantly balancing home and careers so it comes naturally to us, through a process of evolution.

Dr Houriya Kazim: Maybe it's a biological thing, but men have a one-track mind. They can handle one task extremely well, but the moment they're asked to multi-task, it's almost as if their brain freezes and they can't even complete one assigned duty properly (laughs).

IIR and Talent Brokers have more female employees than men. Is that a conscious decision by the management?

Jessica Sutherland: No. We have some excellent male employees, but some of our roles and designations require individuals, who are capable of multi-tasking effectively and we've just found that women fit these profiles better.

Padma Coram: It's a yes in the case of The Talent Brokers. As I said that one of the ways to encourage women and support their efforts and desires is by creating the opportunity.

So it's actually up to companies to become socially conscious and create these opportunities so women have a chance to work and realise their potential.

From your experiences who would you say are better in managerial positions? Does the fact that women tend to be a bit more emotional help or hinder?

Jessica Sutherland: I think we need to be careful about generalising here. When it comes to being a good manager, it's more of an individual ability and not typical of a man or a woman.

Dr Houriya Kazim: Men are emotional too but I think women appear more emotional because of our approach towards anything and that includes work.

Padma Coram: I suppose when it comes to personal issues or being a little sympathetic, as an employer, women are a little more approachable for both genders, but again it's more of an individual trait. You can have approachable men and strong women who are intimidating.

Asma Ladki: Men and women are not that different in terms of being emotional. Maybe women appear more emotional because of their patience and perseverance.

So do you think women are better drivers than men?

Dr Houriya Kazim: Of course! Whenever a man says that women are bad drivers I just tell them that the highest number of fatal accidents are in the world are in Saudi Arabia and there are no women drivers there.

How do you balance the pressures of work with the demands from family and friends?

Padma Coram: Life has really become fast in every aspect and I think first of all a woman should work because she wants to work.

I understand that there are situations where women have to work out of necessity but balancing both really boils down to prioritising. It's a choice of choosing meetings over manicures.

Dr Houriya Kazim: