From left: Shareefa Al Beloushi, Al Yazia Al Shamsi and Fatima Al Dahri at the Etihad Innovation Centre in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Emirati women are making strides in the field of aviation, taking up leadership roles as pilots, airport managers and corporate heads with UAE’s flag-carrier airlines.

Speaking to Gulf News, women in top leadership positions at Etihad Airways said this progress is a testament to the support and equal opportunities they receive. The women were speaking at a media briefing organised by Etihad Airways to highlight the achievements of its Emirati women staff.

“My father, who has long worked as a Customs officer, always dreamt of being a pilot. As his eldest child, I chose to fulfil that dream, and while there were initial fears about my safety, there were never any limits placed on me for being female,” Shareefa Al Beloushi, 31, senior first officer on board Etihad’s medium and long-haul flights, told Gulf News.

“There are very few women from around the world who get to pilot passenger aircraft, and this is what I aspire to become. I have always had a passion for the sciences and for travel, so I stepped out of my comfortable banking job as a 24-year-old to pursue my dreams. Like all Emirati women, I am a driver, and this drive comes from our inspiring leaders who stress that there is no limit to what we can achieve,” she added.

Al Beloushi is one of nearly 1,500 Emirati women employed by the airline, which boasts an equal number of male to female Emirati staff.

Along with pilots, Emirati women also head up a number of Etihad offices around the world.

Fatima Al Hashemi

Fatima Al Hashemi, 30, airport manager in South Korea, said Emirati women who work abroad represent the UAE as ambassadors.

“We have the responsibility of portraying Emirati women, and it is a prestigious one. When I first started working in Singapore for Etihad’s airport services there, there was a pervading misconception that all Emirati women were rich and did not like to work. So I set myself to the task and worked hard every day. By the end of my time there, people had a new appreciation for us,” she said.

Al Hashemi was therefore eager to propagate a positive image of Emirati women by moving to a new location, and she was selected to manage airport services in South Korea, an emerging market for the airline with about 300 passengers on its daily flight.

Fatima Al Mehairi

Like Al Hashemi, Fatima Al Mehairi, the 29-year-old general manager for Etihad in Canada, takes her role of representing and serving the UAE seriously.

“I studied in France, so my first three-year stint for Etihad was in Paris. This helped me share my culture with the people there, and now I have a chance to excel while also representing the UAE in Canada,” Al Mehairi said.

She added that Emirati women should not limit themselves, especially with role models like Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Woman’s Union, Supreme Chair of the Family Development Foundation and Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood.

“We have a special day to honour our contributions, so we should not take our roles in society lightly,” Al Mehairi said.

Arwa Al Shehi

Arwa Al Shehi, marketing manager at Etihad’s New York offices, added that Emirati Women’s Day also honours the women of the previous generations.

“It is because of their efforts that we are scaling the heights today. Our achievements give an insight into the dedication with which they raised us, which is humbling,” she said.

Even within the UAE, Emirati women are transforming the aviation sector with their inputs, and they said it is because the UAE gives equal opportunities to women.

Saada Al Taei

“I grew up with three younger brothers, yet there was never a time when I was made to feel less than them. Today, I encourage my two younger daughters and tell them that when they grow up, they can balance both work and family, and achieve their dreams,” said Saada Al Taei, 37, senior manager for service delivery at Global Business Service Solutions, a revenue accounting arm of Etihad.

Khowla Al Badi

It is only fitting that even the airline’s future innovations are being led by a woman, Khowla Al Badi, who holds the position of innovation and technology execution head.

“Emirati women have always been pushed to educate themselves and in future I only see them becoming more visible on the world stage,” she said.