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It is no surprise that women in the UAE are notably tranquil, when discussions on worsening gender inequalities are heating up elsewhere in the world.

Women hold a multiplicity of roles in the UAE’s private sector, best exemplified by Strata, the advanced aerospace manufacturing firm in Al Ain, where 88 per cent of the Emirati workforce is female. Women-owned businesses account for 10 per cent of the private sector and prominence is stronger in the public sector. With nine federal ministers, the participation of women in the UAE Cabinet is amongst the highest in the world, and women make up half the consultative parliamentary body, Federal National Council (FNC).

Women here are free, safe, educated, and equal to men – and this is noticed, cited, and lauded widely. The UAE was ranked the Middle East’s leader in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2022 report. In 2021, a Georgetown University study placed the UAE’s safety for women at 98.5 per cent, the highest in the world. In the World Bank’s last annual report on ‘Women, Business and the Law’, the UAE achieved a full score in the five main pillars: freedom of movement, workplaces, wages, entrepreneurship, and pension.

In this milieu of social, judicial, and political contentment, local discussions turn towards better gender balance in other spheres.

Champions of climate action

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UN Women Liaison Office and the General Women’s Union (GWU) jointly launched the Climate Change and Gender Equality initiative as part of the UAE’s preparations for the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28).

HH Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the GWU, emphasised the importance of women as active and influential partners in climate change. “The UAE is keen to involve women to contribute effectively to national efforts to enhance environmental preservation and reach sustainable solutions. This is a confirmation and continuation of the UAE’s pioneering model in women’s rights and our belief in their creative abilities and inspiring energies in all sectors and fields.”

The initiative aims to build on the connection between gender balance and climate change.

Positions of executive leadership

Gender equality in the workplace is now an important factor in the assessment of companies. Increased attention on the ‘S’ component of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) is joined by emerging focus on higher levels of DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion). Both routes advocate workplaces that are free of bias, stereotype, and discrimination, and higher women’s representation in executive leadership, and board level positions.

Eugene Mayne, CEO of Tristar Group, and Board Member of the UAE network of United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), explains this. “The variety and volume of changes impacting the work environment is staggering — technological advances, demographic shifts, the gig economy and the digital era, to name a few,” he says. “These trends are disrupting traditional work models, the nature of jobs, and the composition of workforces. As organisations prepare for a digital future, scaling up both ESG and DEI solutions is not just essential, it is vital.”

Winners of the digital era

Mayne is scheduled to participate in an upcoming roundtable at the UN Headquarters in New York, themed ‘A Gender Equal Future of Work in the Digital Age’, and his focus is what companies can do and what they will gain. “It should be less about the token representation of women, and more about their fuller participation and career fulfilment. Better gender balance will undeniably improve ESG, but it will also increase profitability.”

The World Economic Forum estimates that only 22 per cent of AI (artificial intelligence) professionals are female today. Given the opportunity, women can lead innovation in the age of AI, and also ensure that algorithms are free of gender bias.

While digital tools and platforms offer gender parity solutions, they can also create leapfrog opportunities for women’s economic empowerment. Tech-based businesses offer women more flexibility and autonomy, allowing them to manage care-giving responsibilities alongside paid work. It also results in higher female employment rates on digital platforms than in traditional industries.

Wearers of many hats

Dr Imneet Madan, Specialist Paediatric Dentist at Dr. Michael’s Dental Clinic earned three master’s degrees in her quest ‘to establish a success-focused practice with the least number of flaws’. After completing the first in dental science and pedodontics, and the second in laser dentistry, she topped it up with the third in business management.

“Failure is a component of success, and a setback does not have any power unless you give it one,” she cautions women who plan to set up business in the UAE. As a successful medical professional and businesswoman, Dr Madan says achievement comes to those who stick the course. “Keep your goals crystal clear, and no matter how many hurdles pull you down, you will make progress as long as you are on track and stay loyal to your dream.”

Her opinion is mirrored by Katerina Pawlowska Hanafin, COO and Co-Founder, Huriya Private, who says social conditioning can be a restriction. “Some women are scared to seek higher paid jobs in male dominated industries or assume that certain jobs are better handled by men. When this thinking is replaced by attainable goals, there is no looking back” she urges.

Hanafin illustrates this: “In 2022, the percentage of women applying for a second citizenship was 24 per cent, and this catapulted to 38 per cent in January and February 2023,” she observes.

“Governments and marketers are doing their part true, but this demonstrates that women in the UAE are steadily increasing their disposable incomes and financial independence.”