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  • Writer's pictureJenny Hunt

What Is It Like For Women Working In Abu Dhabi?

31st March 2015

This is a question that I am regularly asked, so I thought I would share my experiences and perhaps dispel some myths.

The UAE is often referred to as a land of opportunities and those opportunities are for anyone and everyone, male or female. My personal experience of living and working in Abu Dhabi is very positive. I love working here, so much so, that I set up my own business here in 2014. According to Her Excellency Maryam Mohammed Al-Rumaithi, Chairwoman of the Emirates Business Women Council and Chairwoman of the Abu Dhabi Business Women's Council, I am one of 12,000 businesswomen in Abu Dhabi's private sector in 2014 who run more than 11,000 commercial projects with an investment value of AED 18.3 billion ($5 billion). That is some serious business being conducted by women in Abu Dhabi!

Respect for women

In my line of business of company formation, I work very closely with various government departments. I remember my first ever trip to the Department of Economic Development (DED) - it was a little daunting, I was one of the only women to be seen amongst masses of men and certainly one of the few Western faces. However, I found this advantageous. Emirati men have a huge respect for women and were happy to assist me. I have found this to always be the case since and often preferential treatment is given to women, with dedicated queues for ladies (which are generally much faster). Nowadays when walking through the DED, and other government departments, it seems that there is a much higher number of women working and doing business there.

What to wear?

Another popular question from ladies visiting Abu Dhabi for the first time from overseas. I usually recommend business attire. Its respectful to keep shoulders and knees covered. Emirati ladies in business will wear an Abaya and Sheyla, but it is not expected that foreign women follow suit. However, its worth being particularly conscious of your attire when visiting government departments, Notary Publics or Judicial departments as some are particularly strict and will insist that a skirt is a minimum of half way down the calf. I have been caught out on a couple of occasions, despite wearing a business suit, so now I keep a beautiful Abaya in my car to slip on over my suit when I am visiting such departments. However, it should be noted, that it is not imperative for the head to be covered in such instances.

Can women negotiate business deals?

Absolutely. Increasingly women are securing senior roles within businesses and the government and such roles require negotiation skills. As a foreign woman coming into the market, prior to getting to the point of discussing a contract, time will have been spent building a relationship and trust with the third party, so its only natural that after investing that time and getting to know the other party that you are the one to negotiate the deal as the third party will be entering into the deal based on what you have been able to bring to the table, your approach, your style, your innovation, your vision and your personality.

Is it safe for women in Abu Dhabi?

Yes - it's a safe place to work and for women to move around freely, whether driving themselves, taking a taxi or using public transport, both day and night. This is supported by the WEF Social Progress Index which ranked the UAE 37th globally in 2014 for treating women with respect and dignity.

Government support for women

Women are held in high regard in the UAE - the females in the family unit are very important and respected. As women increasingly take on more senior roles in the workplace, they command and receive respect from their colleagues and add diversity to the decision making units. The Federal government of the UAE is also implementing a number of strategies to encourage women in the work place to strive for more and to succeed. In December 2012, the UAE Cabinet ruled it compulsory for corporations and government agencies to include women on their boards of directors. The reasoning behind this was to make companies more competitive and to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Dubai Women Establishment was established in 2006 to encourage and facilitate the participation of Emirati women in the workforce and society. Its mandate includes research to identify and quantify the status of women in the workforce of Dubai, as well as initiatives to ensure further development opportunities for women. The establishment also recommends awareness campaigns and policies that are conducive to women in the workforce that enable women to play greater roles within the UAE and worldwide.

How Emirati women are achieving more

In March 2015, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of International Cooperation and Development retained top in a ranking of the 100 most powerful Arab women for the fifth year in a row.

Four women hold ministerial positions in the Cabinet. The current Federal National Council comprises 17.5% women. Three of the UAE's ambassadors, one consul general and the UAE's representative to the United Nations in New York are women. Four women have been appointed as judges, two as public prosecutors and 17 as assistant public prosecutors and marriage officials. Women also serve in the armed forces, customs and police. Prestigious government entities, such as twofour54 media free zone (Abu Dhabi), Tecom Business Park (Dubai) and Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Dubai), are headed by women. Women make up 66 per cent of the public sector workforce, compared to a global average of 48%, of which 30% are in senior and decision-making positions.

95 per cent of female high-school graduates pursue further education at tertiary-level institutions, compared with 80 per cent of males. Women constitute almost two-thirds (71.6 per cent) of students attending government universities and over half (50.1 per cent) at private tertiary-level institutions. Women also regularly outperform their male counterparts academically and are leading the way in faculties that were previously considered to be a male domain. For example, 56% of the UAE's federal university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women. At Abu Dhabi's Masdar Institute of Science and Technology 60% of Emirati graduate students are female.

Support and networking groups for women

There are a number of groups established especially for women living and working in Abu Dhabi - some are online social networks where women can ask for advice, share experiences/news, and make friends. Others are aligned with business groups to encourage businesses to develop their female workforce and there are more which are purely for business networking or socialising. There is a lot of support available if you are prepared to go out and find it. For the most part, my experience of meeting and working with expat women from numerous nationalities is that they are friendly, approachable and willing to give up their time and share their knowledge and experiences. Amongst my Emirati business connections, there is also a strong sense of working together, encouraging each other and sharing ideas. A selection of some of the current groups are linked below: / / / /

Statistics courtesy of and

Written by Jenny Hunt, Founding Partner & CEO,

Gateway Group Of Companies, Abu Dhabi & Dubai, UAE


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