Final workshop executive summary


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Final workshop executive summary

  1. 1. Dubai School of Government Executive Summary Women and Leadership Development: Perspectives, Policies and Pedagogies Workshop September 2007 In September 2007, the Dubai School of Government hosted a series of workshops addressing the issue of women’s leadership development in the United Arab Emirates, focusing on educational and training methodologies and relevant workplace policies. These workshops also served as a forum for establishing a network of potential collaborators and interested partners for future research projects. The workshops hosted women from several fields, namely, senior government officials, recent graduates engaged in full-time salaried work, university representatives and human resource managers from both the government and private sector. The following executive summary outlines several emergent themes from the ensuing workshop discussions and is divided into four sections: education, work, leadership and policies. Each section is followed by policy recommendations. Data presented in this document has been compiled from workshop discussions and surveys completed by attending participants. These results were both of a qualitative and quantitative nature, providing us with concrete views of women’s experiences of education, work and training in UAE society.
  2. 2. 1. Background The workshop participants included a group of highly-qualified working women in the UAE, whose views are crucial in understanding the gendered nature of the educational system, as well as gaining insight into policies, cultural constraints and challenges that women encounter in the workplace. Thus, workshop discussions and surveys filled out by the participants provided us with some privileged insight into the views held regarding women’s leadership development in the United Arab Emirates. Despite the small size of the sample (23 participants) it includes women of diverse age groups1, education levels, occupations and careers. All the participants attending the workshops hold university degrees.2 Half of the participants hold middle management positions, while twenty percent are in top management. Most of these participants are involved in the business and education sectors. Fifty percent of our sample has between five to fifteen years of experience in their respective fields.3 Just under half of the participants are married and have children, and the majority of their husbands hold university degrees and work in the private sector. 2. Education 2.1 Educational system: There was a strong consensus among participants on the need to modify the prevailing curricula in the UAE, especially at the high school and university level. Government curricula are not challenging enough to students, resulting in the underdevelopment of critical competencies. Rigidity within the educational system was another concern expressed among all groups. For example, at the university level, students that have family commitments are not given the flexibility to pursue their education outside the university itself. Further concerns revolved around the notion of students being “spoon-fed”, “brain-washed” and treated like “children”. In addition, current methods of teaching do not facilitate or develop leadership skills in students, where pedagogy follows traditional rote methods, and most teachers assume authority without allowing students to freely express their own opinions. Even though leadership programs are not offered by any schools in the UAE, private schools do offer extra-curricular and team-building activities, as well as allowing students 1 Their ages range between 20-49 years of age. 2 Over half of the participants hold Masters Degrees, while a few hold PhD’s. 3 Some participants have less than five years of experience and a few have more than thirty years of experience. 2
  3. 3. to have male/female interaction. These exercises pave the way for the development of basic leadership qualities. Government schools, on the other hand, are strictly segregated and do not offer additional activities of any kind. Regarding university degrees, there is a tendency in the job market to favour UAE nationals who have obtained foreign degrees regardless of their degree of choice. There also seems to be an absence of PhD programs offered in the country, which is a serious concern among those who want to continue their further education within the UAE. The educational system in the UAE, being in its early development stages, suffers from a great deal of “trial and error” with regard to pedagogies and educational methodologies. These sentiments were pronounced by both employers and senior professionals attending the workshops, who stated that these trial and error procedures adversely affect the development of students’ learning and leadership capabilities. 2.2 Career counselling: Another significant issue raised was the absence of sound, market-oriented career counselling for students, whether at the high school or university level. This makes the transition from high school to university, and from university to work all the more difficult for students to cope with. The absence of counselling results in degrees being selected under the influence of peers and/or parents (choices tend to steer towards business and IT). This reduces students’ decision making capabilities in selecting their future career paths. 2.3 Segregation: All government and some private schools in the UAE are segregated at the secondary level and onwards. Once students enter the workforce, however, interaction with the opposite sex becomes a must and many employees find this challenging. The need for gender interaction prior to joining the workforce is a necessity for young women in the UAE, as their social networking capabilities depend on access. 2.4 The internship experience: Many UAE universities provide internship opportunities for their students in the job market. If internships in their respective fields are not offered, some universities offer job opportunities at the school itself. With the exception of one or two examples, participants felt that job placements and internship programs leave much to be desired. Often, interns are not provided with structured programs or challenging work. Many participants felt that employers need to view these job placements as a means of sustainable employment by investing in their interns as future employees. 3
  4. 4. 2.5 Recommendations: - Integration of male and female students of segregated schools by offering opportunities for “mixed” extracurricular activities, workshops, forums, international conferences and job placements at the university level, whilst taking into account cultural sensitivities and norms. These opportunities can create a smoother transition into the workplace. - Revising the current curricula to evoke more critical thinking, promote leadership qualities and to further challenge students by stimulating their intellectual abilities. - Modifying the pedagogy to alter the ‘top-down’ approach so commonly used within schools and universities in the UAE, and to create a more challenging atmosphere of debate and freedom of thought, with an emphasis on building decision-making skills as well as entrusting students with more responsibility. - Emphasis on career counselling as an important tool for recognizing students’ strengths and capabilities for selecting the appropriate educational and career path. Young graduates also need to be well acquainted with market demands as the market is ripe to hire UAE nationals. - Since the UAE is a young country, it needs to invest in critical areas and careers for the benefit of the economy. Gaps in particular sectors need to be identified by career counsellors in order to encourage students to attain qualifications relevant to the job market. 3. Work 3.1 Transition to the workplace: There was a general consensus during the workshops that the transition from university to workplace is a challenging one for young graduates in the UAE. This was due to several factors, including minimal exposure to mixed-gender environments and the underdevelopment of applied practical knowledge. While some universities do provide students with practical knowledge and applied skills for the workplace, most universities focus mainly on theory. Another transitional difficulty was the lack of access to career counselling at the university level (as mentioned previously). In addition, there is minimal presence of both mentoring and guidance for students from the institution itself, whether at the personal or the academic level. Regarding career fairs, many participants agreed that they do not seem to serve their purpose. From an employer’s perspective, career fairs show that many fresh graduates in the UAE have unrealistic expectations about the job market (e.g. high salary/position expectations). On the other hand, many university representatives at 4
  5. 5. the workshop suggested that career fairs have the potential to be a good platform for fresh graduates to network and gain a clear perspective of the job market. 3.2 Jobs and careers: Many young graduates in the UAE prefer to work in the business sector (namely human resources) or have a preference for venturing into the field of entrepreneurship and/or working for the family business. Young Emirati graduates also prefer working for the government rather than the private sector as it offers higher salaries and shorter working hours. This could result in the unrealistic expectations UAE nationals have for themselves when entering the job market. Another inherent problem is the lack of knowledge regarding the job market, thus resulting in the often quoted “mismatch” between the outputs of the educational system and the demands of the market. For example, there has been a growing supply of students selecting ‘e-commerce’ as a specialization, assuming that it is a strong market demand. Thus, the e-commerce job market has become saturated. Many young graduates do not see their jobs as ‘career choices’ but simply as work. They have not been made aware of the possibilities of choosing a career path. Opportunities are available; however, there is minimal focus on actual career development. 3.3 Nationalization in the workplace: The current Emiratization schemes running in the UAE seem to be counter- productive to the development of UAE nationals. Quota systems normally result in the emergence of stereotypes. This has been the case in the UAE, where there has been a broad categorization of young Emiratis as being “unproductive” or “lazy”. Even though some multinational firms do end up hiring UAE nationals, their role and function in the organization is minimal and tends to be administrative (with exceptions). This skill underutilization leads to frustration among young professional Emiratis, resulting in high turnover. HR representatives attending the workshops felt that despite the Emiratization process, it is not only sufficient have an “Emirati” CV to be successful. In order to survive in a competing market, one needs to have the appropriate qualifications. Therefore, training courses (whether leadership or management), could compensate for the lack of development of market-relevant skills for Emiratis to compete on an equal footing with expatriates working in the UAE. 5
  6. 6. 3.4 Cultural constraints: Many women are excluded from the decision making process by virtue of being a woman (for example, from majlis gatherings where most important decisions are made). This limits their network building capacities and reduces their ability to critically influence the decision making process in the workplace. Travelling seems to be another constraint. Many young women are not allowed to travel abroad for work unless accompanied by a family member. Thus, by default, organizations become biased against allocating foreign assignments to young Emirati women, disadvantaging them from gaining a competitive edge and limiting opportunities for their promotion. This phenomenon is much more prevalent in the government sector. Moreover, a number of cultural constraints are reinforced by personal status laws that discriminate against women. It was clear based on the responses of our survey, that an overwhelming majority of participants hold liberal views on women’s roles and strongly endorse equality between women and men. Eighty percent of the participants agreed that men should share the housework with women and ninety percent of the participants believe that women should have the same opportunities as men. In addition, eighty percent feel that a working woman can establish a warm and secure relationship with her children just as a mother who does not work, while all the participants unanimously endorsed the view that a woman should be able to freely choose her future husband. However, when having to make a choice between marriage and a job, half the respondents would choose the former. 4 This suggests that despite the endorsement of “liberal” views on most items in the survey, almost half of the respondents hold traditional views when it comes to work- family balance issues. 3.5 Flexi-hours and part-time work opportunities: Flexi-hours and part-time job opportunities need to be formally introduced into the workplace in the UAE, as they are keys to empowering women, especially those with family commitments. Many women temporarily leave the workforce after having children and are not given flexible working options (for example, being able to work part-time or to work from 4 Reference: Almohsen, M. An exploratory study of the views of modernization of educated Saudi Women. University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2000). These items were adapted from the Almohsen study where items were validated in samples of Saudi female students. The content of the items included housework, employment, equal opportunity, balancing home and work life and selection of mate. The ‘agree’ category indicates modern (or liberal) attitudes towards the role of women, while the ‘disagree’ category indicates traditional (conservative) ones. The vast majority chose the “modern” response for almost all items. See appendix I for responses to survey questions regarding women’s attitudes towards their roles. 6
  7. 7. home) and find it challenging to re-enter the workforce. This results in a “tipping point” at which many women permanently exit the job market. 3.6 Recommendations: - Career services and alumni offices should track the career development of their former students in order for counsellors to be more aware of the job market. - Young graduates, especially women, should be exposed to international environments such as attending conferences and training courses outside the UAE in order to expand the scope of their professional communication, learning and networking skills. - The introduction of flexi-hours and part-time job opportunities as a necessary tool for retaining a large percentage of the female work-force. 4. Leadership and Development 4.1 Core competencies for leadership: Many young women in the UAE need to work on developing their core leadership skills, as well as learning how to promote their achievements. Young women in the UAE are regularly seen as less “challenging and assertive” than their male counterparts. Such gendered perspectives could work to disadvantage women if they are to compete on the same professional footing as men. In addition, there seems to be a lack of ‘role models’ available to young Emirati women. In order to build leadership capacities, role models are essential for teaching young professionals how to become effective change agents and how to accommodate handling multiple roles at once by setting an example. 4.2 Networking and segregation: There was a strong consensus that “mixed” environments are necessary for young graduates to develop their networking skills. As most young Emirati women (and men) come from segregated environments (either at school or within the community), interaction in the workplace becomes a challenge. Thus, leadership programs dedicated solely to women might actually hinder their leadership capacities when later placed in a mixed environment. Placing men and women in the same classroom sends the right message that women are as capable as men when it comes to leadership and decision making abilities. Segregation, if any, should be made between levels of seniority (i.e. between senior and junior professionals). Fresh graduates and young professionals need to develop core problem-solving, communication and decision-making skills which senior professionals already possess. However, senior professionals attending the workshops 7
  8. 8. emphasized their own need for further developing skills such as strategic planning and negotiation. Regarding networking opportunities, it still needs to be seen whether alternative spaces can be provided for including women in the decision making process (such as alternatives to the majlis). 4.3 Practicality of leadership courses: There was a positive response to some existing leadership development programs at the Dubai School of Government, in which a number of workshop participants were enrolled in. Other participants expressed interest in executive education programs as part of their continuous career development and personal growth. Some participants suggested the need to have ‘impact assessments’ of these leadership programs in order to evaluate whether skills learned in these programs are actually being implemented in the workplace. Many see these leadership development courses as beneficial merely for networking purposes. Participants also suggested that leadership programs are better accepted by organizations if labelled ‘management’ programs, as organizations feel that the concept of ‘management’ is more conducive and effective to the work experience than ‘leadership’. 4.4 Recommendations: - Young women in the UAE need to develop their leadership skills and work on strengthening traits such as assertiveness and persuasiveness, in order to build an image of competence and confidence in the workplace. - Leadership courses can be useful for reintegrating women who have left the workforce by boosting their confidence. These courses can also help them transfer smoothly back into workplace. - There is a need to conduct impact assessments (before and after the program) to ensure that quality and practicality of implementation of the training has occurred. - Another important factor is to have employers’ “buy-in” to these leadership and management courses, in order to give employees room to implement their newly acquired skills. 8
  9. 9. 5. Policies 5.1 Rights and resources: Over two-thirds of participants who attended the workshop confirmed that their organizations have ‘equal pay’ policies between men and women in the workplace. However, only a little over a half of the participants had ‘formal equal opportunity’ policies at their workplace. 5 Regarding policies against sexual harassment in the workplace, only a third of the participants (mainly in the private sector) stated that formal policies protecting them from sexual harassment existed. Even though some organizations do have these policies, they are rarely implemented. 5.2 Maternity leave and day care facilities: Maternity leave in the UAE, as officially stated by the labour law, is forty-five days paid leave. However, the new HR law, which is only applicable to the government sector, stipulates a sixty day paid leave. Forty-two percent of the participants confirmed only having the forty-five days leave, while twenty-six percent reported having the full sixty days. One example, which came from a private sector company, indicated that female employees requiring maternity leave could receive up to eighty days paid leave. In addition, there seems to be an absence of day care facilities provided by organizations, whether in the government or the private sector, which was confirmed by the majority of our participants. Many viewed this lack of child support as a hindrance to their productivity as employees. 5.3 Government and company policies: Due to the swift nature of policy change in the UAE, most find it difficult to keep up with new laws and regulations constantly being implemented. Also, they report that there is no visible follow-through and assessment of whether these policy changes work or not. Thus, there is an essential need to communicate changes being made and to promote the transparency of governmental regulations. In addition, the new HR law stipulates that there will be no differentiation in salary between a graduate who holds a Bachelors, a Masters or a PhD degree. Salary differentiation depends on position only. This stipulation gives leverage to work experience over education. Many feel that this is a disincentive for those aiming to continue their further education. 5 See appendix II for graphs showing responses to the survey questions on policies in the workplace. 9
  10. 10. Another public sector policy that was addressed during the workshops was the issue of ‘allowances’. If both spouses work within the government sector, only the husband receives allowances, presuming that they would be shared. Since many policies supporting women in the workplace are either not clear or not present, decisions are left up to the discretion of each individual organization. 5.4 Recommendations: - Women need to understand the importance of approaching HR in obtaining their rights as employees. - There is a need for the government/policy makers to communicate changes and promote transparency. - There is also a need for standardizing policies supporting women in the workplace across all sectors. 6. Conclusion The workshop discussions generated an atmosphere of interesting debate regarding work policies and educational pedagogies specifically affecting women in the United Arab Emirates. The discussions also provided us with useful policy recommendations and practical insights for generating future research and leadership development programs at the Dubai School of Government. 10
  11. 11. Appendix I Women’s attitudes towards their role Question: Men should do the same housework as Question: Women should give their jobs priority women over a marriage 50 80 40 60 Percent Percent 30 40 79% 48% 20 20 26% 26% 10 21% 0 0 Disagree Agree Disagree Neutral Agree Question: A working mother can establish a Question: A woman should have the same warm and secure relationship with her children opportunities as a man just as a mother who does not work 100 80 80 60 Percent Percent 60 40 78% 40 90% 20 20 11% 11% 0 5% 5% 0 Disagree Neutral Agree Disagree Neutral Agree 11
  12. 12. Appendix II Policies concerning women in the workplace Formal equal opportunity policies in the Formal policies in the workplace against sexual workplace harassment True True False False Not aware Not aware 21 % 37% 31% 58% 21% 32% Equal remuneration policies Prevalence of childcare facilities and/or day-care centres in the workplace True True 16% False False Not aware 16% 10% 74% 84% 12