Is corporate UAE kinder to men than women?

In her highly acclaimed book “Lean In”, one of the themes Sheryl Sandberg explores is the difficulties women face in the professional world to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Although women are better off now than they have been in the past, the belief that they must choose between being successful in their jobs and being a good wife/mother still persists. The Facebook COO cites a study conducted with the 2006 graduating class at Princeton, where 62% of women said they anticipated work/family conflict. On the other hand, only 33% of men predicted this and of these men who expected a conflict, 46% expected that their wives would step away from their career track. In fact, these sentiments are not exclusive to the United States.

In OMD’s recent study “The Future of the UAE”, about 94% (50% very concerned, 44% slightly concerned) of working mothers struggle with work-life balance. In comparison, ‘only’ 81% of men are concerned about their work-life balance, with 36% declaring being very concerned. Over three-fourths of working mothers are concerned about being a good parent. This constant struggle to maintain a healthy balance results in an eternal guilt trip. Adjusting to the demands of modern life and still being there for their families is cause for distress for working women. Economic reasons often push women to join the workforce due to rising household bills (34% very concerned, 56% slightly concerned), rising rents (50% very concerned, 46% slightly concerned) and school fees. Maintaining a balance between their families and their careers is a conundrum that all women face.

So what is the solution to this? Interestingly enough, some of the women that were interviewed as part of the Future of the UAE study felt that the work culture empowers women, even if it has some way to go to give flexibility to working women. Official statistics show that the percentage of labor force participation of women in the UAE stands at 43%. Emirati females are particularly dominant in the public sector, where they represent 2/3 of the public sector workforce and a third of them are in senior posts. Seeing the importance of lifting this representation so that it is more balanced, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced the formation of the UAE Gender Balance Council this year. The purpose of the council is meant to recognize the “role of women as an essential partner in building the country’s future and as the main building block of society”.

Entrepreneurship may be one answer and self-employment is seen by almost half of UAE residents as the way to regain control over work-life balance. Even if it is indeed the case is the subject of debate, ‘being your own boss’ appeals to 16% of working mothers who intend to make the jump in the next couple of years.

While there have been steps taken to empower women in the Emirates, working mothers are still struggling to maintain that balance. Ultimately, we must take a page out of Sandberg’s book. Mirroring the steps taken by the government, in the corporate world, men and women must ‘Lean In’ together to truly make change.

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