Four prominent women representing academia, government and the private sectors in the UAE addressed the challenges facing women in leadership in a public panel event hosted by the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Institute on Monday. The public panel was featured as part of a two-day workshop bringing together approximately 30 female leaders in the UAE to develop action plans to further the empowerment of women.
The panelists were: panel moderator Farah Foustok, CEO of ING Investment Management, Middle East & Africa; May Al Dabbagh, director of the Gender and Public Policy Program at the Dubai School of Government; Ruba Yousef Al Hassan, advisor in the Social Development Sector at the General Secretariat of the Executive Council — Abu Dhabi; and Behjat Al Yousuf; associate director at Al Ain Colleges, Higher Colleges of Technology.
Throughout the discussion, a recurring theme was the importance of including men in the process of empowering women, as the panelists called for a more integrated approach to looking at gender issues. Women do not live in isolation, they noted, therefore in order to make real progress in female empowerment, the conversation should include both men and women in different sectors of society in order to address concerns within a more realistic and contextualized framework.
"With social change, there needs to be a collective approach to it," Al Yousuf said. "Women need to negotiate and create a win-win situation, where then, collectively, the whole society understands why we are doing this change and the reasons for the change."
"I think the best thing that we can do for women in leadership in the region, is to focus on men," Al Dabbagh added. "The lives of women intersect very closely with men in a variety of ways — as colleagues at work, husbands, as sons, and as people walking down the street… We are doing ourselves a disservice if we assume that men do not have something valuable to add to this process."
Looking to the future, gender issues should not isolate women, but should address challenges facing both genders where they exist, Al Hassan said; providing the example of retention and performance challenges for males that need to be addressed within the education system.
Another significant point of discussion was the important need for increased access to comprehensive, reliable, and scientific research in order to lead policy development.
"We need to understand what is the status quo, what are the barriers, what are the numbers, before we are able to put in solutions," Al Yousuf said.
Al Hassan cited a UAE University survey of women across the UAE that highlighted top concerns that women see for themselves, including access to employment, family dysfunction and domestic violence, and access to quality healthcare. While she said this was a positive start, more research is required to better understand the real issues and challenges facing women.
In addition to being evidence-based, policies and programs designed to empower women must also be culturally sensitive, focused, and sustainable, the panelists said.
The conversation of women in leadership has been evolving as younger generations are more aware about their opportunities and the desire to excel professionally.
"We need to think about engaging about women's leadership issues in ways that are fundamentally different than we have in the past decades," Al Dabbagh said.
The NYUAD Institute workshop and panel event was organized by professors from the Center for Global Affairs in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at NYU New York: Divisional Dean and Clinical Associate Professor Vera Jelinek, Clinical Associate Professor Carolyn Kissane, and Clinical Assistant Professor Sylvia Maier.