United Arab Emirates - working there as a woman

As the title suggests that’s the question at hand. It seems that in the near future I will be traveling to Dubai and living there part of the year. I’ve traveled many places but have never been to the Middle-east or any Muslim country.

Dubai is known for being the most progressive location in all the arab states.

I would appreciate commentary on life in Dubai as western woman from those who have first hand experience. If you feel inclined to make comments that don’t directly apply to my question then please withhold them.

My works is in operations for a software company and I would be working with only a couple people from my company. I’m prepared for alterning my approach to business communication, being aware of the cultural differnces. I welcome stories, advice and commentary.

Thank you,

I’m not a woman, but I’ll chip in if you don’t mind.

Living in Dubai is really not that different than living in a conservative American state. There are a few things you have to avoid doing which you wouldn’t normally worry about, at least during Ramadan (don’t eat, drink or smoke in front of Muslims), and if you’re the kind of girl who often goes out in halter tops and booty shorts, you should probably consider a slightly more conservative wardrobe.

That’s about it. Communication will likely be exactly as it is for you now; most of the locals you work with will have studied abroad.

You didn’t specifically ask about what to do, nightlife, etc. so I won’t comment on that.

I hate to answer this sort of thing as I am not a woman. Women seem to handle the Middle East well, but there is so many of the details I do not know.

Besides. the UAE are much different than Saudi Arabia. A very British-oriented place, lots of tourists.

Why not pop over to “Dave’s ESL Cafe” and ask there?

Let’s page Istara, if she’s still around.

Have a friend, an Orthodox Jew, who got a degree in Petroleum Engineering before she thought about where the oil was. She also never learned Yiddish, even though her parents and grandparents talked about the kids in Yiddish, which I thought would be an inspiration to learn it. Not the brightest candle in the menorah. :rolleyes:

My sister has been living there for the last couple of years. She teaches English at the American University while her husband is working in construction. What Really Not All That Bright said sums up what she’s said about her experience. There’s a massive cultural gap between the haves and have nots, and Ramadan is a pain in the neck, but other than that, life’s pretty normal. Well, if by “normal” you mean “insanely great”. She loves it there.

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi there is a pecking order, Arabs and Westerners, then E Asians, then everybody else. Your experience depends on that. Not your gender. By westeners; I mean “white” westeners.

Source: lived there for a while. But very much a man.

I’m male, but I’ll throw in my 2 cents worth, because I was thinking about how it’d be tow work there. There’s been lots of news stories about people getting in legal trouble there, and it is disconcerting. My simple cheap answer – pretend you’re Muslim (assuming you aren’t.)

When it’s time for prayers, don’t start talking. That’s just politeness, really. Just sit quietly, I wouldn’t pull out a Christian prayerbook, but sitting quietly and working, reading or just think happy thoughts.

Hotels have bars, and you can drink alcohol in your room, your home, the hotel bar, etc. But getting drunk, and going out in public is really just asking for trouble. Lots of locals have never seen a person, laughing uncontrollably, and mildly clumsy from being tipsy. They’d expected to never see that, and they’re going to be a little sour on the prospect.

There’s the story of the British lady, who was arrested for having sex on the beach, only she wasn’t, she says, but she was tipsy from the hotel bar, and went to the beach, but not to have sex she says, but they forced her to confess, but the police said they had to tell her multiple times to behave in public, but she says … well, you get the point of my run on sentence above. Most people are sober in public, real sober, and sober people want to be surrounded by other sober people.

Some other people got arrested for drinking orange juice during Ramadan. They’d simply forgotten when it was, bought some at a convenience store while buying gasoline, and started drinking it. Well, again, you’re not Muslim, but eating during Ramadan has to be like drinking alcohol. You keep it in a private place, and outside of your room, you pretend to be Muslim. I dunno, take some crackers to eat in the bathroom stall, or something.

That was my take on living in Dubai. Just like anywhere else in the world, you try to conform to cultural norms, it’s work on your part, but easier in the long run, and more polite. I wouldn’t be loud in Tokyo, I wouldn’t wear a bikini in Vatican City (um … if I were female, that is,) and I’d keep the lawn nicely manicured in Switzerland (I hear they’re into that.) I wouldn’t want to be in a Japanese, or Swiss prison, (yeah I know, not jailable offenses in those countries) anymore than a US holding cell or to have to deal with the Dubai legal system.

It’s apparently frowned on, even for men.

I saw lots of people drunk in public in Dubai. All the time. I also saw people drunk in many other muslim/Arab countries; its not that big a deal, not wise, but not a “oh my god those evil muzzies are gonna cut your head off” type crime either.

If you are a woman, you face challenges you would face being a professional woman anywhere else, in fact probably less its a very business oriented place.

I am woman. I have lived in Saudi Arabia for 11 years and now Doha, Qatar for two.

The biggest problem, I find, Western people have while working in the Middle east is the Eastern view of things. Where as Westerners think…A B C then D. They think B D C then A. Timely manner is not as important in the Middle east. Granted these are broad terms and there are exceptions.

As a Western Woman you will be treated with respect by all other nationalities, but the ‘locals’ take priority in all things.

There are bars in Dubai in the hotels and you as a non Muslim can buy alcohol and they have pork. The cost of living is astronomical so any work contract you have should include an adjustment for hosing! Traffic in Dubai is heavy and you might spend a good portion of your time in traffic to and from work.

Remember you are a guest in a Muslim country so dress accordingly. I’m not talking full hajib, but no short shorts and bikinis at the mall.

Hope this helps.

To the OP, plenty of women - especially UK and Aussie expats work in the Emirates, Dubai especially. It’s the East Asian looking people who have issues, since most maids, etc. are Philipinas… So East Asian looking women tend to run into a subtle bit of racism/sexism from, well, everybody really from what I hear.

Bad advice, never pretend to be what you are not.

Legal trouble for Expats in the Emirates is pretty rare, I don’t know what stories you hear…

I don’t get this really, it’s not like there is mass prayer in the streets in Dubai. Most of the population is Expat anyways.

You’ve clearly never been to Dubai.

There are bars in hotels, restaurants etc. and you’d have to be blind to not see the drunk Russians on holiday staggering around.

Thank you for the feedback provided thus far.

Matters of what do during Ramadan, drinking, wearing skimpy clothing, etc I’m aware of and this is standard fair in tourists guidebooks. One of my coworkers has been on Dubai on many occasions and he remains a valuable source of guidance. He is however male and can offer only his view of the dynamic in business between Arab men and western women.

I appreciate that Dubai is quite accommodating toward westerners and that doing business with westerners is routine. However, I do not take that to mean that a woman doing business there will be just like it is in the west as long as you don’t wear a halter top and eat bacon on the street during Ramadan.

My experience in Greece is a fine example where there is fairly obvious difference between male and female gender roles across society and extending into business. It has been my experience that a woman negotiating a transaction in Greece gets a different reception than when a man does it. This is more common when dealing with older Greek men than younger and has over the years become less of an issue but it still remains. Being aware of this dynamic beforehand changes how a woman has to interact during a business exchange.

I’m interested in learning more about the gender dynamic within the business environment of the UAE and learning from women who have worked professionally in that environment first hand.

Thank you all again for taking the time to share with me your insights into the UAE.

As a professional woman, you will probably be okay. A lot of the persons you will be dealing with are not Arabs indeed many of the professionals will be westerners. Others will be Pakistanis or Indians.

WIth Pakistanis (almost all muslims) you should be okay, they are used to working with women more so than say Arabs are. They all speak english pretty well so communication will not be a problem.

Also if you do the things-westerners-do-which-makes-muzzies-mad, well still not a problem, for the most part, there will be no riot poilice coming to arrest you, if you are drunk they will probably help you get home, indeed they might insist on it, won’t take you the police station. They won’t think less of you unless you really go on a very public bender; most likely dimiss it as “things westerners do”.

Many will not shake hand with you as a woman (other will) but if you offer; they will take it.

Another thing, many Arabs and S Asians have a habit of looking away when in conversation, it dose not mean that they have lost attention, indeed they may be paying rapt attention.

Indians will be a lot friendlier, Pakistanis are by nature more reserved as are Arabs, though of course this varies amongst individuals.

Ramadan is not a problem. Eating in public is not a good idea for politeness sake, however you will probably be fine if you do it discreetly, a little after lunch (3 -4 pm) most people go to the market to buy food for the evening meal anyway, so if anything you will see a lot more food in Ramadan than almost anyother time of the month.
The issue with Ramadan is that, many of your collegues will not have eaten. This will paradoxically probably make them more productive, there are no coffee breaks (usually at 11) and they work through lunch, but after around 3 or 4 they become a bit testy as the lack of food kicks in. So perhaps in Ramadan, make it a point not to have anything but routine work after around, the last thing you want is a bad decison made around the end of the day to hit you all next morning.

Very nice, that was quite informative.
Thank you.

Hmmm, I would be careful about generalising about ARABS versus say Pakistanis. Native Gulf Arabs sure your comments sounds right, but for Egyptians and Lebanese versus Pakistanis, for example… quite off.

Most of the professionals (non western professionals) you will encounter in UAE will be from either India or Pakistan. I used Pakistanis as the example since they are usually muslim and that is what the OP is talking about. N Africans are present there as well certainly, but you will deifinatly have to deal more with S Asians.

Yes, but your reference was to Arabs… generically. Most actual Arabs encountered in Dubai aren’t Gulf Arabs and a statement that Pakistanis are more used to working with women than Arabs is nonsense if the Arab is (as many are) Lebanese or even Jordanian, both of which are numerous, eh. It’s questionable for Egyptians too.

True, not really relevent to OP.

Sure it is, in virtually every area, the only Arab professionals our OP will meet are non-Gulf Arabs. Generalizing the Gulf Arabs hyper conservatism onto the majority of working Arabs in Dubai gives a skewed view.