Gender bias in workplace must be addressed

Tackling workplace discrimination against women not only requires rules and laws, but awareness

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Changing a culture usually requires altering the mindset of everyone within that culture. For women to succeed in the workplace, just 50 per cent of the population need to reset their thinking: the male 50 per cent.

As The National reported yesterday, Emirati women have expressed frustration about the perceived lack of trust in their abilities in the workplace. A few have broken through the mythical glass ceiling, but many struggle to climb a rung or two on the career ladder. Those we spoke to said they felt that some men were intimidated by well-educated women and that their prospects for promotion were blocked.

Women are also at a disadvantage in the way many businesses and organisations are structured. Even those that have supposedly family-friendly policies often still favour employees who work long hours and rarely take time off for personal matters: usually, of course, men. This can be unfair to women. As well as their careers they are the ones still primarily responsible for family care. Research at the Center for Gender in Organisations at Simmons College in Boston, USA, defines this as the “second generation gender bias”, by which women are unconsciously judged against standards developed in traditional male-dominated work settings.

Such bias cannot be changed without affirmative policies combined with intensive awareness campaigns. In Norway, these policies have resulted in dramatic changes. In four decades the country has moved from having a very low percentage of women in the workforce to having one of the highest – if not the highest – in ­Europe. Today, women contribute more to the Norwegian GDP than the hugely profitable oil sector. The country has managed to create meaningful change rather than mere tokenism.

The more women are seen in positions of authority, the more the mindset of the entire organisation is likely to change. This is why the UAE’s announced quota system is important. It is important, too, that men speak out on the subject.

Real change starts when society stops noticing gender and views people solely on their qualifications and capabilities.