Representatives of the UAE and Nordic countries have been busy collaborating on a project called Young Emirati Women for Success or 'Yes'.
The mentorship programme matches talented Emirati women with female Nordic executives. The scheme focuses on giving support and advice to promising young professionals, in the hope that more young Emirati women will work in senior leadership roles. But its backers are keen to stress that it benefits both parties, whom get a chance to learn more about each other's stories.
Over the years the Emirates has taken numerous steps to allow, inspire and encourage women’s active participation in the workforce. The government considers this a critical part of the UAE’s future economic and socio-economic development, a policy that Nordic countries applaud and strongly support. Still, the number of young Emirati women in the workforce remains relatively low – especially in business – and much work remains to be done.
There are many complex reasons for the lack of Emirati women in the workforce and no silver bullet to overcoming them all.
However, what the mentorship programme can do is to provide a safe space for young professional Emirati women to discuss their ambitions, challenges and dilemmas, with established executives and government leaders.
This will not only allow them to grow in their careers and advance according to their abilities, but also give valuable inspiration and courage to other young Emirati women who want to see how far their talent, hard work and ambitions will carry them.
Men also very much need to be part of the transformation of the Emirati workspace. And while the programme is directed towards young female professionals, it welcomes both female and male mentors.
Participants all believe that empowering women in the workplace will help build a stronger, better UAE, including Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen, chief executive of Novo Cinemas.
Having twice benefited from mentorship, she is an advocate about its impacts on the lives of young people. She is participating as she believes everyone has an obligation to support and empower women to achieve their full potential.
Similarly, chief executive of Total in the UAE, Nina Hoegh Jensen, is delighted to share her experience and speaks of being honoured that Nordic countries are participating in the programme.
She believes the combination of the UAE’s rich culture and the pragmatic Nordic approach on gender diversity will show great results.
The ambitions of the mentors are matched by the high expectations of those being mentored. I had a chance to speak to Ayesha Ali Bin Tamim, a young Emirati woman with the Dubai Police Department who is mentored by Ms Jensen.
Ms Tamim hopes the programme will support her ambition of becoming a young leader and a representative of young female Emirati empowerment.
The launch of the programme signals a unique opportunity for the Nordic people and the UAE to share experiences and support each other to inspire young females to enter the workforce.
The programme would not be possible without local leaders like Mona Al Marri, chairperson of Dubai Women Establishment and Sharihan Al Mashary, general manager of Emaar Hospitality Group.
Both have worked on behalf of the government to champion the inclusion of women's input on ambitious government plans for the future of Dubai.
This has been done by contributing to policymaking, sharing knowledge and leading initiatives – all crucial in empowering future female leaders in the UAE.
The programme is still in its early stages. Next year, in partnership Dubai Women Establishment, we will evaluate results of the past year.
We hope and expect it will be a success and that it can be expanded next year.
One of the great success stories of the Nordic people is our historic ability to mobilise the talent, energy, and ambition of our women in all spheres of life. This is why gender equality is a pillar of our societies.
For example, during the past 10 to 20 years, younger generations of Nordic women have been achieving better grades than their male counterparts.
We are also proud that Danish parents today receive a minimum of 52 weeks paid maternity leave. The first 12 of these weeks are reserved for the mother. But in 2018, we started to see increasing numbers of fathers taking leave to look after their new babies.
All the above achievements support Danish women, whom have one of the world’s highest rates of female workplace participation at 77 per cent.
Even with such successes in mind, us Nordic countries are not perfect. And not all of our countries' policies are universally transferable.
But we believe our successes in empowering women offer lessons to the world on how we can all improve.
Gender equality is part of the Nordic DNA and we are ready to work together with the private sector and government to open new doors for the next generation of female Emirati professionals.
Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin is Ambassador of Denmark to the UAE