Great strides have been made to push gender equality in the workplace but some employers in the UAE prefer male candidates, said recruitment experts.
These companies must change their mindsets and develop a work culture that supports the career growth of women.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation recently reminded employers of their legal requirement to pay men and women equal salaries for the same job.
Human resources experts said the directive has been enshrined in the labour law since 1998.
But a major push was given to promote it two years ago, when the UAE Cabinet endorsed a law to ensure men and women are paid equal wages.
At the time, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said: “With the strength and rule of the law, we do not want any exceptions in providing equal opportunities for both sexes.
“Our Constitution ensures equal rights among the sexes and we seek to enforce and guarantee this right through the new law.”
David Mackenzie, managing director of Mackenzie Jones Group, a recruitment firm, which also runs Women@Work, a recruitment platform that promotes gender diversity, said UAE employers believe in equal pay.
“We have never had a situation where if we put a man and a woman on a shortlist that they have offered one less than another,” he said.
“We work at the senior end of the market where I think this is less of an issue. But sometimes we do face clients, saying we prefer a man or a woman.
“Now our immediate reaction as we have Women@Work, and ethically we don’t believe in this, we always say, why?”
Companies believe some roles are more suited to men or women and they look for candidates based on this premise.
A couple of Mr Mackenzie's clients prefer men for certain roles as they believe women are traditionally not suited for the job.
“My reaction is to say ‘tell me why?’ Sometimes they say it’s because it’s a very technical role and we don’t believe there are women in the market. I say fair enough, let me prove to you. Most clients are very good at that,” said Mr Mackenzie.
In the last three years there has been a definite improvement in gender parity in the GCC.
And some employers, mainly in Saudi Arabia, where gender has traditionally been more of an issue, have recently asked for women candidates.
“I reckon in the last six to eight months we have seen a real change in the way that Saudis have treated women. They are becoming a lot more aggressive about equalisation of the sexes,” said Mr Mackenzie.
Companies in the UAE have always been pretty good and promote gender equality in the workplace, he said.
Claire Donnelly, who co-runs HR and business consultancy MHC, said UAE companies pay men and women the same salaries but policies are not always equal.
“Married men get flights for both partners, but married women don't in some cases because it’s assumed that the husband works and is entitled to this allowance,” she said.
“So I changed that wherever I went as that’s completely incorrect.”
A company had also shown a preference for hiring a man as a woman “might go and have a baby soon,” she said.
“And that’s not to do with money. That’s just about taking the man over the woman as it’s assumed the woman is going to go off and have children,” said Ms Donnelly.
Pay disparity is not always a gender issue. It can be based on a candidate’s experience and sometimes new employees get more money than their older colleagues who may have spent several years in the job.
“And that’s a massive problem,” she said.