Excerpted from the United Arab Emirates Guide.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was established as a federation in 1971, and consists of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula: Abu Dhabi, Dubayy (Dubai), Ajman, Umm al Qaywayn, Ras al Khaymah, Al Fujayrah and Sharjah.
Jobseekers should understand there are more expatriates than UAE nationals living in the UAE. Emiratis make up only about 13 percent of the country’s 9.2 million people. Despite its relatively small population, in 2013 the UAE was ranked fifth worldwide in number of foreign workers — about 7.8 million people residing here are expats.
One should not be distant or detached when interacting with Emiratis. Body language and personal space in the UAE are areas where boundaries are small. Arabs speak in closer proximity than North Americans are accustomed to, and physical contact (between males) is common. Emirati colleagues tend to sit close to each other in meetings and may hold hands while talking. The customary greeting in the Arab world is As-salaam alaikum (“Peace be upon you”) and the reply is Wa alaikum as salam (“And upon you be peace”). When introduced to a group of people, greet the most senior person first.
If You Want to Act Like a Local...
In the UAE, excessive public displays of affection are frowned upon. Couples who are not married are not allowed to live together.
It is rare to be invited to an Emirati home. If, however, one is invited to the home of an Arab, one should always accept. It is important to take the opportunity to become acquainted with local people and customs.
In Arab homes, due to strict customs of segregation and seclusion, men and women generally eat and socialize separately. Men receive their male guests in their majlis (reception rooms), and they do not introduce their wives.
A professional attitude, which extends to a person’s posture and attire, is expected of all employees. Emiratis in general are immaculate dressers. Most UAE nationals wear their national dress of white/off-white flowing robes or kanduras with dishdashas (head gear) for men, and black abayas (long cloak) and ashehala (head scarf) for women. However, in the UAE, it is inappropriate for foreigners to wear local attire. Expatriates are usually in Western attire, but some offices may permit Indian employees to wear salwar kameez or saris. Other organizations may have a dress code. It is best to dress conservatively out of respect for local customs. Men should wear a conservative suit and women should ensure that their clothing covers their legs, arms and back. Formal business attire would be most suitable for official interviews.
In this hierarchical monarchy, there is a wide gap between blue collar and white collar workers. Some companies are run like proprietorships in which the boss is all powerful. In places where various committees and human resources (HR) professionals exist, the office is run according to its specific rules and regulations.
Traditional values like respect, loyalty and relationships play a huge role in negotiations and take precedence over decision-making. People may sometimes be subservient when dealing with royalty or people from higher ranks.
Since Arabs do not like to disagree (especially with a newcomer), they may be reluctant to commit themselves if they are not sure of the outcome of a negotiation. Alternatively, ‘no’ should not be said directly, but prefaced and soft-pedaled, because a direct negative response can cause offense.
Women in the Workplace
The UAE constitution includes a commitment to gender equality, reflecting the country’s efforts to strike a balance between modernization, cultural heritage and Islamic beliefs. The private sector hires mostly younger women based on a perception that they will work harder for less money; female employees over age 35 are almost non-existent, unless they hold doctoral degrees. Opportunities may be better in the public sphere. Women now account for more than half of the UAE government’s workers, with about one-third of them in senior positions. Fifteen percent are in technical jobs, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, and another 15 percent are in the armed forces, customs and police. Approximately 12,000 businesswomen run 11,000 investment projects.
This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 45 pages of information in United Arab Emirates Guide.