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Faculty Research Colloquium: Men Advancing Women in the Arabian Gulf

December 15, 2019,

Dr. Alexandria Proff delivered a Faculty Research Colloquium titled Men Advancing Women in the Arabian Gulf: Institutional Agents as Facilitators of Women Leaders at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK).

The Assistant Professor of Education in the School of Arts and Sciences summarized the problems that women face when advancing their careers. For example, Dr. Proff indicated that gender disparities in leadership roles are a global phenomenon that occurs across cultures, religions and disciplines. In addition, gender-based discrimination can be a common occurrence for women who face inferior promotion opportunities, discrepancies in pay for the same work, and limited access to mentors. By addressing this gap in gender disparities, she said, the region as a whole could increase its GDP by at least 12%.

Dr. Proff’s research focused on two questions. The first was the role of networking and institutional agents in terms of how men advance their careers. The second was women’s views of gender-based discrimination. All the participants in the research were in supervisory positions in business, had terminal degrees, took part in unstructured open-ended interviews, and were GCC nationals.

In terms of perceptions of discrimination, 29% of the participants said it was present, 57% said it occurs rarely, and 14% suggested that while discrimination was a problem, it is no longer a common occurrence.

It wasn’t just men who were doing the discriminating, according to one participant. “There are some people who don’t think a woman can do this. It’s men and women though. I have a friend who was told [by another woman] not to apply for promotion because she has six children. It’s not, you know, a big problem, but it’s there”.

Dr. Proff found that an important facet of women’s career advancement is the role of institutional agents, which she defines as people who are able to provide some type of access to opportunities and/or resources that you normally wouldn’t be able to get. The institutional agents for these women leaders were 71% male and 29% female.

“He was my role model. He really helped me. He was different somehow-open, you know, because he studied in America. … He was the first person who really noticed that I was good at my work. … and made sure other people knew that I was good too. Then, other people saw that I could do things, and my career really improved,” said another participant.

In conclusion, Dr. Proff said that “the nature of workspaces in the UAE is more nuanced and may be more complex than previously reported.” She added that “graduate schools may consider incorporating procedural knowledge in networking and soft skills in leadership that women will need to navigate their career advancement.”