The Middle East’s Power Businesswomen

free essayIn Middle East countries, there still prevails the thought that leadership is a distinctively masculine construct, where women present a minority group. The following issue is perceived as the gender “problem,” making the latter a distinguishing criterion of professional identity (Baxter and Al A’ali 7). Under this approach, numerous stereotypes, prejudice, and superstition contribute to the treatment of females as outsiders in the world of business. Consequently, such kind of attitude leads to the perception of women as strangers who aspire to the restricted man-dominated area.

SOCIAL CAUSES OF GENDER DISCRIMINATION

It is widely believed that nothing happens without a reason. Discrimination on the basis of sex has developed under the influence of certain historical, religious, and sociocultural factors, which contributed to the emergence of established opinion and attitudes concerning the purpose and role of woman. Consequently, the reluctance to retreat from the obsolete canons hinders the process of solving the problem.

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The Role of Religion. Religion contributes to the problem of discrimination. Islam represents the divergence between masculine and feminine genders by identifying their differences in mental, emotional, and physical qualities, simultaneously encircling distinctive responsibilities, prerogatives, or rights both in the marriage and society. In addition, the Islamic doctrine considers women’s sexuality to be a considerable danger to men in particular and society at large (Mayer 54). The philosophy of the Quran empowers males, while promoting their alliance with Allah. As a result, such concept leads to the establishment of a tradition of masculine leadership not only in religion but also in all other aspects of life. Importantly, Islam integrates into family, civil, and labor laws, which legitimize men ascendancy. Thus, family laws have been the major instrument for women discrimination by placing them in an underprivileged position to the former within the family and, consequently, in the society and economy.

The Culture of Patriarchy. Masculine supremacy has the name. Patriarchal beliefs put and consolidate men’s position of power, control, and authority, while making women generally marginalized, subordinated, and oppressed (Solati 66). In the society, where such type of social order prevails, all public spheres, including politics, economics, ideology and military, are the realm of the strong half of mankind. In other words, men are the primary breadwinners, while the obligations of females are limited and invariable, including children upbringing and the implementation of care for all the members of the family. Therefore, patriarchal society downgrades the quality and value of women’s work, leaving them submissive and subordinate to males.

POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC DETERMINANTS OF FEMALE EMPLOYMENT AND FIRM OWNERSHIP

Evidently, not only religion and particular cultural patterns affect women’s economic activity. Country conditions, including the education system, economic development, policies and laws, present both challenges and prospects for overcoming inequality between genders and expanding female’s participation in economy and business.

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The Role of Education. Education can be both an obstacle and an opportunity for women’s employment. In Middle East countries, women’s educational achievements in terms of literacy and increased presence in higher education establishments are fairly high; however, it does not contribute to the growth of female participation in the economy. Women in the following region spend on average from three to nine years on schooling, and many of them are in the mid-range of education. It partially clarifies female lower participation rates, including greater tendency and interest in becoming employees rather than firm-owners or being self-employed (Bahramitash and Esfahani 2014). Consequently, an attempt to raise the length of women education well beyond nine years as well as to enhance the quality of their knowledge can considerably improve the status of females in the economy. To be more accurate, alterations in the type of education would be a step toward eliminating inequality and providing inclusive growth. The problem is that the vocational aspect of education in the case of women receives too little attention. While formal education in the Middle East region has increased narrowing the gender gap, the situation with the management and financial literacy contributes to the existence of this very gap. Thus, technical and vocational enlightenment can increase the rates of women’s employment by not only enriching the labor force but also creating a great potential for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to develop.

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Oil Production. The production of oil is one of the main causes of women discrimination in the work force. It contributes to the development of such economic sectors as heavy industry, retail, and construction, where men are more in demand, consequently leading to the replacement of agricultural processing and light-oriented industry, which orient on the employment of females. Since a smaller number of women enter the work force, their social, economic, and political influence in the oil-rich states decreases dramatically in comparison with oil-poor states. Thus, in the oil-producing countries, severe patriarchal political institutions and cultures prevail.

SMEs’ Access to Finance. Lack of access to credit is one of the important barriers to women’s entrepreneurial activity. Women-owned SMEs suffer from limitations in the obtainment of formal financing and usually have to pay higher interest rates than men. In addition, female entrepreneurs in the majority of Middle East countries experience severe constraints in the loan acquisition. They obtain in three times less funding from government agencies and state-owned banks than other firms owned by males. Thus, female entrepreneurs have to be reliant on informal and internal sources of money such as loan from family, community groups, friends, or their own savings to fund their start-ups (Bahramitash and Esfahani 2014).  What makes the situation worse is the simple fact that many female SME owners encounter the problem of lack of sufficient knowledge required to cope with the needs of their firms. Evidently, these are the reasons why the business of women grows slower than one owned by men and why females prefer to avoid leading posts such as Chief Executive Officers.

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The Problem of Social Networks. The limitations of women’s social networks provide the barrier to female ownership. Networks are a very important condition for the successful development of SMEs since they play a decisive role in finding business opportunities, learning about management, and arranging finance among others. Men’s networks are more extensive and formal, while women’s ones are rather family-based and informal. The following problem, which is the result of gender inequality, extends itself in many various directions. For instance, women do not have anybody to ask for advice. Consequently, they seek consultation with their family members, husbands, and different kinds of limited networks, instead of receiving reliable information from professional advisers. Thus, being totally ingrained in their immediate community, women suffer from the lack of appropriate professional experience while searching for consultation sources or business advice.

THOSE WHO HAVE MANAGED

Despite severe discrimination and limited opportunities in the sphere of leadership, there are women who have managed to overcome all obstacles mentioned above and have reached the unprecedented heights by getting the position of chief executive directors or even ministers of trade. Although they have to struggle for their place in the sun and daily fight for their rights to priority in a man’s world, they go to great lengths and make tremendous contribution to the economy of their country.

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi. This woman has gone a long way upward her career ladder, and now she has an immense influence not only in the Middle East but also all around the globe. She originates in the royal family of Sharjah in the UAE. Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi is famous for becoming the first female in the country’s history who has held a cabinet position, as she has been the Minister of Foreign Trade since 2004. This woman made the first step towards her great achievements when she went to the USA to study Computer Sciences at the California State University. After graduation, she returned to the UAE and began her career as an IT programmer for a software company known as Datamation. A few years later, this incredible woman got the position of a senior manager in the Information Systems Department at the Dubai Ports Authority (DPA) (Byll, EW. com). Being the incumbent of this post, she received the “Distinguished Government Employee Award” for outstanding achievement in the company. The immense potential and success in many directions stipulated the decision of Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, a Prime Minister of the UAE, and a ruler of Dubai to appoint her as the Chief Executive of Tejari. Having become a leader of the Taraji firm, she has brought her company an honorable award “Best e-content provider in e-business” in the World Summit on the Information. Her numerous achievements and long-term success were a valid reason for her further promotion. Consequently, in 2004, she became the Minister of Economy and Planning, and 4 years later, she obtained another highly-ranked position, namely the Minister of Foreign Trade.

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Lubna Olayan. Lubna Olayan is one of the richest and the most famous leaders of Saudi Arabia. This woman serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Riyadh-based Olayan Financing Company (OFC) (Fry). She had been studying at the Cornell University, where she got her bachelor’s degree in Agriculture. In addition, she holds master’s degree in Business Administration from Indiana University. Lubna Olayan started working under the guidance of her father. For more than 18 years, she was the only woman in the staff of workers. However, Olayan has gone a long and thorny path to expand the ranks. Consequently, today OFC is a workplace for more than 400 Saudi females. The Jeddah Economic Forum in 2004 became a turning moment for Olayan, as she became the first woman in the history of Saudi Arabia who was speaking at a mixed conference. She also sits on a board of custodians of the Arab Thought Foundation. The business of Lubna Olayan is one of the largest investors in both regional and Saudi stock markets.

Noura Al Kaabi. Noura Al Kaabi is a real think tank in the sphere of Arab media. She is the head of the Media Zone Authority-Abu Dhabi (twofour54). Her duties are to develop creative industries and durable media for the UAE and the Middle East region in general. Noura is a board member of Abu Dhabi Media Company, Image Nation, Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. Moreover, she is one of the members of the Federal National Council (F.N.C.) of the UAE (Abdurabb). In 2013, Forbes named her to be Middle East’s Media CEO of the Year. Everything she has achieved cost her immense efforts and constant work aimed at self-improvement. Noura got a computer science degree at the UAE University. After graduation, she had stints at the Dolphin Energy and Zayed Military Hospital. Lately, having noted her talent, a newly formed company with a unique concept headhunted Noura. During numerous interviews, she usually expresses her gratitude to her parents who always supported her every step but never forced any choice she made.

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The investigation has explored the problem of women’s leadership in the Middle East region. It has demonstrated that there are numerous factors of different origin, which hinder the development of female’s labor and simultaneously constrain their participation in the sphere of entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, the admission and determination are the first steps to solution. Despite patriarchal culture which prevails in the Arab countries, there are women who have managed to overcome gender discrimination and have become influential leaders protecting the rights of all females of the Muslim world to equal working conditions with men.