Feminizing leadership in the Middle East

Nessrin Shaya (Department of Education, British University in Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Rawan Abu Khait (Department of Management, Al Hosn University, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Publication date: 7 November 2017



This paper aims to form an empirical study, stemming from a Middle-Eastern context, on eliminating gender discrimination and achieving women’s empowerment. It aims to develop a conceptual model on the principal social and cultural factors inducing the success of Emirati women in attaining senior leadership roles and shaping their leadership style to be transformational. Moreover, it examines the comparability and divergence of the accumulated data on the empowerment of Emirati women in an international context from existing international literature.


The design of the study was based on data gathered from face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with four Emirati women occupying the highest leadership positions in various fields, followed by thematic analysis.


Data analysis confirmed the significant influence of the study’s key factors, namely, the role of the national government, Islamic work ethic and family, on the subjects’ empowerment and their adherence to transformational leadership style. However, two new k ey factors impacting empowerment emerged, namely, the influence of rulers’ leadership and the efforts in balancing work/life commitments. The findings led to the development of a study model on Emirati women empowerment and leadership style, reflecting the appropriateness of international literature on the Emirati context. Particularly, it is the social and economic circumstances of the nation supported by policies form the major source of empowerment, in addition to the important role that family capital and business ethics play. Remarkably, the challenges facing Emirati working women ought to be different than the rest of the Middle East.


A dearth of literature pertaining to women’s leadership exists; however, they were mostly carried out within Western contexts that may not be applicable to Arab societies because of cultural and religious differences. The study strives to portray an unambiguous picture to the significant impact of the parenting role and Islam work ethics in relating positively to their daughters and prompt them to develop crucial societal and professional skills, in a country as UAE where expatriates and Westerns dominate the population body. In addition, it shapes the UAE national government as a unique example and role model, to local governments in other Arab states, to learn from regarding supporting women, helping them to achieve excellence. Aiming for feminizing leadership, the Emirati women leadership styles are explored in an attempt to demonstrate the capacities and potentials of Emirati and Arab women in positions of power and influence. It is assumed that this study will help in bringing confidence in Emirati women capabilities, inducing a change in attitudes towards Arab women managers and encouraging employment in non-traditional feminine based jobs.



Shaya, N. and Abu Khait, R. (2017), "Feminizing leadership in the Middle East", Gender in Management, Vol. 32 No. 8, pp. 590-608. https://doi.org/10.1108/GM-07-2016-0143

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