DUBAI – While most of us don’t think women empowerment when thinking of the Middle East, United Arab Emirates-based entrepreneur Arshi Ayub Mohamed Zaveri wants the world to know that her country is a progressive one when it comes to gender equality. In fact, women’s empowerment and equality is a key target in the UAE’s national strategy, aimed to be achieved by 2021.

She proves this through her point by giving her own example; she started her first business at 17 years of age. Since then, she has added quite a few feathers to her cap. Today, she is the CEO of Trust With Trade group, a senior advisor to the Royal Family of UAE on investments in Central and South Asia, Europe and USA, a world peace ambassador, a diplomat and a female business leader to reckon with across the world. In this chat with Women Icons Network, she talks about how UAE is constantly working towards ensuring a more gender balanced workplace and what needs to be done throughout the world to make this possible.

Early Learning 

Becoming a business owner at the age of 17 came with its own set of challenges. The added challenge for Zaveri was she was still studying as well as working for another organisation at the time. “In retrospect, it was certainly overwhelming. However, it did teach me time management, independence, networking, human skills, technical knowledge and many more key attributes,” she says about the experience.

During this time, she faced several rejections and made many mistakes. “I failed in many approaches but also won and achieved my goals when I started to analyze what I did wrong. Starting very early on, made me resilient,” remarks Zaveri. Even years later, she takes everyday as a new challenge, which she believes is what makes her excited to wake up each day – as she looks forward to learning a new skill, a new or a new solution.

Support for Women

UAE supports women through policy and parity, stresses Zaveri. She points out that the UAE is ranked as a leading country in equality in the region, in line with the vision of the Late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the UAE. “This achievement comes from the fundamental belief that women and men are equal partners in society. Through a series of public and private sector initiatives, women are playing an increasingly stronger role in business, military and government,” she informs.

In 2012, the UAE Cabinet made it compulsory for corporations and government agencies to include women on their boards of directors. “Having female representation in boardrooms makes sure that women are an integral part of the development and nation-building process — not just passive participants,” says Zaveri.

She also informs that President H.H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued a law ensuring that women receive equal pay as men in the private sector. She believes that this step shall boost the social inclusivity of women, support their role in national development, and advance UAE’s status on the world’s Gender Equality Index. Talking about how women are currently contributing to the nation’s economy, she says, “Women in the UAE are playing a leading role in developing the emerging technology sector. They are key drivers of the technology agenda in academia, research, government, and the private digital sector. They are directing the use of technology to create an impact for city constituents in all sectors.”

Women Employment 

“State bodies, private sector entities and non-governmental organizations have to create policies that support women’s access to material capital (such as credits, financial resources and insurance), human capital (training courses and education), and social capital (support of active women in unions, societies and associations),” believes Zaveri. She also think it’s very important to incentivize and facilitate women’s employment through free provision of kindergartens or centers for caring the adults.

Any discrimination based on gender in hiring, promotions, or giving any priority to male employees has to be waivered, she adds. “Efforts for any gender separation in work places which may end in marginalization of women, has to be stopped. Also, measures in provision of self-employment loans for women, provisions of production equipment for them or any special loan for setting a business and strengthening of women’s practical skills, appropriate with present needs of development should be a priority. Sexual abuse at workplace needs to be legally prosecuted,” she says when asked about effective policy changes to increase participation of women in economic activities. Zaveri also supports causes like equal pay for equal work, provision of child care at workplaces and extending health provisions in the workspaces.

Entrepreneurial Opportunities 

“Women not only have relatively higher participation rates in entrepreneurship than before, but they also generally choose to start and manage firms in different industries than men tend to do,”  Zaveri says. However, policies and programs in some nations do not take into account the specific needs of women entrepreneurs, she adds. The consequence, she says, is that equal opportunities between women and men from the perspective of entrepreneurship are still not an obvious reality.

She believes that the UAE is at a progressive standpoint for female entrepreneurship, because of the vision and leadership of the H.H Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown prince of Abu Dhabi & Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed forces. She goes on to quote concrete statistics to prove this. “Women business owners account for 10% of the total private sector in the UAE. 23,000 Emirati businesswomen run projects worth over AED50 billion, and occupy 15% of the positions in the boards of chambers of commerce and industry nationwide,” she informs.

In fact, the country recently launched “100% Women Policy” aims to ensure that by 2021, 100 percent of bilateral and multilateral foreign assistance will target or integrate equality and women’s empowerment as key components of the Ministry’s policy and programming.

Impact of Covid-19 

Covid 19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have brought in some unique challenges to the corporate world. The family offices that Zaveri represents are adapting a more kind and compassionate approach in these times. “Primarily, this is done to ensure collaboration, inclusion and individual autonomy, as well as empowering our people to adapt quickly. The other intent is to set a goal to be kinder to others. Being kind is good for our own and our employees’ mental health,” she explains. She adds that a little reassurance, compassionate listening, a conscious effort to validate people’s fear and confusion translates to improved morale and performance among the workforce.