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Khalid Al Ameri: The curious case of the entitled Emirati
November 19, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

It’s been a while since I’ve written on Emiratisation, for the most part I feel as if the topic is similar to that of a song being played over and over again. The headlines, research and “expert” advisers tell us nothing new. “Private sector fails to attract UAE Nationals”, “Emiratis must manage expectations when starting career”, “Government sector is employee of choice for Emirati youth”, just rearrange the words and you’ve got yourself a new story. The funny thing is my father, who started his career in the early Eighties, says that they were saying the same thing back then.

I decided that there was nothing more to cover, at least not until big policies and incentives were put in place that would change the dynamics of the employee-employer relationship regarding Emiratis in the workforce. Then I heard something new, a subject that up until hearing this Emirati’s story I felt was completely overlooked.

The story goes like this: a hard-working, highly qualified Emirati with great references, who graduated in the top 10% of her class at university, is being interviewed for a role in an organisation based in the UAE. During the interview she is asked about her expectations. Keep in mind this young lady was ambitious with previous managerial experience so ideally for her a position where she felt she could have ownership and impact on the organisation was of the utmost importance.

She felt ready to take a shift in her career to a more senior role having been in middle management in her previous organisation, and then the interviewer asked, “Do you feel entitled to a higher position?” In a state of surprise she responded, “What do you mean by entitled?” The interviewer then rephrased the question knowing that she had been somewhat insulted by the question, asking again, “Do you feel you have enough experience to undertake a more senior role?”

The question of entitlement is also a familiar issue when human resource professionals are asked about the challenges to Emiratisation. Emiratis feel automatically entitled to senior positions and big offices regardless of previous experience or qualifications.

I feel this negative stereotype is now starting to cause serious harm to the growing number of highly experienced, highly qualified, Emiratis that are coming into the workforce who are on a par with their international counterparts.

I feel it is strongly due to a double standard in assessing Emirati candidates versus their international candidates. If a certain candidate spent seven years on Wall Street, went to an Ivy League school, and stated they were looking for a more senior role they would be viewed as ambitious and self-motivated. However, an Emirati with the same profile asking for a senior position would be viewed as entitled and privileged based purely on their nationality and the negative, arguably false, narrative associated with their nationality.

So here’s my question: what does an Emirati have to do? It seems that global experience, highly qualified graduates, pioneers and inventors are not enough to shift the stereotype that we had a very little part in creating. Remember that even if we were lazy, underqualified, and felt entitled to higher positions we wouldn’t say that about ourselves. Furthermore we wouldn’t keep repeating the same message year after year especially when it’s changing or no longer accurate.

Every country in the world has different groups of people – some work hard, some work a little, some don’t work at all, and some demand everything while contributing nothing, but we don’t paint them all with the same brush. Companies and communities have to stop doing that with Emiratis because it hurts the people who matter most, the ones trying to make a difference.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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