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Racism and the workplace

Racism and the workplace

While HR in the region may still be in its formative stages, we should be ashamed of the openly discriminatory policies on display.

February 8, 2011 3:42 by

The Great Place to Work Institute recently released a report on the state of HR maturity in the UAE. If you are bracing yourself for another Kipp tantrum, then you, dear reader, have got our number. HR maturity in the UAE? HR in the UAE? With no disrespect to the few exceptions to the rule, HR in the UAE, like developed health care and developed public transport, is a bit of a myth.

Back to The Great Place to Work Institute report: Apparently “The top companies to work for in the UAE implement HR practices comparable to those of best companies in more developed markets, according to research from the Great Place to Work Institute.” Given that their list of the top 10 companies to work for include MNC’s like Microsoft, Pepsi and FedEx, that really isn’t saying much at all for the working culture of local companies.

Anyway, as we continued to read the reasons why these companies are claimed to have ‘HR maturity’ comparable to international standards, one particular criteria struck us: “Anti-discrimination policies and corporate social responsibility programs also rated highly in contributing to employees’ trust and pride in their organizations.”

Hold on just a second.”Anti-discrimination policies”? In the UAE? How can companies, forced to push for Emiratisation on one hand be pursuing ‘anti-discrimination policies’ on the other? Well, to be fair, Emiratisation quotas are most strongly enforced with regards to government and semi-government organizations; it’s quite possible those mega MNCs are immune to such pressures.

But this got Kipp thinking: the UAE has a stinking record when it comes to racial discrimination in the work force. Consider the following:

When looking out for a job, go on to any job hunting website or tabloid section, and you’ll see that it is not uncommon for companies to include a preference for a particular nationality as part of the job description. “American, British, Westerners ONLY” may read the description (just a few words short of blonde, blue eyed, with a history of colonization, thinks Kipp). Or the ad may go a different route, “Arab speakers, preferably Lebanese.” When Kipp was looking out for a job once, we even saw a listing from a popular TV station in the UAE that requested people with “American British accents ONLY.”

Such blatant selective bias displayed in job ads is reflective of serious discriminatory recruitment policies. And let’s say you managed to charm the socks off your racist employer regardless of nationality – the chances are the passport you hold is likely to determine your salary. To offer you some anecdotal evidence: Kipp knows two friends in very similar middle management levels, both of whom were of Jordanian origin and of similar qualifications. But they have very different salaries. The difference? One holds an American passport and the other a Jordanian passport. Guess who gets more?

Have you experienced discrimination in the work place? Do you think the UAE can ever overcome this seemingly ingrained trait? Or is it only enlightened multi-nationals who can show the way?

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  1. Anupama V. Chand on February 9, 2011 8:29 pm

    Racial discrimination is alive and well in the UAE, and the HR practices and appointment ads in the region’s organisations and dailies are a simple testimony to an accepted truism. You do not get paid or indeed even get the job based on your abilities, but rather for the colour of your skin. Being the brown-skinned Indian everyone loves to hate, I have been told on more than one occasion that the kind of salaries I expected could only be offered to Europeans and Americans. Why in heaven’s name, I’ve asked on heaps of occasions, is it that we do not deliver the goods, as it were, or that we are unreliable workers? No ma’am…..comes a hesitant reply…..this is just our company policy. It is rarely your experience in a chosen field that gets people scrambling for you, much more likely to be where you’re from. Sad but true, all I can say to the UAE and the Mnistry of LAbour is this….yes, certainly promote your nationals and give them a fair chance of competing in the labour market, it is after all your country and you have every right to do so. But please, try and don’t make the change at the cost of some expat employee who has managed to implement best practices and do well for themselves in the process. Replacing such a professional with some fresh Emirati graduate would only promote a culture of mediocrity, and that could in turn remove any credibility for the labour market. As a well-wisher of this country, which I consider my own, it is really sad to see that a culture of one-upmanship and prejudice ruining an otherwise convivial and harmonious world such as the UAE boasts of!

  2. vassilis on February 14, 2011 7:54 am

    It always amazed me that many international multi nationals seem to disregard totally there own code of ethics when opening up shop in the UAE.

  3. wee itar on February 16, 2011 11:49 am

    after leaving the UAE for good, i can understand that these racial discrimination is nothing but people venting their anger for what is happening in their own countries when the ‘talented and experienced Indian’ gets their job solely because of his abiility. Whereas in UAE, racism is just another neutral quality that a man needn’t be ashamed of.


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