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Corporate Culture in the UAE and Racial Discrimination

Corporate Culture in the UAE and Racial Discrimination

Eva Fernandes is convinced that the UAE workforce is plagued by a confirmation bias when it comes to racial stereotyping—but thinks it’s plain old ugly racial discrimination

November 27, 2011 5:13 by

Biases and, indeed, racial biases are unavoidable within any company. If you work in the UAE, you’d be well aware of the racial potholes that litter the workplace. It isn’t often, for example, for an Indian to praise a company for its pro-Indian attitude. And yet, that’s a exactly what a friend told me happened at a rather strange farewell lunch that they’d attended. The guest of honour stood up and gave a well planned speech on how the company he worked for really appreciate the tenacious and hard working nature of the “Sub-continental” employees of the company.

When I related this story back to a group of colleagues, it was interesting to note the reaction. While the cynics rolled their eyes and the realists’ snorted grunts of derision, one at the table related a rather appalling interview when a candidate of subcontinent origin joining a predominantly Middle Eastern company was told that he has been offered the job despite that fact that he is from the subcontinent.

I have already related the very obvious racial bias particularly apparent when one is looking out for a job in this region; it isn’t 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 colonisation, if you wanted to be a tad less subtle). Or the ad may go a different route, “Arab speakers, preferably Lebanese.” I even saw a listing from a popular TV station in the UAE that requested people with “American British accents ONLY.”

Dr Lee Newman, a behavioural science expert at IE University in Spain and the Dean of IE’s School of Social and Behavioural Sciences was recently in Dubai to share the latest findings on “the behavioural bases of human judgment and decision-making in the workplace.”

Newman says that because of the very culturally diverse nature of the workforce in Dubai, it isn’t unusual to find that the office is an excellent breeding ground for such biases. Newman explains these attitudes through the ‘confirmation bias’, in that employees tend to view one another through their own limited experiences and understandings of a particular culture. “So if, in my culture, a person is not forthcoming, it is a sign of deception or dishonesty and the confirmation bias comes into play. The next step is I’m going to look for ideas to confirm that idea and I may find things, but it may not be real” says Newman.

Now surely Dr. Newman is in a better position to talk about this issue, but I can’t help but feel that prevalent racial discrimination apparent in the employment process is plain old racial discrimination. Why? Well, the employer hasn’t even given a candidate the opportunity to even give him confusing cultural signals. Sure, Dr Newman talks here about both a culture of thinking and the corporate culture as well as different racial cultures. But even with this totality in mind, calling it a ‘confirmation bias’ is just a fancy way to dress up ugly stereotypes.

Have you felt like your career hasn’t progressed as it should because of these ‘confirmation biases’? Share your story by leaving a comment here or emailing us at [email protected].

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  1. MMMMMMMMMMMMM on November 28, 2011 6:25 am

    The worst lot are the Indians. They take so much of shit from all and sundry in Dubai and still thank them for this – applies to all indians from a company CEO to a cleaner in a shopping mall. When there is Dirhams, stooping to any level is considered fine because faithfulness kicks in. Tch…Tch

  2. Lisa Jackson on November 29, 2011 5:55 pm

    In a global economy with diverse workforces, tolerance of difference is increasingly necessary. A CEO must lead the effort to build a corporate culture that puts the focus on clear goals that everyone can work toward – and on team problem solving and decision making. The elements that define a successful corporate culture are the same regardless of geographical culture – ie, clear and inspiring mission, engagement and respect, focus on the external customer, and common values.
    If a leader at the top doesn’t lead this cultural expectation, then prejudice will be tolerated throughout the organization.
    Difference is good … but getting everyone to act in accordance with that mindset takes work. In our new book Transforming Corporate Culture, we explore in-depth how to work with mindsets to align them toward the common good.

  3. British Asian on January 24, 2012 12:52 am

    After a recent trip to Dubai, I was intrigued to see the racial stratification there – it’s almost like a caste system! I was born in Britain but my family originate from Bangladesh – so it is always interesting seeing things from the eyes of an ethnic minority!

    At the top, lie the Emiratis – most of whom seem to swan about, mostly in the shopping centres, buying things or doing nothing. Next, the Europeans – predominantly white, who are the ex-pats or on holiday in the hotels. Then follows the Filipinos who are mostly engaged in hotel reception/service level jobs. At the bottom of the heap are the Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. They are the poorly paid construction workers and the toilet cleaners.

    I found it quite shocking how those from the Indian sub-continent should be at the bottom of the pile. That is certainly not the case in the UK, where South Asians tend to run things here! (although of course there is still lots of discrimination as in many European countries).

    Shame on Dubai for tolerating this nonsense. It should iron out racism of all kinds.


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