German executive feels 'sisterhood' with Emirati businesswomen

Dalia Abu Samra-Rohte is the deputy chief executive, director of the Abu Dhabi Office and regional coordinator of the German Emirati Joint Council for Industry and Commerce (AHK). She set up the office 12 years ago. Talking to The National she says she is impressed by the number of Emirati women in leading positions and recommends German companies to send ladies to represent them in the UAE because they can “click” better with local women and are more respected by males in business here than back home in Europe.

How has the mood of members of the German Emirati Joint council evolved regarding the oil prices?

I wouldn’t call it a crisis, the country is definitely going through a harder time but I consider the lower price more as a chance for the country, it is the time to restructure projects. It is difficult for the government to change roles but this time they have the opportunity to restructure in the same way you have to validate certain things, reconsider certain projects. This is a fate we face now. Obviously not everybody is happy with it. On the one hand, for the country itself it is a chance, but on the other hand, it is a chance for independence from oil and for diversification, and it shows – especially in Abu Dhabi – that they are not there yet, so it gives another pressure to diversify in a much stricter way, to focus over the years. They have achieved it if you look into Strata, Emirates Global Aluminium, Emirates Steel, Agthia … if you look at the Senaat companies, there has been a lot of effort done to diversify the industry but I think now it is touching the edge and they are pushing the subject much more forward. They have also been learning through the years, by examining some industries that they turned out not to be the right ones, so now I feel they know what they want, where they want to go to. That is also an opportunity for a lot of foreign companies to establish or invest here again.

German companies in Abu Dhabi are more project-based and industry-focused, they are doing fine and they have a lot of projects, but you can feel they worry especially about next year because it is going to be a difficult year because a lot of big projects are having “question marks”. In oil-related industry, people are not that optimistic. When you look into Dubai, they are not oil dependent and they have never really been, so they have developed into a very good service and logistic hub.

What specific opportunities does this situation create?

In the overall situation over diversification of the economy, Germany has done a lot in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and five years ago our main focus was Masdar and then Dubai came up with renewal energy and solar power plants. We also have a delegation from the German government on energy efficiency in buildings that came in mid-April, we do it three to four times per year.

Do German companies think there is enough transparency in the UAE?

Yes, especially if you compare it to some other nations in the Gulf. The UAE is very highly ranked in that subject and that is not a problem.

Do German companies help each other enough?

Germans are not such good networkers as other nationalities, maybe (she laughs). We have committees for industries to enhance the networking between people because Germans in general are not great at that, they go to the point and they do not spend time networking. It depends on the industry and the product but I know some other nationalities are quite good at it. I think it is a cultural trait.

How is Emiratisation going in German companies in the UAE?

I think the process in the country is going great. If you compare it to Saudi Arabia, where a lot of German companies work, they use the UAE hub model for the region. Overall, it is a subject that has to be tackled by the government, to make sure that their people are participating in the economy and with the lower oil prices it is a priority so you also have to make sure that you develop these people, give them opportunities. The larger German companies are happy hiring Emiratis but they are finding difficulties finding Emiratis because a lot of them decide to move to the government sector, which pays them much more. The UAE government is aware of that because, for example, the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development works closely to really try to get people into the private sector.

How would you compare the situation with Germany?

There is a vocational training in Germany and we have successfully integrated all different strategies about education, school, university and going into the workforce. We discuss with Emiratis what is better to get young people into the private sector. Another important part for us is inclusion: people with disabilities into the workforce. We have done committee meetings but one of the set up with the UAE Foundation was to offer internships to Emirati and non-Emiratis. This is an important subject with Emiratisation. Other countries such as Spain are good at integrating people with disabilities, having a Down Syndrome person working as a teacher, for example. Here there is a huge demand on inclusion.

What are the main problems for German companies to hire Emiratis?

German companies would like to integrate more but the government sector is the biggest competitor and it is the opposite in Europe, where the government pays less but you have a long-life job.

What would you suggest to successfully attract and retain the Emirati talent?

They need a programme for them offering internships in Germany first, sending them to the headquarters and see the business culture and then bring them back here. This is the right approach, to fascinate them about the German business culture. We have very few Emiratis studying in Germany, and although some of our universities have English, in general you will need to learn German. A perfect example is the vice chairman of the German Emirati Joint Council (AHK), Saeed Al Ghurair. He studied Engineering in Hannover, in Germany, and is our best ambassador for education and German engineering. We need a few more of them.

Where do you think women will be in this new coming era post-oil dependency?

I really enjoy working with Emirati women. The UAE is very often misperceived when it comes to women in workforce. A recent study revealed that there are more women in leading positions in the UAE than in Germany. Women here are hungry to learn and are hard workers, some of them know this is the only way to innovate, to achieve success now; it is their way to make themselves different from the men. They are hungrier for knowledge, they are reliable; they also enjoy working with women and when they find businesswomen from Germany it is an advantage because I have much better access. I get into certain meetings where I got some attention that men would not get it, I always feel it is an advantage, but I would also say that in the Emirati men’s business culture, they treat women with much more respect than in Europe. In Europe, it is tougher. Here, when you say something as a woman, the Emirati men listen and are respectful while in Europe there is no difference.

Do you feel the “sisterhood” with the Emirati women?

Yes. I came from Hannover Trade Fair and there was a big Emirati stand and booths and a lot of Emirati women travelled. I always feel they click much more than German businesswomen; it is more their character and culture is much warmer. In a presentation I recently gave during a symposium in Germany, I pointed out the study and while looking into the room from the podium I realised that out of the 60 participants only three were women.

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