Emirati Women Role in the Perception of Barriers to E-Commerce in the UAE

Introduction

As Berry (2009) asserts, e-commerce is a term that is used to refer to the process of selling and purchasing goods and services over a variety of electronic systems (p. 237). Examples of these electronic systems include the internet, computer networks and any other telecommunication network. This technological advancement has come about as a result of the massive advancements that are being experienced in the field of Information Communication and Technology (ICT). These advancements have made the manner in which individuals, organizations, societies, nations and the world at large operate.

Due to the advancement in the field of ICT, the term e-commerce evolved rapidly to include a number of additional auxiliaries. At the present moment, the term is not only used to refer to the buying and selling of goods and services over a computer network but it also includes other processes such as the development, marketing, selling, paying, delivery and servicing of goods and services over the internet or any other computerized network (Boone and Kurtz, 2011). The concept of e-commerce has gradually developed over the last several years as a result of the increase in the rate of internet use by many people all across the globe. According to Boone and Kurtz (2011), e-marketing is the base that supports global functions such as online banking, electronic funds transfer, supply chain management, mobile banking, online marketing, electronic data exchange, electronic inventory analysis and online purchasing of a variety of goods and services that are available on the internet (p. 16).

From the above analysis, it is evident that e-commerce has greatly influenced the manner in which operations are conducted by firms and businesses all around the globe. Many firms all around the world use the e-commerce strategy to gain a competitive edge over their rivals in the respective industries that they operate in. It is due to this fact that firms should adopt and implement this change and innovation. This will not only enable them to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals but it will ensure that the organization is run in an effective and efficient manner (Boone and Kurtz, 2011).

Almost every country in the world has embraced the concept of e-commerce. This is due to the benefits that accrue from the application of this concept in the running and operations of businesses. UAE is perhaps one of the leading regions in the world that have embraced this concept. According to a report that was published by Madar Research Group in 2008, Dubai emerged as one of the leading cities in the world in terms of the application of the concept of e-commerce (p. 21). It was at par with top European cities that have embraced the concept for a number of years. In a study that was conducted that very year, Dubai had a benchmark of 76 points. This proved that Dubai was one of the leading e-commerce hubs in the world (Madar Research Group, 2008).

Despite the fact that the UAE is one of the leading e-commerce hubs in the world, there are a number of barriers that it faces in this new development. Men have for a long time dominated the workforce in the UAE and the Middle East. A similar trend has been experienced in embracing and applying e-commerce in a number of organizations. Since the introduction and development of e-commerce in the UAE, the number of women who have been involved in the sector has been low (Nelson, 2006). However, this trend has been changing due to the entrance of many women in the employment sector and to be in particular, the field of ICT (Nelson, 2006). The barriers that these women face while embracing and developing e-commerce are quite different from those that men face. This paper shall therefore focus on the perception of barriers of e-commerce among Emirati women. This paper will also expound on the factors that affect these perceptions and come up with possible solutions to these problems.

Literature Review

Dubai has been an active city with regard to trade and commerce for the last several decades. Due to this fact, many foreigners and locals decided to invest in the city in a bid to enjoy the benefits that accrue from their investments. This led to the growth and development of various sectors of the citys economy. In order to boost trade within the city and the region at large, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum who was the ruler of Dubai, issued a decree that made the city to be a free trade zone for e-commerce and technology in the year 2000 (Shakir et al, 2010). This was to be governed by the Free Zone Authority which was under the umbrella of the government of Dubai. The main aim of this decree was to make Dubai be the regional hub for e-commerce and technology. Once this decree was issued, the Free Zone authority stated that a total of 100 companies had been registered and had commenced operations within the region (Shakir et al, 2010). However, in 2007, this number had increased to over 1,000 companies (Shakir et al, 2010). This shows the growth and acceptance of e-commerce within the city and the region at large.

All these actions led to the growth and development of Dubai Internet City (Shakir et al, 2010). This is a world-class environment that provides high-speed internet at low costs for individuals and companies. The Dubai government has mainly supported the growth of this city. This has created a warm environment for the growth and development of technology and e-commerce within the region. Many firms and organizations have adopted and implemented the use of e-commerce in their normal operations. This includes both large and small business entities. As a result, it has been easier for them to develop, process, market, sell, deliver and monitor their activities through a number of computerized systems. In the year 2006, the Ministry of Commerce enacted the Electronic Commerce and Transaction Act, 2006 and formed the Telecommunications Authority Board (TRA) (Shakir et al, 2010). The main aim of this law and TRA was to regulate the use of ICT within the UAE. This ensured that the use of ICT was equitably distributed among the population. In addition, TRA also safeguarded the competition among the various organizations to ensure free and fair use of this resource (Nelson, 2006).

Despite the fact that this change and innovation has been associated with some positive impacts in the field of commerce in UAE, there are a number of factors that have hindered the realization of its full potential. Hypothetically, the changes and innovations that are being experienced in the field of e-commerce are expected to benefit businesses of all sizes and all kinds. In addition, these changes are supposed to benefit individuals of all sexes. However, from the various studies that have been conducted in the UAE, the changes and innovations in e-commerce have mainly been adopted by large-scale businesses. Only a few small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region have adopted the concept. In addition, this advancement in innovation and technology seems to be spearheaded mainly by the individuals of the male gender than their female counterparts. The barriers that face the enhancement of e-commerce within the UAE are thus due to a number of factors. These can only be explained clearly by focusing on the education sector of the region and its employment sector while comparing males and females.

The Employment Sector and Education System of UAE

In 1995, UAE had a population of approximately 2.5 million people with the nationals comprising only 24.1% of the population (Nelson, 2006). However, according to Nelson (2006), the population of the UAE had increased to 4.1 million people by the year 2003. The proportion of the nationals had however declined as they only comprised 19.5% of the total population with women comprising one-third of this figure (Nelson, 2006). In addition, the women who were nationals only held 10% of the available employment positions in the UAE with men occupying the remainder. This low representation of women in the labor force has encouraged the immigration of male labor from other parts of the world. This has resulted in a male-dominated workforce in the country. In addition, social and cultural norms have acted as a barrier to the entry of women into the workforce in the UAE. However, a comparison of the number of women in the workforce between 1995 and 2003 shows that this figure has tripled. This is a clear indicator that the number of women in the workforce is increasing at a desirable rate.

Despite the fact that women only account for a small proportion of the workforce in the UAE, the fact that this number is increasing is an indicator that change is on its way (Nelson, 2006). The changes that are being experienced in the social and political world coupled with the current economic situation of the UAE have boosted the enrolment of female students into educational institutions and their current increase in participation in the employment sector. This has gradually reduced the number of immigrant employees as these positions are now filled with women employees. Traditionally, social and political factors used to limit the role of Emirati women to revolve around taking care of their families. However, this issue has dramatically changed since many females are encouraged to seek education before getting married. This information is clearly shown in the graph below that shows the proportion of male and female students in UAE universities (Nelson, 2006).

The proportion of male and female students in UAE universities

Due to the above factors, there has been an increment in the enrolment and graduation of women students in a number of institutions of higher education in the UAE (Nelson, 2006). These women have taken up key positions in the field of business and information technology. In addition, a number of these women have adopted the concept of e-commerce and applied it in the normal operations and running of their businesses (Nelson, 2006). Despite their qualifications, most of these women stiff face a number of barriers in the employment sectors. For instance, there are some parts of UAE where women are not allowed to hold specific positions that are presumed to be for men. However, according to Nelson (2006), many women are involved in SMEs more than they are involved in large-scale businesses. As a result, most women in the UAE have found it easier to apply the concept of e-commerce to SMEs more as compared to large business entities (Nelson, 2006).

Application of E-Commerce in SMEs by Emirati Women

The support of e-commerce by a number of institutions has increased the flexibility of the workforce. This has in turn resulted in the increase of females in the workforce. While this has led to gender equality within the workforce, a number of scholars have pointed out that there are several barriers that women are facing with regard to the adoption of e-commerce in SMEs (Haan, 2004). However, it is evident that many Emirati women still find it difficult to venture into business resulting in low levels of e-commerce adoption by Emirati women. As a result of socio-cultural constraints, Emirati women find it difficult to access financial support and obtain trade licenses (Haan, 2004). In addition, these women find technical issues to be a much greater barrier.

In general, there are a number of barriers that have hindered the total application of e-commerce in SMEs. Some of these factors include resistance to change, the high costs that are required to adopt, set and maintain the service, unavailability of relevant resources to support this system and the unsuitability of the concept in small businesses. Due to the above factors, owners and managers of SMEs have always developed negative attitudes and perceptions towards the adoption of e-commerce in their businesses. This has greatly led to bigger business entities enjoying much of the benefits that accrue from e-commerce. Thus, as stated earlier, more women are found in SMEs than in large business entities. Therefore, it is the men in the UAE who benefit much more from e-commerce than their female counterparts.

A lot of studies have been conducted on the reasons that influence women to participate in the running and management of small businesses. In Australia, for instance, many women are involved in small businesses as a means of circumnavigating the glass ceiling that has always acted as a barrier in the growth and development of their careers (MacGregor and Vrazalic, 2008). In the UAE, most women are involved in trading activities as a means of working either public or private sector before incorporating their own businesses (Haan, 2004). Most of these women possess basic business, entrepreneurship and management skills from local and international colleges and universities. Given the strong background of knowledge and skills that they possess, women’s enterprises have been relatively successful as compared to those that are managed by their male counterparts in the UAE. In Australia, the same trends have also been reported. In their paper, MacGregor and Vrazalic (2008) went on further to state that the proportion of women who have been successful in operating small businesses in Australia is four times that of the men.

In addition, Emirati women require relatively lower amounts of capital to start their enterprises. Despite the fact that many laws and legislations have been passed to ensure that there is equity in the disbursement of loans and capital to commence businesses, these non-discriminatory policies have failed to be implemented fully. Therefore, women find it difficult to source funds to commence businesses, unlike men. As a result, Emirati women use approximately one-third of the capital that men use to commence their businesses (Nelson, 2006). However, women have ended being more successful in these businesses as compared to men.

Consequently, from further studies that were conducted on the management styles of women in general, it has been identified that they prefer to use informal means of communication to pass information to other employees within the organization (MacGregor and Vrazalic, 2008). This case also applies to Emirati women. As a result of the education and employment background that most Emirati women who are entrepreneurs have, it will be true to conclude that they possess strong interpersonal skills. Their male counterparts on the other hand preferred to use the authoritarian approach in the running and management of their businesses. Due to this fact, they laid more emphasis on leadership rather than interpersonal communication. According to Haan (2004), most only one-third of the women that he interviewed in his study confirmed that they adopted a means of networking in their businesses (p. 11). The use of online networks and brand communities were some of the networking options that were included in his study.

It is due to this fact that women found it rather difficult to adopt e-commerce in their businesses. This has greatly reduced their chances of forming networks with other firms, gaining financial support and marketing their products and services via these avenues. They have the perception that adopting social business networks will increase the risk of leaking personal and private information to the public. Therefore, women find it easier to use their interpersonal skills instead of adopting the concept of social business networks.

Perception of Emirati Women to E-Commerce Barriers

From the discussion that has been presented in this paper so far, a number of barriers that hindered the adoption of e-commerce in SMEs have been identified. These barriers, therefore, act as the factors that hinder the change and innovation that is required to transform commerce in the UAE to the next level. As a result, business enterprises in the UAE do not grow at the anticipated rate given the resources that the region has. It should also be noted that women have developed certain perceptions of these barriers to change and innovation. These perceptions have greatly influenced the manner in which Emirati women view this change and innovation in the world of business and commerce. It has been identified that the main problem that has hindered the acceptance implementation of e-commerce by Emirati women is due to the lack of the technical know-how that is required to implement the system successfully in their businesses. It is thus difficult for women to embrace e-commerce either as owners/managers of SMEs or as the employees of these organizations (Sandberg, 2009). It is due to this fact that many Emirati women have developed a negative attitude towards e-commerce. This has resulted in resistance to change that is currently being experienced in UAE.

From studies that have been carried out in UAE and the Middle East, it has been identified that many women do not embrace the concept of e-commerce due to the fact that they do not possess the technological capabilities that are required to implement the system in their organizations (Sandberg, 2009). It is evident that the number of women who are experts in the field of ICT is much lower as compared to that of men. This is due to the social, political and economic factors that have hindered women from accessing education and holding respectable positions in the workforce. As mentioned earlier, the Arabic culture had diminished the role of women to be homemakers. Due to this fact, these traditions had hindered them from accessing education, participating in a number of activities within the society and conducting chores that were believed to be the responsibilities of men. However, things have now taken a positive turn and women now have access to education, employment and other auxiliary resources such as ICT. In the year 2003, UAE had more women students pursuing a degree course in Information Technology as compared to the men (Nelson, 2006). Despite this fact, the number of women who have the technical know-how of supporting e-commerce is still low. They also have the perception that the implementation of e-commerce is very complicated. This has led to the development of perception in Emirati women that adopting this new form of technology is mainly a task that should be left for the men. In the study conducted by Haan (2004) one-third of the women that were interviewed stated that they did not use any form of networking or e-commerce in their businesses (p. 11). As a result, most of these women prefer to use traditional methods of preparing, developing and marketing their goods and services as they do not take business as a serious activity but as a part-time engagement.

The studies that have been conducted also state that Emirati women do not have the need to apply the concept of e-commerce in their businesses since it is not in line with the nature of their businesses (Quayle, 2010). These women, therefore, have the perception that incorporating ICT in the normal operations of their work will not result in any positive outcome. From the above study, there are women who stated that they do not have the need to incorporate e-commerce since it would not support the products and services that they are offering. Most of the women in this bracket were involved in trading and manufacturing activities. These included textile, fashion and design, hairdressing, consultancy and small to medium scale retail services. Due to the nature of their operations, they felt more comfortable using traditional methods to reach their clients and overcome issues such as competition and setting prices rather than implementing ICT in their operations. They, therefore, applied concepts such as Porter’s five forces to assist them to enter their businesses into new markets, SWOT analysis to determine their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities that they may be facing and quite a good number of them conducted a market feasibility study before commencing their businesses. These studies were conducted personally by the owners of these businesses or with the help of friends and family members. With the help of these techniques, these women thus felt they gathered enough information on their own with regards to the status of their internal frameworks, their markets, competition and barriers that they may face in the course of operating their businesses. Due to this fact, they did not see the need of incorporating e-commerce in their businesses.

Another barrier to the implementation of e-commerce by Emirati women was the perception that the nature of their products and the manner in which they were conducting their businesses would not allow the use of e-commerce. As stated earlier, most of these women are involved in retail and manufacturing businesses. Their products thus range from garments, clothes, household goods, jewelry and so on. Their services include consultancy, hairdressing, graphic design and IT services. Thus, only a small proportion of these women felt that e-commerce would assist them to produce, market and distribute their products and services. It is mainly those women who offered IT and graphic design services that stated that they use e-commerce in their businesses (Quayle, 2010). The rest of the women felt it was more convenient to use traditional methods to produce, market and sell their products to their clients. Some of the marketing strategies that these women used include having sales and discounts, posters and miniature billboards, and the use of word of mouth to reach their clients.

Incorporating e-commerce into a business entity requires additional capital. The requirement of this capital thus acts as a barrier to the application of e-commerce by a number of Emirati women. This is because these women face a lot of difficulties in raising capital for their businesses. Despite the fact that it is much easier for these women to access bank loans and grants, there is still a lot of oppression and discrimination on the basis of gender in these financial institutions (Nelsen, 2006). Due to this fact, most Emirati women usually use their personal savings or source funds from friends and family to start their businesses (Hadjimonolis, 2009). Due to this financial constrain, these women have not been willing to incur additional costs that are required to incorporate ICT in their businesses. From studies that have been conducted, most of these women substitute the use of e-commerce with the superb interpersonal and marketing skills that they have (Hadjimonolis, 2009).

Strategies of Overcoming E-commerce Barriers facing Emirati Women

The perceptions that women have developed with regards to the barriers that face the implementation of e-commerce in the UAE have greatly reduced the rate at which this concept was expected to be adopted in the region. However, a number of changes have been affected by the government in conjunction with other private institutions to ensure that Emirati women and the entire population in general embrace e-commerce. However, before these amendments are effected and put into practice, a number of strategies can be used to overcome the barriers that Emirati women are facing while implementing e-commerce in their businesses and change their perceptions towards the same. The government in the UAE needs to increase the awareness of e-commerce, especially to Emirati women. This is because women comprise the largest proportion of individuals in SMEs.

From the discussions that have been presented in this paper so far, it has been identified that Emirati women have the perception that embracing e-commerce requires them to possess technical knowledge and skills in the field of IT and ICT. However, since most of these women do not possess this knowledge, they have been resistant to this change and innovation. Therefore, for the government to ensure that Emirati women are actively involved in e-commerce, it should increase its efforts in enrolling more women into schools and institutions of higher education. To achieve this, the government should modify its educational system to accommodate more female students. This will increase their knowledge and skills in vast areas of specialization including IT and ICT. This will result in an increase in the number of Emirati women who possess the knowledge and skills in the field of IT, ICT and e-commerce. The government should also provide more employment opportunities for Emirati women so that they can have a chance to apply their knowledge and skills in real-life situations. This will give them the chance to gain experience and thus effectively apply e-commerce in their businesses (Al-Hammad, 2010). This will in turn increase their participation in e-commerce as the barrier of technical difficulty will be broken. Once this is achieved, Emirati women will gain the full benefits that accrue from the incorporation of IT and ICT in their businesses.

The government should also increase the awareness of e-commerce to Emirati women. This can be achieved by setting up seminars, forums and workshops that explain the application of ICT in businesses and the benefits that they may enjoy thereafter. This will enable Emirati women to accept the fact that the world of business is changing in a dramatic way as a result of technological advancement. It is, therefore, necessary for businesses to incorporate e-commerce in their operations especially to enhance consumer loyalty. Through these forums, women should be taught the best way that they could achieve maximum benefits from e-commerce. One of these ways it through the use of social networks and brand communities. Online brand communities and social networks are the latest development in the world of marketing (Berry, 2009). This is because they effectively organize the relationship between the business and other people including the individuals who are not the customers of the product. Therefore, anyone who is interested in the product can be involved. This includes consumers, employees, competitors and the general market. According to Berry (2009), brand communities are multi-purpose since they can work with any business discipline (p.244). This concept can be incorporated by SMEs through their websites. The method is very effective because it provides an easy means of communication between the business and its customers and among the customers themselves where they share information about the brand, their experiences and the places that they feel the business should improve on their services. Consumer outreach through social networks and brand communities is easier since they do not have a geographical boundary, a characteristic that will enable the products and services of Emirati women to not only be sold to local consumers but also in overseas markets. This will increase their market share and ensure the sustainability of their businesses in the short run and in the long run.

Finally, the government needs to improve the accessibility of loans and other forms of financial assistance (International Finance Corporation, 2011). It has been identified that the lack of financial backing has led to the development of the perception that Emirati women cannot adopt and implement IT and ICT in the running and operations of their businesses. Financing is an essential component in ensuring the growth and development of any business entity. Many women in the UAE have been unable to implement e-commerce due to this fact. The government should therefore formulate new legislation and amend the existing ones to ensure that Emirati women can easily access loans from banks and other financial institutions such as women groups, societies and cooperative organizations. For convenience, these loans should have low-interest rates, require simple formalities and most importantly, should be eligible to all women. This will guarantee that Emirati entrepreneur women are able to pursue the economic opportunities that are available. This will create a more favorable environment for which women can adopt and implement e-commerce.

Conclusion

The world is in a phase of transformation as a result of the massive technological advancements that we are currently experiencing. These advancements have changed the manner in which a number of industries and economies operate. As a result, the business world is currently embracing the concept of e-commerce. However, Emirati women are yet to benefit fully from these changes due to the perception of barriers that prevent them from using IT and ICT in their businesses. However, through the modification of the education system to allow more female students, creation of awareness of the benefits that are associated with e-commerce and provision of adequate financial support, Emirati women will truly benefit from this change in innovation. This will lead to the growth and development of their businesses and the economy of the UAE at large.

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