The Effects of Diverse Culture of a Business in UAE

Introduction

Overview of the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a relatively young federation comprised of seven Gulf States. Each state bears its own unique history and cultural identity. Based on the 2008 statistics, the country has a population of 4,621,399 and the officially spoken language is Arabic (Emirates 2). The official religion is Islam. 76% of the countries population is made up of Islam while Christians constitute 15% while Hindus from 9% (Emirates 2). Other religions constitute a negligible percentage. The country’s official currency is Emirati Dirham (AED). Its capital city is located in Abu Dhabi. The mid-20th century discovery of oil in this country spurred it into an economic powerhouse across the Muslim nations. The country’s 2007 GDP was US$189.6 billion with a per capita GDP of US$37300 (Emirates 5). It has attracted many foreign expatriates and hence is rated among socially liberal countries in the Arab world. Her president often referred to as his highness Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahayan remained the federation single ruler single since its initiation (Emirates 5). The citizens of this country pride themselves on elevated living standards and education levels. In the recent past, the country has invested a lot towards the transformation of its desert landscape into agriculturally productive land.

Its oil and gas reserves, combined with its strategic location at the Arabian Gulf’s mouth have been able to strengthen its economy enormously (Syed 2). Much of the wealth drawn from its natural resources have been used in bettering the life of the federation’s citizens. Money spent on creating jobs and infrastructural upgrades has enormously increased within the last ten years. Additionally, opportunities have been created for increased private sector participation.

Cultural overview

Solving societal problems often begin with an understanding of the cultural background affecting the environment in which the problem occurs. Merging cultures requires a layer by layer understanding of the uniqueness each culture presents to society (Smith 3). Persons from rather neutral cultures do not often show their feelings and are often capable of keeping them controlled. Highly effective cultures on the other hand impact greatly on the society around them and easily express their feelings towards the society either by laughing, smiling and gestures among others. Reconciliation of neutral and affective cultures is essential if they are to do business together. The ice-cold nature of neutral persons and of control nature of affective cultured individuals need to be merged together to produce a more universal culture conducive for doing business. Essentially, when these two cultures merge their differences are accepted and recognized by both parties to produce grounds for constructive communication. Intercultural communication is fundamental in any diverse culture. Essentially communication is the only way to exchange information, thoughts and ideas. Communication constitutes both verbal and non-verbal elements. Most of the communication globally is done non-verbally. Globalization has in the recent past brought business operators together thereby stressing the need for intercultural understanding.

Cultural diversity

Culture is defined as a set of norms and values existing within a group of persons and hence constitutes their living design (Smith, Anne and Thomas 43). It entails a patterned way of thought, feeling and reaction and is often transmitted from one generation to another. It guides the human selection of responses appropriate to social environments including business and social interactions. Diversity is created when a number of cultures are brought within a single environment in which they interrelate to each other.

Nature of cultures in the United Arab Emirates

Characteristics of cultures

Globalization of business has not spared Dubai. Diversity has been able to creep its way into business aspects within the United Arab Emirates. Diversity issues that constitute the challenge include styles of communication, religious activities, the attitude of the persons doing business in the country and hierarchy. Like any other diverse society, UAE faces a number of challenges due to its diversity (Anonymous 32). Communication style is an important tool in business facilitation. Communication, however, varies from one country to another. Doing business in UAE requires increased awareness levels and a deep understanding of the difference in communication arising from the diverse cultures that converge at this point.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a combination of seven emirates. These include Abu Dhabi, Al Fujairah, Ajman, Sharjah, Dubai, Ra’s al Khaymah, and Quwayn (Miller 459). The country is strategically placed between Oman and Saudi Arabia while at the same time bordering the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It prides itself on a unique and diverse culture. Like in any modern countries clash of cultures attempting to impose its ideal is a common occurrence (Miller 459). Additionally, its position as a global business center further diversifies the cultures and some are likely to conflict with business in the country. Its culture is however largely influenced by the Arabic culture and Islamic religion. For instance, while in most parts of the world, alcohol consumption is a normal occurrence, in the UAE alcohol consumption is forbidden in some areas on basis of the Islamic culture (Miller 462). However, in recognition of some other non-Islamic cultures, in some areas, it is not forbidden. For instance, in Dubai, specific hotels and locations serve alcohol though there s strict enforcement that consumption remains limited t those designed locations.

Generally, religion stands out as the prime driver of Emirates culture. Noting that Islam is a major religion, it commands a large proportion of the country’s culture. Islam plays a fundamental role in shaping the countries culture and trickles down to the everyday life of persons conducting business in the country both within offices and outside. Observing Islamic culture is a necessity and its effect on business operations must also be respected (Miller 461). Westernized areas/locations are however exempted though under strict observations to allow those who do not subscribe to the Muslim faith some taste of their own cultures. Another area that segregates cultural observation of UAE from other countries is the approach to time. In the UAE time is viewed from a more relaxed perspective. It’s common for meetings to run over, begin late or get canceled altogether without prior warning (Miller 462). Perhaps a very significant difference is the running of the week’s operations. Unlike most countries globally, official workdays run from Saturday through to Wednesday.

Person’s doing business in UAE also need to under the hierarchy concept. Individuals are required to respect other people’s titles and use them in addressing them. Most businesses are operated on basis of a top-down hierarchy with the most important persons in the hierarchy charged with the responsibility of making important decisions. Its rapid modernization has not been able to do away with the impact of Muslim culture and practices within the nation (United Arab Emirates 19). Organizations conducting business in Dubai, therefore, need to understand the bridge between the new and the nod cultures in Dubai. In general, it is important to understand the existing cultural differences and their effect on business operations and management is, therefore, a necessity. It is important to note that every global culture’s important phenomenon like bureaucracy, authority, creativity, verification and accountability impact their influence in varied ways.

Value differences and similarities across cultures

The cultural quality of saber which stresses patience and steadfastness is adored by the citizens of the United Arab Emirates. On this basis, the citizens are commonly known for an informal, relaxed approach to life. However, good manners and respect for other persons are greatly upheld amongst the nation’s citizenry. Just like in most Arab nation’s Islam profoundly affects UAE’s cultural background (United Arab Emirates 4). However, tolerance to other religions is largely presented within the federation. As mentioned earlier, a working week in the United Arab Emirates runs from Saturday to Wednesday. Unlike in the western countries where time is of the essence, people and relationships are held with more esteem in the United Arab Emirates and hence schedule and punctuality run second to them. However, cultural diversity is gradually implanting elements of western culture into the UAE’s culture though there are still significant differences (United Arab Emirates 4). Generally, the federation is endowed with and unique culture and personality blend. Its culture is mainly shaped by religious and historical events which combine to enhance its progressive and extensive outlook of the economy. The combination not only makes it an intrigued place to do business but also unique in its own fashion. To understand the cultural contribution to business in the federation it is vital to look at key cultural aspects independently.

Challenges and effects of diverse cultures in the workplace

The cultural practices that affect business in the United Arab Emirates include religion, family ties to business, the hospitality of the citizens, and workplace practices and relations.

Religion

The role of religion and its influence on the culture and business lifestyle in the United Arab Emirates cannot be underestimated. The county’s official and major religion is Islam and it affects every aspect of life, business inclusive. Eating habits, clothing, daily routines and personal conversations are strongly prejudiced to Islam. The faith puts lots of emphasis on morally upright behaviors including generosity, respect and modest behavior in society. Conducting business in the UAE requires that one understands Islam and the ways in which it affects business life within the United Arabs Emirates. Among the key areas linked to business that are directly affected by Islam are clothing and the role of women. The dressing code within the federation is determined by the Islamic Sharīah law (Greenberg 44). Traditional Muslim clothing is a common sight across the nation. The traditional clothing worn by men includes white robes, and head covering (white) tied using a black headband. Women are strictly required to wear long skirts and the top wears should have long sleeves. Conservative dressing by women is mandatory and both shoulders and knees should be covered at all times. The business life of women has directly affected by-laws within the federation. Unlike some Arab countries, women are allowed to drive, work and possess property. Additionally, they are also permitted to go to school and even proceed to the university. However, they are not allowed to live independently or engage in co-habitation out of marital commitments. Western women are allowed to attend specified official functions under specified conditions (Greenberg 46). However, Emirati women are normally not allowed to be present in official functions/events. Another interesting phenomenon is a tradition that requires that men don’t shake women’s hands unless the women are the first to stretch out for a handshake. Additionally, business cards used in UAE need to be printed in both English and Arabic.

Family Business and Hierarchy

The social culture in UAE is basically founded on strong family ties and tribal affiliations. Individual values and morals are strongly shaped by family and tribal ties. Family loyalty supersedes any other thing including business. Most business entities belonging to the UAE citizens are run and operated primarily by family members (Greenberg 47). Most Emirati businesses are founded on strong vertical hierarchies. The key determinants of personal status include family connections in addition to age and money. Additionally, most persons prefer to personally operate businesses rather than through other persons/employees.

Hospitality

A nation’s hospitality determines how comfortable individuals from other backgrounds can do business there. Emirati culture considers hospitality a vital part of both social and professional life. Outstanding generosity is accorded to guests visiting the country. In homes, the arrival of guests often turns into feasts involving traditional Emirati foods (Greenberg 47). Normal formal business meetings are accompanied by Arab coffee and locally made pastries. The importance they attach to hospitality is only rivaled by similar importance witnessed when it comes to relationships. Foreigners are expected to reciprocate this gratitude by being courteous themselves and engaging in activities that facilitate the building of relationships between them and the nationals. Generally, understanding Arab culture and etiquette are fundamental to persons intending to undertake business within the UAE.

Working practices in the UAE

Working in the UAE presents a number of differences uncommon with the normal uncommon withy most companies globally. Contrary to the norms in most countries globally, Thursdays and Fridays are set aside for rest while the other days are assigned as official working days. This tradition is in line with Muslim religion teaching, which is the major religion in the country. Often meetings are scheduled taking into consideration duration for possible delays i.e. some additional time is set aside for this purpose. The last-minute cancellation of meetings is a common occurrence in UAE (Greenberg 49). People and relationships are given more importance compared to schedules and time. The general attitude of a person towards work is more relaxed as compared to western cultures. However, most businesses are evolving towards western culture. As earlier mentioned, most businesses are operated on a hierarchical basis. Individual status is accorded lots of respect and is often recognized using appropriate titles e.g. sheikh for chiefs, Mohandas for engineers and ustadh for professors (Greenberg 50). It is required of an individual to inquire about a person’s title prior to meeting the person. Usually, age plays a critical role during meetings as the eldest person is often considered to be the most senior.

It is important to reiterate that most people in the UAE prefer to personally do business. Relationships and mutual trust are considered paramount to the success of any business within the UAE. Additionally, it is often recommended that an individual introduces one to business connections rather than attempting to go it alone. This is in consideration of the fact that Emirati people often prefer to engage in business with persons they know or through persons they know. Introduction by an already known individual can therefore do great benefit to future relationships with the Emirati people. Additionally, understanding and respecting their culture is important and patience is likewise necessary. For instance, an Emirati would easily cancel a pre-planned meeting some minutes before time in order to attend to some family matters (Greenberg 13)

Benefits of diverse culture in the workplace

It is important to note that diversity thrives successfully when wholesomely supported by the community. Most organizations have currently put in place measures to encourage diversity within their population. Failure of diverse within a society often results in animosities that are unfavorable for business operations (Greenberg 51). As evidenced above, UAE has been able to successfully accommodate diversity socially, religiously and most importantly in its business world. In the UAE, diversity has been able to yield a number of benefits. These benefits include:

  • It’s viewed as a legitimate advocate of diversity by political, business and power brokers and hence attracting a large pool of foreign direct investment which in turn has boosted the countries economy. Cox states that multicultural organizations are often perceived as competitive and more universal.
  • Respect for each individual culture as no culture is treated as being better than the other.
  • Conducive business environments as persons intending to do business are not required to relinquish their cultural heritage and embrace newer cultures to fit.
  • Development of relevant communication and working relationships that favor mutual respect and inter-cultural understanding and appreciation.
  • Learning opportunities are provided as business persons have the opportunity of hearing from other cultures and picking what is good for their advancement.
  • Trust is developed further as opportunities for acquaintance and increased communications are provided.

Consequences of ignoring cultural diversity

The world is gradually transforming into a diverse cultural village and just like any other small village, intolerance to other persons can often lead to unnecessary conflicts which contribute nothing other than underdevelopment. Ignoring cultural diversity within the business world diminishes the individual ability of persons/entities to manage different personalities. Skepticism grows over time and degenerates into hate over time. This results in stand-offs, breakdown of communication channels, death of trade ties, and threat feeling from both parties intending to do business (Greenberg 44). The result is a failed business opportunity. When such are left to spiral out, foreign investment and possible development projects are lost too and this is detrimental to society.

Recommendation of improving cultural diverse workplace

Perhaps the best lessons on cultural diversity can be best summarized by the lessons from America. Immigrants into America from various parts of the world are non-comparable to any other country globally. America has been able to successfully pave way for a more pluralist society that has undergone evolution through the integration of a variety of cultures and influence into its lifestyle. These are evident in fashion, eating habits, forms of entertainment, literature and sports activities. Diversity has been able to bring along with it, community empowerment and unique skill sets. The success in amerce bears witness to the fruits of diverse cultural integration. It allows conscious/sub-conscious interjection of ethnic values, attitude variations, character and group dynamics into talent baskets. This is seen by the exclusive performance of America in all areas of global activities ranging from education, sports, military prowess among others (Stock 19). Aspects/factors to which diverse cultures interact with each other include residence, socioeconomic status, political and religious opinions, languages, personal relationships, and individual attitudes among others. Based on this background the following recommendations are important to the UAE case ii its diverse environment is to positive benefits to community development through business relations.

Recruiting and training centers should be developed to aid the locals in understanding the best practices in dealing with diversity. The population needs to be made aware of the benefits that diversity brings along and the impacts that it may have on their individual lifestyle. The community must also be made aware that despite the difference in culture, all are equal and unique in their own way and should therefore be respected. The government also needs to exercise increased commitment towards cultural diversity by allowing more room for non-natives to freely go about their cultural endeavors without limitations. Strong leadership is, therefore, a necessity id f the fruits of cultural integration are to be fully realized.

Conclusion

UAE like any other nation in the world has embraced the contributions of different cultures n its development process. This comes with responsibility and string commitment if the fruits are to be fully reaped. Diversity brings together different parsons, cultures and races. Respect for diverse groups is mandatory if the benefits of it are to be achieved. It goes beyond self-perception to cover the perception of other persons/cultures. Successfully businesses have recognized and embraced diversity into their operations and have been able to not only retain but also attract super-talents from diverse origin persons.

Works cited

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Greenberg, Josh. “Diversity in the Workplace: Benefits, Challenges and Solutions.” Ezine Articles 20. 6. (2010): 42 – 56.

Greenberg, Josh. Workplace Diversity. London: McGraw Hill publishers, 2007.

Miller, Thomas. UAE Expansion as a business hub. Middle Eastern Journal 45. 23 (2007): 456 -461.

Smith Bill, Anne Miller and Thomas Archer. Working With Diverse Cultures. Ohio: Ohio State University, 2009.

Smith, Sheila. “Season of Ramadhan begins for Muslims.” McClatchy-Tribune News 3 (2008).

Stock, Howard. Muslim Money. Bank Investment Consultant 16.10 (2009):35

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The United Arab Emirates. International Religious Freedom Report 2007″. United States Department of State: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Web.