Businesswomen in the Gulf Region

The role of women in business in the GCC is steadily rising

The Arabian Gulf has grown to become one of the most popular destinations for expats over recent years, with many attracted by the buoyant job market and tax-free salaries that the Region can offer. However, some expats, particularly women, are sometimes reluctant to give the Gulf a chance. While a move to the Middle East certainly means a cultural change for women, a thriving career and lifestyle can still be enjoyed.

An improving picture for women working in the Gulf

Like many countries around the world, some Gulf nations have adopted new policies and agendas to empower women and tackle any forms of inequality in the workplace.

In February 2016, Dubai hosted the Middle East’s first Global Women’s Forum which attracted 3000 guest speakers, including the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde. The Forum was designed to encourage diversity in the business world and promote the influence of women, highlighting the steps being made in the Region. Additionally, Dubai has its own council for promoting women in the workplace, the Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC). Similarly, in Bahrain, there is Bahrain’s Businesswomen Society which helps with the development of Bahraini businesswomen. Whilst this is not specifically targeting expats, it highlights the strides being made to empower more women in business. Statistics have also shown that in countries such as Oman, the female employment rate has steadily grown, which emphasises the developments that are taking place. The average female labour force participation is close to that of Europe, particularly in the UAE and Qatar, which is due to GCC Nationals and Expatriate women both getting into the workforce. Generally, there has been good progress made across the GCC Region, with AT Kearney stating a 33% increase in females in the workforce since 1993.

Entrepreneurial Women

Another indicator of the positive change for businesswomen in the Gulf is the rising numbers of female entrepreneurs in the region. Reports claim that businesses ran by women are key to economic growth and this continues to be recognised by leaders of the Gulf nations. Research suggests that the rates of total entrepreneurial activity have increased from 3.5% in 2009 to 10.5% in 2014, which emphasises the progress been made to encourage women to be entrepreneurial and get involved in the business.

What about women expats?

There has been a rise in the number of women seeking to work abroad over the years. Some expats, including men, are still reluctant to embark on a move to the Gulf Region, viewing the cultural change as perhaps one step too far. Whilst a relocation to the Gulf will represent a change in culture due to the Islamic roots of the Region, with an open mind and tolerance to change, it can still be a land of opportunity for both men and women.

In the case of female expats, the emergence of more women in business across most of the Gulf nations is a significant sign, showing that the Region is steadily progressing. Additionally, it may be surprising to know that women make up over 35% of the expat population in the UAE and 33% in Qatar. There has even been some research carried out by scholars Edelweiss Harrison and Snejina Michailova, which highlights female expats tend to settle and adjust in the Gulf despite the vast cultural differences. They also reveal the presence of other female expats makes the transition easier due to the support they provide.

It is true that some Gulf nations are more progressive than others in terms of encouraging more women participation in business, with countries such as the UAE, Bahrain and Oman developing the most.

It is abundantly clear, that despite some misconceptions, the Gulf Region is still an attractive location for both female and male business expats. Although there is always room for improvement, the future certainly looks bright for women who want to take part in business across the Gulf states.

If you are interested in relocating to the Gulf Region or anywhere else in the world and would like to speak to Kingpin International about International Tax Opportunities, please contact a member of the team. Alternatively, please browse our current International Tax vacancies.



Harrison, E. C., & Michailova, S. (2012). Working in the Middle East: Western female expatriates' experiences in the United Arab Emirates. The International Journal of Human Resource Management23(4), 625-644.