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Women in STEM study and employment in the United Arab Emirates

Special issue call for papers from Gender in Management

Women in STEM study and employment in the United Arab Emirates

Guest editorial team:

Linzi J. Kemp (American University of Sharjah)
Norita Ahmad (American University of Sharjah)
Salwa Beheiry (American University of Sharjah)
Lucia Pappalardo (American University of Sharjah)

The UAE was chosen as the location for this special issue because the country is in an under-researched geographical region, particularly for studies on women’s education and careers (Afiouni & Karam, 2017; Madsen, 2010; Kemp et al., 2013). This special issue looks to showcase conceptual, theoretical and empirical papers that explore the experiences of women who study and work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The special issue has two aims. First, to expand discussions about women in study and at work in STEM in the UAE, and the impact of significant economic, demographic, generational, socio-cultural and political changes in the country on women’s experiences. Second, this special issue seeks to identify avenues for future research themes, building up on work developed in the past decade about women in the Middle East, and particularly in the UAE (e.g. Afiouni, 2014; Afiouni & Karam, 2017; Ahmad et. al., 2017; Elamin & Omair, 2010; Hutchings et al., 2010; Kemp & Rickett, 2017; Kemp et al., 2015; Kemp & Zhao, 2016; Madsen, 2010; Metcalfe, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011; Metcalfe et al., 2009; Omair, 2008, 2010; Rodriguez & Ridgeway, 2018).

Of interest for this special issue on women in STEM are figures obtained from the UAE official open data portal, which revealed statistics from 2015/16, that 1691 (54.5%) graduates in STEM subjects in the UAE were women, and the majority were from HE government institutions ( Furthermore, data obtained from the ‘Global Gender Gap Report’ (WEF, 2016) revealed 62% of the graduates from STEM disciplines in the UAE were women. A positive pattern of women studying and graduating in STEM disciplines in the UAE is in contrast to the poor rates of female graduates in those disciplines internationally (Fouad et al., 2016; Singh et al., 2013). Despite the increasing number of women studying and in the labour market in the UAE, and rising numbers in STEM industries, there are under explored issues in academic literature.

It is known however, that although women are educated to a high level in the country (Madsen, 2010), but yet there is a so-called leaking pipeline of women from education through management and into senior organisational roles (Afiouni, 2014; Afiouni & Karam, 2017). Despite high achievements by women in education, and their enrolment in STEM studies, the ranking for women’s labour force participation in the UAE (128/144 countries) remains extremely low (WEF, 2016). A UNESCO report (2017, p.7) on girls and women in STEM education indicated a lower percentage of females (less than 21%) were represented in the student body within engineering, manufacturing and construction for most of the Arab Gulf states.

At the macro level of society, the UAE is a Majority Muslim Country, and there are religious and cultural influences to take into account for understanding Muslim women’s economic participation. A study of Muslim women, as wives, mothers and working professionals, was conducted in the Middle East region (Spierings, 2015). In that study, Muslim women were dependent on their spouse, and entered the labour market to meet their family economic and care needs only in the absence of his income, and many of those women chose to work from home in accordance with religious and cultural norms (Spierings, 2015). However, feminist readings of society and religious texts point to cultural barriers rather than religious factors (Metcalfe, 2008; Metcalfe et al., 2009). As well, the female population of the country is diverse in nationality, social status, as well as religious beliefs. The Arab world has low employment rates of women, the majority of whom are Muslim, but those rates vary across different countries (Spierings, 2015; UNESCO, 2017; WEF, 2016). 

At the meso-level of organisations, it is the institutional regimes that are of concern in the constraints on working women in the UAE (Kemp et al., 2015). These issues pose questions around women’s opportunities to develop networks, balance between life and work commitments, and limited professional development and career progression. At the same time, many women navigate these environments so it should not be assumed that their experiences can be universalised or be simply understood in terms of how they may be framed by socio-cultural features and institutional arrangements.

In summary, there are relatively high numbers of women studying in STEM disciplines in the UAE and other countries of the Arab Gulf states. There is acceptance in the Islamic faith of women’s education and employment, although societal values of attention to the acceptability of certain occupations influence women’s career choices. In the Arab world, there are relatively low numbers of females who work outside the home, and fewer still in male-dominated environments, which cultural norms appear to contribute to low recruitment and retention of women in STEM professions.

The special issue is interested in scholarship that engages with both established and emerging issues, and explores the diverse nature of women’s experiences as students and employees in STEM in UAE. The diverse voices of women are not sufficiently documented, so more discussion is needed that not only problematises their lived experiences, but is inclusive of differences within and between groups of women working in the country. This would help to enhance our understanding of how their experiences come to be, and how they navigate the nuances of the socio-cultural, and organisational environments to succeed as students and employees.

We invite contributions that address (but are not limited to) the following themes/questions:

•    What are the experiences of women in STEM study and work settings in the UAE?
•    What strategies do women use to navigate the socio-cultural context existing in STEM?
•    How do the experiences of diverse groups of women compare within and/or across STEM places of learning and working in the country?
•    How do STEM women manage work-life balance demands, pressures and expectations? (e.g. limitations related to part-time work, maternity provision, etc.)
•    How do STEM women engage with, negotiate and respond to notions of respectable femininity in work settings? 
•    What power dynamics emerge at work and beyond that impact the lives of STEM women (e.g. gendered hierarchies in organisations, reliance on domestic help) and how do women navigate these dynamics?
•    What are the factors that influence and motivate female students to enrol and persist in STEM degree programs in the UAE?
•    What are women’s career goals after they graduate that affect their persistence or abandonment of  STEM in the UAE?

Guest editors are happy to discuss ideas for papers with potential contributors.


Submissions to be made via the Gender in Management ScholarOne manuscript submission portal  selecting the special issue from the drop down list. Please consult the author guidelines here

Submission deadline is November 30th 2019.


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Spierings, N. (2015), Women's Employment in Muslim Countries: Patterns of Diversity, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire.
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