Effects of Diversity on the UAE Workplace essay

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Cultural Diversity in United Arab Emirates Organizations

The purpose of the proposed study will be to evaluate the current levels of cultural diversity in United Arab Emirates (UAE) public and private sector organizations and their implications for UAE culture.

The proposed study will be guided by the following research questions:

What have been the recent trends in economic diversification in the UAE?

Is it possible to formulate optimal diversity levels for a given country?

Can there be too much diversity? How can it best be measured? If there is too much diversity, should it be curtailed? Why? How can it be curtailed?

What are the implications for UAE culture if current demographic patterns persist over the next 10 years? Twenty years? Fifty years?

Research Problem and Scope

Today, it can be argued that the UAE is in danger of losing its cultural and religious heritage altogether. Indeed, the UAE is already a polyglot of languages and a hodge-podge of nationalities, with only a slight majority (just over 50%) of the Emirates' population speaking a mix of the official language, Arabic, and the others prominent languages of Persian, English, Hindi, and Urdu (UAE people and society 2014). In fact, fewer than 20% of all UAE residents are actually UAE citizens at all, with Emirati accounting for just 19% of the total population of 5.5 million, with other Arab and Iranian groups accounting for nearly a quarter (23%), and South Asian accounting for fully 50% of the total UAE population (UAE people and society, 2014). The remaining 8% of the UAE population is comprised of Western and East Asian expatriates (UAE people and society 2014). Moreover, although Islam is the official religion and more than three-quarters (76%) of the population are Moslems (some authorities place this figure as high as 96%), there are other religions practiced in the UAE as well including Christianity (9%), 5% Hindu and Buddhist and the remaining 15% consisting of Parsi, Baha'i, Druze, Sikh, Ahmadi, Ismaili, Dawoodi Bohra Muslim, and Jewish) (UAE people and society 2014).

In sum, it appears that one day -- and it may be soon -- the last UAE citizen will be asked to turn out the lights when he leaves and the entire Emirates will consist of noncitizens immigrants. Even before that happens, though, it is reasonable to suggest that unless current diversity patterns are reversed, UAE citizens will continue to represent a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall population, and what will happen if they become just 10% -- or 5% or 1% -- of the population. At what point will the UAE cease being a sovereign state because it is overwhelmingly immigrants and this diversity threatens the integrity of its national status and structure?

The scope of the research problem will be limited to the UAE but will extend to both public and private sector organizations. A representative sample of both types of organizations will be included in the proposed study and their respective diversity levels examined using a content analysis to identify any potential effect(s) on organizational performance and productivity as well as those mechanisms identified in response to the proposed study's guiding research questions stated above.

Importance of the Study

The UAE's per capita GDP remains strong (around $30,000), and is equivalent to many Western nations (UAE 2014). In addition, the Emirates have enjoyed relative peace and stability in a highly charged region of the world, allowing them to pursue political and social reforms, including a $1.6-billion infrastructure investment initiative for the less affluent northern regions (UAE 2014). Despite these reforms and initiatives, the UAE remains highly fragmented culturally, and current indications suggest that the Emirates will become even more diverse in the foreseeable future.

Literature Review of the Theoretical Debates

As the United States leads yet another coalition of members of the international community into the Middle East to fight the growing ISIS threat, one place stands out as a beacon of cultural tranquility and economic prosperity -- the United Arab Emirates. Time and again, the literature cites the UAE as an exemplar of a modern Islamic state that can transcend the religious and cultural restrictions imposed by its neighboring states and allow a market economy to fuel its plans for increasing employment opportunities for young UAE citizens entering the job market. For instance, Lee (2005, p. 13) emphasizes that, "Enjoying a political culture that allows for openness and embraces market solutions as a way to think beyond an oil-based economy, Dubai, has been able to leap above its Arab neighbors to become a steadily growing economic powerhouse."

Certainly, the UAE is not unique in the Arab world in this area, but the Emirates, like Turkey, have managed to carve out a separate path for their development that is far more relaxed in its political views concerning other cultures and religions in ways that set it apart from say, Saudi Arabia or Iran. Given that the UAE has only enjoyed less than a half century of existence and the availability of vast oil revenues that are projected to last another half century (Lee, 2005), the Emirates could easily have taken the same type of totalitarianism that caused the Arab Spring uprisings. To its credit, though, the Emirates not only avoided any such uprisings in their own nation, they emerged from this period in Arab world history stronger than ever, due in large part to their enlightened secular approach to doing business in a religious world. As Lee (2005, p. 14) points out, "Indeed, Dubai has benefited immensely from the tolerant environment, and it owes much of its success to the openness that has been practiced since the UAE's founding. The autonomy it enjoys as part of the UAE's federalist-structured government also allowed its own rulers to make wise choices in governance."

Although it is not a democracy, the Emirates' economic and social policies are liberal by comparison to neighboring Middle Eastern countries and, not surprisingly, immigrants have been attracted to the member states for more than 100 years (Balasubramanian 2010). According to Balasubramanian, "This influx of people has helped the emirate develop into a cosmopolitan city and has provided a steady stream of immigrants to the area, from wealthy international investors to ambitious young workers" (2010, p. 11). As a result, more than 80% of the UAE population consists of immigrants today (UAE, 2014). In this regard Wooldridge and Keeno (2008) report that, "With an expatriate population of more than 80%, there is great diversity, including 19% Emirian, 23% other Arab or Iranian, 50% South Asian, and 8% East Asian or Western. The population is 96% Muslim. More than 90% of those living in the UAE are found in the cities" (p. 68).

Some indication of the enormous diversity of the UAE population can be easily discerned from the demographic breakdown presented in Table 1 and depicted graphically in Figure 1 and more dramatically as a composite in Figure 2 below.

Table 1 -- Demographic Breakdown of UAE Population

Ethnic Group

Percentage of Population

Emirati (UAE citizens)


Other Arab and Iranian


South Asian


Other expatriates (predominately Westerners and East Asians)


Source: Based on tabular data in UAE 2014

Figure 1 -- Demographic Breakdown of UAE Population

Source: Based on tabular data in UAE 2014

Figure 2 -- Percentage of Emirati vs. Others in UAE Population

Source: Based on tabular data in UAE 2014 and Knapman 2012

Migration patterns to the UAE have been fueled in large part by economic factors, including most especially the need to satisfied labor demand (Knapman 2012). As indicated in Table 1 above, about half of the immigrants in the UAE are from South Asia and of these, the majority have filled jobs in the relatively lower end of the skill spectrum, mostly in manufacturing, construction, services, and the domestic work sectors (Knapman 2012). According to conflict theory, although social conditions in the Emirate have remained stable in recent years, the potential for unrest and even regime change looms large in the not-too-distant future (Jonas 2007). In this regard, Jonas (2007, p. 3) emphasizes that, "Greater ethnic diversity is linked to lower school funding, census response rates, and trust in others. More homogeneous communities seem much healthier."

In sum, conflict theory maintains that the more people from diverse backgrounds are thrust together, the more conflict will result (Bartos & Wehr 2002). Citing the results of research published in the journal, Scandinavian Political Studies, Jonas reports that people that live in more diverse communities "tend to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less [and] to agitate for social reform more" (2007, p. 3).

Taken together, it is clear that the UAE is at a crossroads in its cultural development history, with a very real potential for its citizenry to be overwhelmed by…[continue]

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