Leadership Development in the United Arab Emirates: The Transformational Learning Experiences of Women

Article excerpt


To consider designing future efforts toward developing leadership programs for women in the United Arab Emirates, it is important to understand how these women learn and develop. Transformational learning theory provided a valuable theoretical lens to guide this study. In-depth, qualitative interviews were conducted with women Emirati college students to investigate how their experiences have changed these women through important influences (e.g., individuals, support systems, activities, teaching methods), struggles and challenges (e.g., new environment, learning English), and internal processes (e.g., reflection, discovery of new roles and relationships). Implications for developing leadership programs are also outlined.


transformational learning, transformative learning, leadership development, women, United Arab Emirates, adult education


Organizations of all kinds (public, private, and social sector) in many countries around the world spend millions of dollars each year on initiatives designed to develop quality leaders, and unfortunately these efforts often result in disappointing outcomes. Yet developing effective leaders has become one of the most critical challenges for many organizations today (Madsen, 2008). Strong, competent leadership continues to separate high-performing, successful organizations from less effective businesses, institutions, or agencies. Because of its focus on learning and performance at the individual, group, and organizational levels, leadership development has now emerged as an important focus of management and human resource development researchers and practitioners in many countries across the globe (Ardichvili & Manderscheid, 2008). However, in some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), these efforts are only in their infancy.

The UAE is one of the most interesting countries in the world at this time of economic insecurity and global expansion. Although Dubai and Abu Dhabi seem to be getting a lot of media attention (Gimbel, 2007), scholarly research on the UAE and its people is difficult to find. More specifically, research focused on leadership development in that country seems to be almost nonexistent, and there is no evidence of existing research on the development of women leaders. In fact, there are only a few indications that the development of leadership for Emirati women has even been addressed, but things seem to be changing. For example, the Minister of Economy and Planning in the UAE, H. E. Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi (2007), stated,

   I believe that the pace of women's empowerment is
   set to unfold even more quickly.... By creating an
   environment in the UAE that enables women to be
   flexible in their approach to work--to choose a
   career path, to balance the demands of home, and the
   office, to contribute to the development of this
   nation, we are unquestionably contributing to the
   growth of the UAE's GDP.... The benefits of having
   women as agents for social change through taking a
   more visible role in society is not limited to paid
   employment.... Women play a vital economic role
   in every country in the world, including the UAE,
   that keeps nations like ours moving forward....
   These women, whether they are doctors or homemakers,
   are on the front lines of our community in
   transition. They are demonstrating that women have
   a voice, as well as a unique perspective, and a key
   role to play in the social and economic development
   of the Arab world. (pp. 33-35)

In addition, the chairperson of the UAE Businesswomen's Council stated, "We in the Arab world no longer want to see women standing on the margin of events. Women should work hand-in-hand with men to achieve progress and prosperity we all aspire for" ("Women Active Partners," 2007, p. 29). She spoke of women becoming active partners in the nation's development and encouraged women to be "proactive and take their aspired role along with men in the development of their country" (p. …