Calling Female Entrepreneurs: Why The UAE Is The Place To Be

There has never been a better time for a woman to start a business in the UAE.

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Women in the UAE are just as hungry for entrepreneurship as they are in the West. And with the region free from the market saturation seen elsewhere, the opportunities here are ripe for picking. Women make up 70% of the region’s university graduates and 44% of the workforce– clear signs that they are key to the UAE’s economic future. From a surge in female entrepreneur support groups to increased funding for new businesses, there’s never been a better time for a woman to start a business in the UAE.


So, let’s break down three key reasons to make that move.

Beneficial visa changes to come for female expats 
Money is not the only perceived barrier to starting a business in the UAE. Practical obstacles, such as limited residency options, can also deter women from outside the UAE from considering the country as the ideal place to launch a business.  As ripe as the UAE economy is, competition is fierce- studies have recently analyzed entrepreneurs in the UAE by nationality groups and have found UAE nationals to slightly outperform expat entrepreneurs. Improvements such as more generous visa changes can only be of benefit to expat entrepreneurs looking to establish themselves within a competitive business world. But maybe it’s time to think again. The recent announcement of 10-year property visas for expats and one-year residency extensions for recently divorced or widowed women without work visas will help to provide more stability for women coming into the region, once they come into effect.

The 10-year property visa will provide an alternative entry route into the country while giving the security that comes from buying a home. When enforced, the latter visa change will give women more freedom in their jobs and will also allow them to feel more comfortable about the longevity of any business plans that would previously have been jeopardized by changes in their marital status.

More female-led entrepreneur groups, advisories and workshops 
In March 2018, Dubai-based female-focused angel investment group Womena announced Womentum, its early-stage accelerator program for female-founded startups. Elsewhere in Dubai, development consultancy grow.ME has an annual entrepreneurship program called Women-able, which empowers women-led SMEs by providing guidance on practical business skills and confidence building.

Published this year, The Gendered Complexities of Promoting Female Entrepreneurship in the Gulf reviewed the social and economic pressures which limit the growth of female entrepreneurship. It found that promoting entrepreneurship among women in the UAE effectively ‘sidesteps’ cultural or business-related barriers that may restrict women, and is allowing female entrepreneurs –both Emirati and expat– to engage with their communities to a degree never before seen in the area.

These are just a couple of examples of how female-led entrepreneur groups are growing more popular in the UAE. Many have recognized that it is not just funding or residency that deter women from starting businesses in the region, it is also a lack of practical skills and confidence. The good news is that both of these things can be taught and that is exactly what these groups are doing. This increased confidence may go some way to explaining why, according to a recent study, eight out of 10 female entrepreneurs in the region were planning to expand their operations. Not only are such groups empowering women and providing a place to acquire key entrepreneurial skills, they are also increasing the number of outstanding female entrepreneurs in the region, who, in turn, serve as motivation and inspiration for aspiring female entrepreneurs to follow their lead.

More help for women to return to work after childbirth 
It’s an inescapable truth that many women –and not just in the UAE– have to balance both family and work responsibilities, especially after having children. This can be hard enough when working as an employee, but when the added responsibility of business ownership is placed into the mix, the pressure can mount. Fortunately, companies in the UAE are developing technology-based solutions to ease the return-to-work process for women. Take Dubai-based recruitment company Hopscotch for example. It sources flexible and non-flexible roles and has an online platform through which women are offered training and skills sessions. The company also opens up opportunities for women at all stages of their careers through its network and initiatives. Women can simply create an online profile to be considered for vacancies. And those looking to upskill before returning to work can watch video sessions from their own homes. Meanwhile, those who own businesses can also register with Hopscotch when looking to employ staff. The creation of inclusive work conditions that accommodate everyone, regardless of life commitments, will bolster the UAE’s economy and encourage women from all walks of life to contribute to the workforce or start businesses.

The argument for female entrepreneurship 
A recent analysis of US startups found that those led by women generate over twice as much money as male-led startups for every dollar of funding received. It is a compelling finding that suggests female-led businesses are not just ‘nice to have’ but essential if the UAE is to enjoy a strong, oil-independent economy in the future. It is also clearly an observation that has been noted by the government and businesses in the region. And more change is on the way. This spells great news for all as the presence of more women-led businesses in the UAE will bolster the economy in order for businesses of all natures –not just female-led ones– to thrive. Best of all, this new, inclusive business environment will provide a way for women to thrive and create a career on their own terms through entrepreneurship.

Related: Infographic: Female Entrepreneurship In The Middle East