Do You Know What It Takes to Be a Culturally Intelligent Working Woman?

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Living in a diverse city like Dubai means being guilty of one thing, regardless of who you are or where you work – and that’s forming stereotypes. One bad (or good) experience in the past, and we think we have an entire race pegged. So how’s a girl to overcome that tendency and be more politically correct in a diverse work environment? That’s where Rana Nejem comes in.

After working as a broadcast journalist with CNN and Jordan Television, handling the late King Hussein of Jordan’s International Media Department for two years, and working in PR for the British Embassy in Amman for 18 years, Nejem knows a thing or two about communicating. In fact, the social and cultural intelligence coach has also authored a book entitled When in the Arab World: An Insider’s Guide to Living and Working with Arab Culture, which was published in 2016. Here, she reveals eight tips on being a culturally intelligent working woman – regardless of your field.


Know yourself.

Cultural intelligence starts with an honest look inside yourself in order to understand your own self-culture – the values and beliefs that drive your behavior and the glasses through which you see the world and interpret situations.


Switch off your auto-response.

It’s very easy to make assumptions and react based on your own cultural beliefs, yet it takes awareness and a conscious decision to stop and think before going into autopilot mode. Ask yourself, “Could there be something here that I’m not seeing?”

judging people gif
GIF: Courtesy of Giphy

Know your organization’s culture.

Every organization has its own internal culture, with the behavior and attitude of the boss automatically filtering down throughout the company and determining what is considered to be acceptable. Observe and, if you’re not sure what to do, ask a trusted colleague who has been there longer than you have.


Dress the part.

Your appearance is one of the main elements that creates a first impression and communicates a strong message about you. Keep it professional and, when deciding what to wear to work, ask yourself key questions each morning about your schedule for the day ahead and whom you will be interacting with.


Know what you're saying without actually speaking.

We tend to focus our attention on the actual words that we speak, forgetting that, when conveying attitude and emotions, 55 percent is expressed through our body language and facial expressions, while 38 percent is conveyed through the tone of our voice. We could be saying all the right words, but our body language and tone speak much louder.

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GIF: Courtesy of Giphy

Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Every culture has its own preferred style of communication. People in North America, most of Western Europe, and Australia tend to keep things direct and straightforward. Meanwhile, in the Arab world, people prefer the indirect style of communication, which helps avoid confrontation and conflict. This also applies to written communication, such as e-mails and text messages.


Get your greetings right.

Starting off on the right foot is crucial in setting the general tone. The handshake is the accepted greeting in business settings across the Arab world. However, a man may choose to not shake hands with a woman and, instead, place his right hand over his heart with a slight nod of the head as a greeting for religious and social reasons. It may feel like you’ve been snubbed when you put out your hand and the other person doesn’t reciprocate, but do not be offended and just respond with the same gesture.

audrey hepburn nod
GIF: Courtesy of Giphy

Be aware of the gender issue.

While there’s still plenty of room for improvement, women across the Middle East, especially in the UAE, have made remarkable strides in the corporate world. Still, Arab society remains rather male-dominated. It’s best not to make rushed assumptions about Arab women and what they need based on your own cultural beliefs and values. While the concept of personal freedom may be central to some cultures, others – including the Arab culture – place more importance on one’s role in society.

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