Does gender play a role when running a business in the UAE?

8 June 2017 Category :
Woman entrepreneur

First, let’s start with what’s on everyone’s mind here. The very phrase ‘woman entrepreneur’. Why are we pigeonholing people by their gender? Well, I’m using this particular phrase for one reason and one reason alone: the many misconceptions when it comes to women doing business in the Middle East.

Many believe incorrectly that starting up as a female in Dubai is particularly difficult, that you will be at a disadvantage. In fact, quite the opposite is true. A quick scan of the Forbes 50 Most Promising UAE Startups reveals women leading some of the most prominent new businesses in the region.

So let’s look at some facts, at the rise of the female entrepreneur in the UAE, and then examine the key steps you can take to get your UAE startup off the ground.

The increase in UAE female entrepreneurs

Female entrepreneurship has seen massive growth in the UAE. While figures tend to focus primarily on Emirati women (whose business ownership has increased by a factor of 14 from 2006 and 2013) there is an increase in female SME ownership across the board, including expats.

Of course there is still some way to go, but things are heading in the right direction. What’s more, there are certain industrial sectors in which women in this region really are leading the way. 

MENA-based women lead in the tech sector

Around the world, the technology sector is a male dominated one, with just 10% of tech CEOs being female globally. Here in the UAE, we’ve systematically bucked that trend with 35% of tech entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region now women. That’s three and a half times more representation for women in this area. This is truly excellent news if you happen to be tech-savvy, since Dubai in particular is at the forefront of this area. 

35% of tech entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region now women.

Support for women starting up

Let’s be clear though, starting up a business, regardless of your gender and location, is a tremendously difficult feat. There’s just no overlooking that core fact. Luckily, boosting women in business is an area in which the government and private ventures have allocated a wealth of funding and support.

Most notable for startups, perhaps, is the Women-able programme, which is powered by the Grow.me campaign. Once you’ve applied for and been accepted by this support service as a woman in business, you will receive a whole host of benefits. From entrepreneurial workshops and mentorships to AED 5,000 of funding, this particular programme seeks to boost women’s success rates no end.

The Dubai Chamber also offers support in this area through the Dubai Business Women Council. Since 2002, the organisation has been ‘building awareness, educating, promoting opportunities and enhancing positive change in the community towards the acceptance of women in business’. 

Starting a successful UAE business – a quick guide

So, are you itching to take the very next steps in the business world? Setting up a successful UAE enterprise needn’t be a mystery. Let’s take a look at some of your options.

Freelance setup 101: No matter where you’re from in the world, you can easily and quickly set up in the UAE. If you’re running a one-woman outfit, setting up as a freelancer could be the easiest way forward for you. There are two ways in which you can get started, and neither ought to cause you much stress.

Your options are pretty simple; you can either apply to the Department of Economic Development (DED) or use one of the country’s free trade zones (FTZs). If you opt for the latter, you should find that the entire process just takes a matter of days. What’s more, with a free zone you will also get a lot of benefits including 0% personal and corporate tax, meaning you can retain 100% of your profits. 

Free trade zones vs mainland: But wait, what if your operation is a little larger? Well, then you need to register as a business. Again, you have two options for this; either registering in a free trade zone or as a mainland business. 

There’s no doubt there are huge benefits to the FTZ option, including the fact that you can have 100% ownership of your business. According to a recent comparative study of free trade zone versus mainland options around the world, the ‘FTZs offer significantly better production and infrastructure facilities, lucrative financial incentives, and an improved political, social, economic and legal environment than the host country mainland’. 

According to a recent comparative study of free trade zone versus mainland options around the world, the ‘FTZs offer significantly better production and infrastructure facilities, lucrative financial incentives, and an improved political, social, economic and legal environment than the host country mainland’. 

But while FTZs only allow you to trade within one area (without an agent or external distributor), those looking to trade beyond Dubai may wish to register as a mainland company. In this case, you will need to apply directly to the Department of Economic Development (DED). 

Regardless of freelance or company, mainland or free zone, it’s worth speaking to a company setup expert who can guide you through the entire process and remove any headaches before they even arise. 

Sponsor your family to join you: Unless you’re a UAE national, starting up will mean moving to a whole new part of the world. Wouldn’t things be easier if you could have the support of your family right by your side? When speaking to your business setup expert, you should mention that alongside your own visa, you would like additional ones for family. Sponsoring your family for a residence visa means they will be able to live with you in the UAE.

But we do need to address an imbalance here. Women face certain restrictions when it comes to this process. In Abu Dhabi, for example, women may only sponsor their family to move if they work as an engineer, teacher, doctor, nurse, or any other medical professional. In Dubai, though, you have the right to sponsor loved ones if you work in these professions or if you earn more than 10,000 AED per month. In the latter case, you will need to apply to the Department of Naturalisation and Residency Department for permission. 

A world of business opportunities: Finally, choosing the sector you wish to enter may take you some time, especially since the UAE has such a variety of business opportunities. But which areas are likely to see the most growth? Here are just a few that you may wish to consider:

First let’s look at retailing. Perhaps the most popular of all the sectors, the Dubai retail industry made up 27% of last year’s gross domestic product. It is one of the greatest areas of growth in the emirate and has recently shown resilience despite economic turbulence.

Next up, it’s IT. The value of this sector was a gigantic USD 17.2 billion last year, with figures continuing to climb. The industry has seen a continual surge for many years now, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Finally, construction. Business experts expect the construction business to be strong and stable for at least the next five years of trading. Now may well be the time to get on board.

Of course, your startup needn’t be restricted to these areas; there are many other great opportunities. Before you start your enterprise, be certain to research all of your potential options thoroughly.

Why wait? Start your UAE business today

So, should you consider company setup in the UAE?

Historically, there may have been some challenges facing businesswomen here. Today, that’s no longer the case. The modern landscape of this region is one pushing towards business equality. Additionally, women have support and help from both government bodies and independent programmes. All of these factors mean that there has never been a better time for women to start companies here.

Historically, there may have been some challenges facing business women here. Today, that’s no longer the case.

If you’ve been putting off your entrepreneurial dreams until now, it’s time to take action. A first step is to talk to a UAE company setup expert who can guide you through the process with minimum fuss.

Today could be the first day of the rest of your business life. Make sure that you make it count and start building a truly successful future.

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