Our recent research report Moving women with purpose: Creating gender inclusive mobility tells us that organisations priority destinations for growth are often those low on the list of employee’s favoured destinations. The Middle East and Africa in particular rank the least attractive relocation regions for female and male talent across the globe.
Last week PwC guest blogger Sarah Morrin shared her first in a series of blogs in which she discussed the amazing experience she had living and working in Botswana Africa. This week, Sarah turns her attention to sharing her experiences of working in the Middle East and all that the region has to offer.
I think in every assignment, there comes a time for reflection and the decision to stay or go. For us, Botswana wasn’t our ‘forever’ place – and while we could have both had happy careers there, we wanted to move on to our next adventure……
……Having been in Botswana for two years, the time came for our careers and our family to look towards our next move. Although we had been away from the UK for two years, we had maintained good contact with our family and friends through visits home, weddings and having people to stay. And although we wanted to live a little closer to the UK, we weren’t in a hurry personally or professionally to move back there. Meanwhile, I had maintained my contacts with the PwC Middle East firm, and a number of colleagues that I had worked with on Middle East projects from the UK had made the move to the UAE.
My desire to live as well as work for the Middle East firm had been a work in progress since 2010 when I first worked in the region. Between 2010 and 2012, I worked on a series of projects supporting the establishment of a new joint venture between an oil and gas major and the Iraqi government, including setting up new processes, organisational models and systems. During this period I travelled to the region frequently to provide consulting advice drawing on my combined engineering and accounting background, and I found it very different from what I’d expected. The clients were keen to build towards a successful new venture so the fact that I was female was secondary to the information and services I was delivering. Holding training sessions and workshops, I was welcomed and appreciated and really enjoyed the process of delivering tangible value in a short space of time.
A year ago, I joined the Middle East firm as a Senior Manager in the Energy, Utilities and Mining team. In making this move, I was looking not only to build on my Botswana experience, but also to refocus my career into a more specialist industry area where my combined engineering and financial skills could bring new perspectives to managing assets. As well as being able to be more focused by virtue of the larger size of the firm, the Middle East firm also had the advantage of a strong history of working on a cross-border basis, so I knew that I would have the opportunity to work in any of the 12 countries in the region.
Shortly after my arrival, the decline in oil and gas prices meant the focus of clients changed, in turn requiring changes to the firm’s offerings. One of the advantages of having already experienced a new market and change meant that I had some preparation for this. The switch to a larger market and gaining an understanding not only of country but also new regional differences, business cultures and markets are work in progress. So far, my engagement experiences have included an oil refinery in Oman, sustainable investments in Abu Dhabi, health & safety reviews in Kuwait and, more recently, working for one of the largest industrial companies in the world on its IFRS conversion and IAS 16 compliance.
The last of these is based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with special arrangements being made so I can be one of the few females allowed on site. Again, the result has been successful workshops, presentations, consultations and collaboration regardless of my gender or nationality. For me, it is very empowering to be able to take on the role of ‘trailblazer’. It is humbling and inspiring to feel that in addition to the challenging and engaging work I’m exposed to, there is often the potential side-effect that I am paving the way for other women in the Middle East to follow in my footsteps. While I might be the first women in many of these situations I know I won’t be the last.
Living in Dubai continues to be a wonder every day. It’s a modern global hub with an estimated 200-plus nationalities holding UAE residency at any time, so work and leisure are always multicultural. This is a Muslim country that is formed of seven distinct emirates and seeks to balance its cultural and religious heritage with modern life. It is important to be cognisant and aware of the traditions and requirements, but on a day-to-day basis their effects are rarely felt. A common question asked by visitors is what they should wear – and while the time of year and the particular country or Emirate being visited do have an impact, the usual rule is that modest clothing is appropriate. From my own perspective, I only wear an Abaya (a traditional overcoat of dark colours worn by women outside the house) when I am working in Saudi Arabia.
Having missed the sea in our time in Botswana, a gulf view was a must – so we made the decision to give apartment living a try. While some families soon move to a villa for the garden and space, we love the view, facilities and convenience, and all the family have taken to it. The rhythms of living inside in the hot summer months but having outdoor adventures in the winter is familiar from our experience in Africa – albeit that we now camp in the desert rather than the bush, and see more camels than elephants.
One year in, my time in the Middle East has already been hugely rewarding, both personally and professionally. My advice to women who’ve already struck the Middle East off their potential list of work destinations is: don’t believe everything you hear – and don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it! The main thing is to go and see for yourself and gain first-hand experience of not only the differences but also the similarities of the global workplace.
To be continued……
|Sarah Morrin is a Senior Manager in PwC Middle East’s consulting practice, specialising in the Energy, Utilities and Mining sectors. As an engineer and a chartered accountant, she specialises in working at the interface between commercial and operational concerns of clients. Her core skills are in asset management optimisation, business process implementation and major contractual reviews. Sarah is passionate about international experience and has acted as a project manager and PwC consultant in the Middle East, UK, Ireland and Africa.
You can connect with Sarah on LinkedIn.