As Aurora50 turns three, we wanted to reflect on what we had learned as a team about inclusion, the practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources and of embracing and valuing diversity. Aurora50’s mission is to create inclusive, thriving GCC workplaces.
Diana Wilde, co-founder of Aurora50
We tend to think of the UAE as an inclusion laggard but my big ‘aha’ in the last 12 months relates to religion. Religion is a big part of identity. Yet in many parts of the world, it isn’t discussed at work… and certainly not celebrated.
I am British but left the UK 18 years ago to live in Dubai. Heading up a DEI corporate training company here in the UAE, I was shocked to discover that anti-Islamophobia is now built into the UK’s DEI courses.
In the Emirates, it’s a wonderful thing to feel so free to discuss your beliefs, whatever your religion. In the UK it feels as if things are going backwards.
The UAE is a tolerant and inclusive country in this regard. Multi-faith communities come together – for instance, when the leaders of different religions share an Iftar meal. I will never take this for granted.
“Religion is a big part of identity. In the Emirates, it’s a wonderful thing to feel so free to discuss your beliefs, whatever your religion.”
Abdul Vasih, graphic designer
I never knew anything about diversity, equity or inclusion before I joined Aurora50.
Now I get how much impact DEI makes in people’s careers, and how important it is for women to come forward. And I get to see which companies are taking the initiative to improve DEI culture.
I’m also gaining confidence to interact with diverse people at our events – a new experience for me.
Ghassan Ezzedine, strategic partnership manager
Of course I’ve heard about healthy work cultures, where everyone supports each other. But I thought they were really just a few fake smiles. So my ‘aha’ has been – inclusive cultures are real.
Since I’ve been working at Aurora50, I’ve truly learned the meaning of inclusion.
Speaking freely with management, being challenged to learn and develop my skills: this motivates me to come to work. I feel valued, and eager to achieve more and more.
“Everyone feels vulnerable – no matter who you are, what experience you have or what impact you have had.”
[Talk to us if you’re looking to build a more inclusive workplace.]
Greg Dearden, head of content
Here at Aurora50, we have regular contact, conversations and events with some of the UAE’s most senior and influential people.
I’ve realised they can still have self-doubts or feel that they don’t belong – even as the board directors and executives of the largest UAE companies. It’s been quite an eye-opener!
My ‘aha’ is that everyone feels vulnerable – no matter who you are, what experience you have or what impact you have had.
“An inclusive culture begins when you encourage vulnerability in the office.”
Fardeen Veljee, marketing manager
The power of language has been my ‘aha’. We don’t need to fixate on every word we say. But we can be more conscious and empathetic about the perception of our words.
For instance, asking how can I be of help?” rather than a vague offer to “let me know if I can help” makes the world of difference. It makes us an ally rather than a mere colleague.
I also realised that an inclusive culture begins when you encourage vulnerability in the office.
If you can be vulnerable, imposter syndrome is less likely to creep in. It gives colleagues the opportunity to be an ally. It helps managers understand your knowledge gaps and help you develop.
But none of this can happen if the culture doesn’t allow for vulnerability.
“When we put aside bias, we can express ourselves in a judgement-free environment.”
Monika Gujral, executive assistant
I have worked in the Middle East for over a decade. Although I have heard about DEI, I’ve never seen any company actively practising it.
At Aurora50, I feel equal to my colleagues. I am empowered to share opinions and ideas without feeling judged on the basis of my position or gender.
Last week we had to brainstorm strategy ideas. I spoke up without feeling uncomfortable for even a minute.
When we put aside bias, we can express ourselves in a judgement-free environment.
“A diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace makes everyone in the work space feel valued, heard and supported.”
Rachel Pereira, intern
My ‘aha’ has been to learn how important it is for women to speak up for themselves. I have come to realise that women need to be self-sufficient in building and planning their own career.
I’ve also learned that a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace makes everyone in the work space feel valued, heard and supported.
“As a third culture kid, I have realised I am very accepting of other cultures and that I bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table.”
Somaya Hosny, strategic partnership manager
When we did a workshop on allyship, it made me realise that often Middle Eastern men make themselves a ‘big brother’ to a woman. They want to protect her and take decisions based on what they think is best for her.
An ally allows a woman to take her own decisions then support her. It’s not coming from a bad place but women often don’t get the support they need, because men in their life act as big brothers rather than allies. Eventually that means women don’t even allow themselves to take decisions.
I also realised that I am what is known as a third culture kid [a term coined by US sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in the 1950s for children who spend their formative years in places that are not the homeland of either parent].
I am Egyptian but raised in Qatar since I was less than a year old and now living in Dubai. I always thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t blend at ‘home’. Now I say, “Home is me.”
It made me realise I’m very accepting of other cultures, that the UAE connects people, that third culture kids are a community in themselves and that I bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table – which I want to use to have an impact on society.
“Belonging is such an important part of inclusion. You can easily feel like a ‘lonely only’.”
Suzanne Locke, content strategist
Belonging is such an important part of inclusion (in fact, DEI is often referred to as DEIB) and that has been my ‘aha’. As a contractor, a part-time worker, a remote worker, you can easily feel like a ‘lonely only’.
I work in several companies. In one job, I’m not on the departmental email list, I don’t have a photocopier pass and I don’t have access to a meeting room.
I also found out (in my fourth year in the job) that I’m supposed to receive annual feedback – through an email survey I didn’t know about. And when I try to see the feedback, I don’t even have the access rights to view the link!
To colleagues or to the company HR, this might feel like ‘just’ an IT issue. Or it might seem to them that it’s my problem, because I’m a remote worker, or in a different time zone. But it all culminates to make me feel like I don’t belong.
Talk to us if you’re looking to build a more inclusive workplace.