Emiratisation and Diversity in the Training Room

Martin Kahn discusses the importance of diversity in CIPD training

Almost 10 years ago when I started delivering CIPD qualifications on behalf of Oakwood International, I started becoming familiar with the GCC region and what working here means. Having worked in Europe, USA, Africa and the UK I had not experienced what it means to work in an environment with such a high percentage of expatriate labour. If I remember correctly the figure stood at almost of 95%.

Back then, as today, the training room was completely mixed with Emiratis, Indians, Pakistanis, Europeans, Bangladeshis, Filipinos and many other students from Asia, Africa and the broader Middle East region. Never before had I worked with such diversity in one training room. For me, as a facilitator it was wonderful. A wealth of experience and opinions to be shared.

Discrimination as gross misconduct

Having spent most of my professional career in the UK working for FTSE 100 type organisations, I was used to working with a broad cross section of employees who represented all members of British society. Coming from a country with a Human Rights Charter and Equal Opportunity Employment legislation, no matter what colour, creed, race or religion you were, we were all British and any form of direct or indirect discrimination was seen as an act of gross misconduct and would get you fired on the spot – it was simply not tolerated.

What surprised me a decade ago was how often, during break times in the training room I would get students coming up to me and asking if it would be possible for them not to work with certain nationalities or to only work with other nationalities. It took a while for me to get my head around this. In those days we used to have a debate around the concept of nationalisation. Often the effect was to polarise the training room into an “Us” and “Them” camps. 

Today we do not have those debates. Not because at Oakwood we are afraid of robust and challenging conversations with our students, but because these mentalities are far more the exception rather than the norm. What I have noticed these days is a willingness in both Emiratis and expatriates to celebrate diversity, to honour and respect each other as HR professionals and to align together to role model this kind of behaviour in their organisations. This for me truly represents Forward Thinking HR in the GCC region. I have only ever experienced one example of direct racism in the training room. Not a bad statistic if you consider the thousands of students that our highly skilled team of associates have worked with over the past 15 years to put through their CIPD qualifications.

Diversity provides insight

As part of my role as Sales Director for the Oakwood Dubai office, I am tasked with collecting video testimonials from the students about their experiences with CIPD qualifications and Oakwood International as an organisation. The majority of these students, be they local or expatriate, will comment to camera about how much they enjoy the diversity of the training room and how much their knowledge and insight has grown because of it Direct evidence of this can be seen on our Facebook page. No more do I get students coming up to me and asking to work exclusively with students from their own culture.

Still more work to be done

Of course it would be wholly naïve of me to think that these issues have disappeared all together. I am sure they do still exist and that there are frustrations and feelings of unfairness on both sides of the line. However, to put it in context, these issues exist globally whether the country in question is run by a King, a President, a Sultan or a democratically elected government. No one gets it right 100 % of the time. 

What gives me hope is the legislation constantly being introduced in the GCC region giving all employees more human rights and stronger basis for appeal than has ever existed before. As far as I am concerned its an 'onwards and upwards' approach and one embraced by the majority. The ministry of labour has taken a much bigger step in ensuring fair policies and practices for all.

After all, if we as HR professionals can’t get it right, what hope exists for the organisations we represent?

Martin Kahn
Sales Director, Oakwood International

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