Living and Working in Bahrain


Case 8: Career Discrimination “Ellen Moore (A): Living and Working in Bahrain”

Ellen Moore (A) - Living and working in Bahrain

Case summary

The case describes the working life and career decision of Ellen Moore, an American expatriate in Bahrain in the 1980s. Ellen is an outstanding and capable person both in terms of academic and professional background. Right after graduation with an MBA degree, she followed her husband to work as a financial specialist in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a country situated in the Persian Gulf and its modernization and economy are strongly associated with the oil industry. Expatriates have been playing an important role in bringing expertise and dynamics to its under-developed areas. Ellen came to Bahrain to work as manager because of her vast work experience, she really like the opportunity to be a teacher and work with other people, although some working style, professional capability, religion were different from her home country, she believed that the ability to handle different situation would be an important international experience for her.

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After two years hard working, Ellen was offered with two senior management options of career promotion, one in accounts control and another in customer service. She wanted to choose the accounts control position but was faced with an explicit discriminatory practice by her manager for being a woman. He said that because the position she chose would involve visiting Saudi Arabia and negotiating with men, as a female she would not be able to fulfill this position. So there are four possible solutions that Allen could choose: 1. Take the customer position that she does not like 2. Fight back 3. Remain her current position 4. Leave the company.

1. The Case core issues

a) Gender discrimination in the Bahraini society reflected in the organisational culture

After two years of successful work, Ellen was offered two new positions in different areas. After carefully evaluate the two positions, she decided to take the Accounts Control position. When meeting with the General Manager, she was told that the offer had been reconsidered and this position was not available for her anymore. The reasons were:
• As a woman, she would be subject to discriminatory practices in Saudi Arabia and would experience difficulty travelling alone there as it is one of the job requirements
• She would also have difficulty in obtaining entry visas
• Customers would not accept to negotiate with a woman
• In case of hostile outbreak, she could be in danger.

b) International migration of qualified workforce

In 1975 offshore banking began in Bahrain. Since the country did not have experts to develop this industry, expatriates from around the world, particularly from Western Europe and North America, were invited to conduct business in Bahrain;
• Expatriates who lived under residence permits gained on the basis of recruitment for a specialist position that could not be filled by a qualified and available Bahraini citizen;
• Bahrain became a multicultural country. Expatriates would interact not only with Arabic nationals, but also with managers from others parts of the world, and with workers from developing countries;
• No formal training, especially in the difference among management practices, was provided in order to better adapt expatriates to new country/culture.

c) Managing in a different culture

Several aspects of the Middle Eastern culture had tremendous impact on the way of doing business, especially for the western firms which located in Bahrain:

• What Western managers considered to be "proof' of an argument or "factual" evidence could be flatly denied by a Bahraini: if something was not believed, it did not exist.
• It seemed that the concept of "time" differed between Middle Eastern and Western cultures. Schedules and deadlines, while sacred to Western managers, commanded little respect from Bahraini employees.
• Islamic religion: praying five times a day and Ramadan working hours. There is no separation of church, state and judiciary.
• Attitude towards women: all women could work outside the home, with hours restricted both by convention and by the labour laws. They could only work only after got their husbands, fathers, or brothers' permission, and could not take potential employment away from men. Work outside the home was additional to duties performed inside the home. Most women who worked held secretarial or clerk positions; very few worked in management.
• The "truth" to a Bahraini employee was subject to an Arab interpretation, which was formed over hundreds of years of cultural evolution.

2. Possible solutions that Ellen faced

a) Take the Customer Services position:
• Strength:

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By accepting the Customer Service position, she is taking her career to a new level. With new challenges to face, more responsibilities to meet and huge number of employees to manage which she has proven herself to have the skills and qualifications in this new role. It could be an option to take her career further and even could be a role model for women in this country that want to be in management position.

• Weakness:

By accepting this position, she is sending the message that she is accepting the discrimination that she experienced. She would be compromising her values, which is probably painful for her as an educated American woman, because her true personality has been violated.

b) Fight Back:
• Strength:

Fighting back can help Ellen remain her true personality. By seeking help from Senior Vice-president, Ellen may persuade the SVP to stand by her side, get the position that she dreamed of. Another way to do it is to try her chances in the Bahraini Labor Tribunals, if she wins the case in the tribunal, it will help her change the women' unequal rights in the company or even to be a role model for women in the Bahraini society.

• Weakness:

Stepping over the general manager and reaching the Senior Vice-President to solve the issue might affect her relationship with the general manager who trusted her and nominated her for senior management position. This may result in serious conflicts with the organization management and risk Ellen's job.

c) Stay in her current position:
• Strength:

The option of keeping the current position could be a safe choice for Ellen to maintain good relationship with her manager, keep her own values; and also not give in to the general manager's prejudices. Meanwhile, she could start considering other career options.

• Weakness:

Gender discrimination in public life and workplace is a noticeable issue in Bahrain (Asian Center for Human Rights 2007), thus the opportunity for promotion could be reduced in the future if Allen refused this promotion. Also, according to Metcalfe (2007), in Arab nations where women are expected to resign from their jobs when they are married; the training and professional academic qualifications are prioritized for men. Additionally, by not accepting the goodwill from the general manager, Ellen could be risking her relationship with him.

d) Leave the company:
• Strength:

According to Hofstede cultural dimensions (1993), Ellen is a person with high Uncertainty Avoidance (UA) who aspires for professionalism and punctuality. Bahrain Society, on the other hand, has a low UA featured in greater tolerance in timing. The big differences in Uncertainty Avoidance and Power Distance traits between Ellen's and Bahrain society might hinder Ellen's ability to develop her career in the country. Moreover, the reasons for Ellen to prefer the Account Control position are to gain international experience, better pay and challenging opportunities and these can be found in other job positions.

• Weakness:

In Bahrain, it is required to obtain a permission letter from current employer in order to seek or move to work for another employer. If the relationship between the employee and the employer is not in good terms, then there is a high possibility that the current employer will refuse to release the employee. If Ellen cannot find another job and leaves the country, her husband might also need to leave his current job and find an alternative solution for both of them.

3. Proposed solution

We recommend that Ellen remain in her current position until other work opportunities arise for her. According to Hofstede (1993), Ellen possess low Power Distance (PD) trait that influences her desire for reaching the equality for both men and women in work and life. Staying in the same position and not accepting the Customer Service position will work better for her by keeping her values and refusing to accept the gender discrimination. Moreover, this option allows Ellen to express her strong interest in sharpening her financial expertise while possibly retaining good relationship with the supervisor. As Ellen came to Bahrain with the aim to train Bahrainis to take over her job this option would still facilitate her aspiration. Thus, staying in the company can give her more time to think and search for other alternatives and career prospects.

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According to Al-Lamky (2007), unequal policies, structures and programs in the organization that may obstruct women's employment and career growth, he mentioned that the best way to solve gender issues should involved policy and structure change in the organization. By remaining in her current position, Ellen could lobby some policy evaluation in the organization, continue advocate equal gender rights for women, some examples that she may like to lobby: implementing programs to increase sensitivity towards women; through work recognition and promotion to make top women visible in the organization; creating an organizational culture that is open and sensitive to differing styles in the workplace (San Dico & Kleiner, 1999). Child care could also be an interesting program to be developed as it would be an auxiliary in helping women to perform the cultural responsibilities attributed to them (Al-Lamky 2007). With the power that she already had in the company and the help of her current female employees, there is a great chance that she could win in this lobby battle.

4. Emic-concept and its influence in the decision making

Aiming to investigate elements of the Bahrain culture that are relevant to the management field, we considered the Emic Concept in this case study is the gender discrimination. Throughout the case, the gender discrimination was highly observed in the workplace, Bahrain had difficulties accepting and acknowledging the contributions of women to management. In Ellen's story, she suffered discrimination for being a woman in many situations.

One of them that we have mentioned above was the career decision that Ellen had to choose, her general manager told her that the offer had been reconsidered because she was a woman and as such, would face difficulties executing the job. Such difficulties included women face discriminatory practices in Saudi Arabia and customers refusing to negotiate with her. Although she had the ability and qualification for the customer service position, she refused it because it was based on gender rather than competence. Another situation of gender discrimination in the workplace was in managing male employees. In the case, an employee named Fahad, would always refuse to listen to whatever Ellen had presented to him and he always disregarded Ellen's ideas. However, with her continue effort she managed to resolve the problem and was able to perform with Fahad many successful projects.

Because this case happened in 1980s, in your mind the gender discrimination situation would be better in this country in nowadays; however, if we looking at some statistics in recent years, you will realize that your judgment is too hasty. In 2006, women in Bahrain held only 9% of senior civil service posts although they constituted 11% of the private sector workforce and 42% of the government workforce (Asian Centre for Human Rights, 2007). It demonstrates that gender bias is still strong in the workplace, and women receive significantly low remuneration than their male counterparts, one of the reasons is the Arab societies are reluctant to abandon their traditional viewpoint of women, they thought that their primarily role should be in house and rise children (Mostafa 2005).

However, things are not set in stone forever, some Arabic nations have seen considerable changes for women situation nowadays, According to Mostafa (2005), research on attitudes towards women' roles “showed over the last two decades or so a universal trend of increasing liberalism and acceptance of more egalitarian role definitions, especially among women”. Women can be also found in positions such as ministerial and parliamentary positions, running businesses and siting as presidents in national universities, with increasingly figures in the work force and rising to managerial positions (Omair 2008).

Given the facts learned from the case and recent researches just presented, the emic concept has influenced the process of decision making as the group understood that decision choosing to continue working in her current job would reflect less discriminatory practices. She would accept a position as customer service which was offered based on gender and, also, Ellen Moore would not be compromising her job and legal rights to remain Bahrain.

5. References

Omair, K. (2008). Women in management in the Arab context. Education, Business and Society: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues. Vol. 1 No. 2. pp. 107-123.

Al-Lamky, A. (2007) Feminizing leadership in Arab societies: the perspectives of Omani female leaders. Women in Management Review. Volume: 22. Issue:1

Asian Centre for Human Rights. (2007). Bahrain: Stakeholders' Report, India.

Hofsted, G. (1993). Cultural constraints in management theories. Academy of Management Executive. 7(1), 81-94.

Metcalfe, B. D. (2007). Gender and human resource management in the Middle East. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18:1,54 -74, p.12,13

Mostafa , M. (2005). Attitudes towards women managers in the United Arab Emirates, Journal of Managerial Psychology. Vol. 20 No. 6, pp. 522-540.

Sandico, C. and Kleiner, B. H. (1999). New development concerning gender discrimination in the work place. Equal Opportunities International. Volume 18 Number 2/3/4 .