Financial services companies in the Middle East are by far the most likely to discriminate against employees based on nationality or race than any other major financial centre in the world.
A staggering 63% of Middle East-based respondents to an eFinancialCareers diversity survey, which took in nearly 5,000 responses globally, said they had experienced discrimination based on their nationality. Singapore came in behind the Middle East, with 29% of respondents claiming that nationality was an issue. What’s more, 40% of Middle East respondents said that they had experienced discrimination based on their ethnicity – only Australia came close to this with 30%.
Localisation targets in Gulf nations like the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the obvious reasons for discrimination based on nationality. As well as quotas for the recruitment of locals, which require at least 40-45% headcount to comprise national candidates, more recently expat employees have been forced out of senior positions to make way for fast-tracked local candidates.
“Clients want us to explore every available opportunity to recruit from a relatively small pool of local candidates and will not consider expats until all these avenues have been exhausted,” says one Dubai-based recruiter who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Employment law here allows us to advertise jobs requesting specific nationalities. This allows us to only request local candidates, but increasingly clients want us to exclude certain nationalities – usually Filipino or those from certain Asian subcontinent countries – which adds to the discrimination.”
Emiratis or other Arab nationalities now occupy 55% of front office positions in the Gulf, according to the survey, with those from the Asian subcontinent (23%), other expats (12%) other Asian nations (10%) holding the remainder of revenue generating roles.
In the back office, those from the Asian subcontinent dominate – holding 55% of the roles, with Emiratis (17%), other Asians (14%) and other expats (13%) making up the remainder.
The make-up of the front office is an about turn from ten years’ ago in the Gulf region, when the likes of Dubai and Qatar were desperately attempting to attract expat financial services professionals from London and New York. The fallout from the 2008 financial crisis only exacerbated this trend, as senior bankers sought the perceived safety of Gulf financial centres, which took longer to feel the effects of the crunch.
Employers in the Gulf region have found it harder to secure visas for expat staff, particularly if they have never worked in the Middle East before. The preferred expat recruit already works in the region, so that their new employer can take the less bureaucratic route of transferring their sponsorship across, suggest recruiters. However, employers are being more innovative when it comes to bolstering their expat headcount – taking on off-the-book contractors.
“I’ve been working on a contract now for two years, and the vast majority of my expat colleagues are too,” said one financial services IT contractor who again could not be named. “It’s a good contract – housing allowance, pension and bonus and tends to keep rolling – but it could still be taken away at a moment’s notice.”